(Dr. Harold I. Brown)
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
(Dr. Harold I. Brown)
Fear is a lie. Most fear, that is. By far, most of the fears I've experienced in my life have never materialized. I've laid awake at night listening to it storm, fearful that a tornado would strike. It never has. I knew a few people who were afraid to check their mailboxes because they might have envelopes containing anthrax. Those envelopes never came. Y2K inserted the fear of global, chaotic breakdown into the hearts of many people. Their fear was real, while Y2K was a non-event.
Fear is the emotion we feel when facing an uncontrollable harmful event. That event can be either known or unknown. When confronted with the known, fear is reality-based. That is, one not only fears, but the fear corresponds to an actual threat that is either impending or now actualized. Most fears are fears of the unknown. Fears about, not the actual, but the possible. These events mostly never happen. The fear is real but irrational.
Today's fear is about getting swine flu. It's about one's own possible demise, as well as the demise of family and friends. Possible scenarios are of an "outbreak," an "epidemic," and a "pandemic." Now insert "global" before each of these terms. Add "unseeable," since we're talking about a virus. Mix in some "unstoppable" and legitimate concern morphs into panic.
Some people are just flat-out more fearful than others. Their hearts and minds are fertile soil for anxiety and worry, and they pass these things on to others. For some, maybe many, maybe most, the swine flu will come and go. But the fearful heart that so debilitates remains unless it is cured. Which is worse, getting the swine flu and most likely surviving, or living constantly with irrational fears that never materialize? While I pray we won't have a flu pandemic, every week I see a "fear pandemic" in the souls of people, and on occasion I've caught this virus myself. Fear breeds more fear like a virus. I think that, if we could cure the globally fearful hearts of people, we'd deal with the physical virus better. Panic shuts people down, distracting and hindering them from being proactively precautionary.
The cure for fear is trust. People who trust don't fear. Fear and trust are like oil and water: unmixable. Trust is a relationship. One trusts in someone or in something. One leans on someone or something. A trusting heart has a foundation; a fearful heart is adrift. I've met trusting people. They are not naive or gullible. If a tornado warning is given they take shelter. But they do not live filled with fears that never materialize, and in that sense they experience a freedom fearful people do not have. They don't put their trust in Twitter, but in God. Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him. And He will make your paths straight." Psalm 62:6 says, "He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken."
God doesn't want you to live in fear today. Wash your hands. Fold them and pray. Open them to heaven. Let God heal your fearful heart.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Yesterday's nytimes.com has an article about the coming out of atheism. I see this as potentially exciting for the reason that my philosophy of religion classes could be more lively.
There is a certain trendiness in the current "atheism." I've seen this in some students who take my philosophy classes. Most of the atheists I meet are "village atheists" analogous to nominal "Christians." They claim to not believe in God while borrowing much from Christian theism. Some of their atheism is a reaction to the deadness of nominal, hypocritical "Christianity." Some of it is a tiney "bandwagon" effect.
The article says that "local and national atheist organizations have flourished in recent years, fed by outrage over the Bush administration’s embrace of the religious right. A spate of best-selling books on atheism also popularized the notion that nonbelief is not just an argument but a cause, like environmentalism or muscular dystrophy." While of course not being a reason to become an atheist, perhaps ths has brought some atheists out of the closet. Most of the students I have are intellectually ignorant of the "religious right" but viscerally put off by it, as they should be, since the real Jesus spoke against the legalistic, judgmental, militaristic-nationalistic-political stuff that often characterizes it.
I think it will always be hard to find a really good, long-term committed atheist. One reason may be that atheism qua atheism is not for anything but against (a-) the existence of God. Hence "humanists," or "freethinkers" as alternative titles. This last phrase, to me, is especially funny, since philosophical naturalism finds "free will" and therefore "free thought" questionable. On real atheism "free thinking" is oxymoronic.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
Philosopher and jurisprudential scholar Francis Beckwith's Defending Life is the best book I've read re. the personhood of the conceptus. And, if you want a good read on the logical nonsense of philosophical relativism, Beckwith's book is for you.
University of S. Carolina philosopher Robert George has written Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Beckwith gives it a review on amazon.com. Beckwith writes:
"This book, authored by two of my favorite philosophers, is perhaps the most sophisticated and clearly written defense of embryonic personhood that has come out since the onset of the biotech revolution.
George and Tollefsen are conversant with the scientific issues as well as the deep philosophical questions of nature and personhood that percolate beneath the surface. They are also well-versed in the arguments of those with whom the disagree. One of their adversaries, Lee Silver, a colleague of George's, is singled out for special treatment. What makes this analysis particularly enlightening is how it exposes how little care Silver takes in crafting his moral and metaphysical arguments. But Silver is not alone. This sort of philosophical negligence is symptomatic of an academic culture that churns out wonderfully smart technicians, like Silver, who have floated through their professional lives blissfully unaware of the cluster of moral and metaphysical beliefs they take for granted and make their projects possible, but for which their scientism can provide no grounding.
George and Tollefsen also critique Cartesian dualism as well as philosophical materialism, arguing for a Thomistic hylomorphism as the best account of the human person.
This is a wonderful book that should be in the library of any one who is serious about bioethics and the future of what it means to be human."
---Francis J. Beckwith, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University. author of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Oral exam #3 will be held 4/27 & 4/29.
ROOM: Z-271 (La-Z-Boy Center)
2. Bertrand Russell
3. Alvin Plantinga
4. William Lane Craig's metaethical argument for God
The modal argument for the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom.
See you next week!
Saturday, April 18, 2009
William Lane Craig’s metaethical argument for the existence of God can be stated this way:
P1 – If there is no God then objective moral values and duties do not exist.
P2 – Objective moral values and duties exist.
C – Therefore, God exists.
When I present this argument in my Philosophy of Religion classes P1 is mostly if not entirely accepted. P2, however, is challenged. One reason for this is that I have not been able to present the argument as clearly as I should. In an effort to do this I’m drawing not only on Craig but on Paul Copan’s excellent essay “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality.” I am very impressed with this essay, and find Copan to be a clear writer. (Copan’s essay is in The Future of Atheism, 141-161)
Do objective moral values exist? Copan argues that they do. He writes: “We are wise to assume that our senses, our powers of reasoning, and our most fundamental moral instincts are not systematically deceiving us.” (142) Note these three: 1) our senses; 2) our powers of reasoning (Plantinga calls this “our belief-forming mechanisms); and 3) our fundamental moral instincts. They are all to be trusted in the absence of a defeater. Copan points out that even the most radical skeptic trusts in his sense experience and in logical reasoning. Thus statements like “I perceive a world external to myself” and “If P, therefore Q. P. Therefore Q.” are “properly basic.” While it’s certainly true that we can misperceive things and make logical mistakes, “such mistakes hardly call into question the general reliability of our sense or reasoning powers; indeed, they presuppose it. The ability to detect error presumes an awareness of truth.” (142)
We assume sense experience to be veridical. We cannot evidentially “prove” it to be so. That would require using our sense experience to “prove” its own veridicality. Likewise, we assume, e.g., modus ponens to be logical. We can’t prove it to be so by using logic, since that would require we trust in logic to “prove” that we can trust in logic. Copan’s claim (and Craig’s) is that we are to view our apprehension of objective moral values in juts this way.
Just as we can be mistaken re. our senses and our reasoning, so also we can by mistaken re. the making of moral judgments. In spite of this Copan says “there still are certain moral truths that we can’t not know unless we suppress our conscience or engage in self-deception. We possess an inbuilt “yuck factor” – basic moral intuitions about the wrongness of torturing babies for fun, of raping, murdering, or abusing children. We can also recognize the virtue of kindness or selflessness.” (142-143) What about people who can’t tell the moral difference between Mother Teresa and Joseph Stalin? “Those not recognizing such truths as properly basic are simply wrong and morally dysfunctional.” (143) It particularly this last statement that causes anger in some students when I make it. I’ll explain why I think this is so and why there’s no real need to be upset about this below.
Are moral values, like sense experience and logical reasoning, properly basic? Is our moral awareness epistemically foundational and “bedrock?” Some atheists think so. Copan cites atheist David O. Brink, who states: “Our commitment to the objectivity of ethics is a deep one.” Atheist Kai Neilsen writes:
It is more reasonable to believe such elemental things [as wife-beating and child abuse] to be evil than to believe any skeptical theory that tells us we cannot know or reasonably believe any of these things to be evil… I firmly believe that this is bedrock and right and that anyone who does not believe it cannot have probed deeply enough into the grounds of his moral beliefs.” (143)
If this is true, then basic moral beliefs are “discovered,” not “invented.” To explain this is to get at students’ complaints about the claim that, just as a person who cannot understand the logic of a disjunctive syllogism is logically dysfunctional, and just as a person who is skeptical that they are now eating breakfast when they are, so also are persons morally dysfunctional who cannot see that torturing and raping little girls for fun is objectively wrong. In my experience the person who protests against this usually does so because they think we have not discovered but invented moral values. The common explanation of the inventing of moral values is that of evolutionary theory.
Here Craig cites atheist Michael Ruse, who states that “morality” has evolved as an aid to survival and allows our species to perpetuate itself? (The Future of Atheism, 89) Craig says:
þ At its worst, this kind of reasoning is an example of the genetic fallacy.
þ At its best it only proves that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved.
þ Craig – “If moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then our gradual, fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.
þ Many of us think we do apprehend objective moral values.
þ Even Ruse writes: “The man who says that it is morally acceptable to rape little children is just as mistaken as the man who says, 2+2=5.” (Ib., 92)
Further, what if there are objective moral values, and we evolved, without God guiding the process, to apprehend these moral values? Craig rightly says that such an idea is “fantastically improbable.” The odds of blind evolutionary processes evolving creatures that perceive objective moral values is hard to believe. It is more reasonable to believe we are created by God to apprehend moral values. (Ib.)
Daniel Dennett has written that, given that we have evolved, ethical decision-making “holds out scant hope of our ever discovering a formula or an algorithm for doing right.” (Copan, 145)
Students who freak out, when I say that a person who can’t see that torturing and raping little girls for fun are morally wrong, do so, I think, because they view such acts as personally invented subjective preferences, such as “I like Pepsi.” Surely the affinity for Pepsi is a subjective taste and not some objective truth. Philosopher Thomas Reid “claimed he did not know by what reasoning – demonstrative or probable – he could convince the epistemic or moral skeptic.” (Copan, 144) As for me, when I meet a person who thinks torturing and raping are only subjective preferences, I won’t let them near my kids. Copan puts it this way: “Although basic moral principles – to be kind, selfless, and compassionate; to avoid torturing for fun, raping, or taking innocent human life – are accessible and knowable to morally sensitive human beings, some improperly functioning individuals may be self-deceived or hard-hearted sophists.” (144)
Copan concludes: “Thus, we should reasonably believe what is apparent or obvious to us unless there are overriding reasons to dismiss it – a belief that applies to our sense perception, our reasoning faculty, and our moral intuitions/perceptions.” (144) Just as we perceive a world external to us, and intuit certain laws of logic that are properly basic, so also we apprehend certain moral truths to be objective.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Re. the latter Chalmers writes: "The really hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. When we think and perceive, there is a whir of information-processing, but there is also a subjective aspect. As Nagel (1974) has put it, there is something it is like to be a conscious organism. This subjective aspect is experience. When we see, for example, we experience visual sensations: the felt quality of redness, the experience of dark and light, the quality of depth in a visual field... If any problem qualifies as the problem of consciousness, it is this one. In this central sense of "consciousness", an organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism, and a mental state is conscious if there is something it is like to be in that state. Sometimes terms such as "phenomenal consciousness" and "qualia" are also used here, but I find it more natural to speak of "conscious experience" or simply "experience"."
Chalmers says: "An analysis of the problem shows us that conscious experience is just not the kind of thing that a wholly reductive account could succeed in explaining." He says, at this point, some just give up. it's the kind of thing that makes one think the problem of consciousness is in principle unsolvable. Chalmers is not so pessimistic. He writes: "This is not the place to give up; it is the place where things get interesting. When simple methods of explanation are ruled out, we need to investigate the alternatives. Given that reductive explanation fails, nonreductive explanation is the natural choice." He goes on to outline his principles for a nonreductive explanation of consciousness. Very interesting!
Friday, April 10, 2009
Last evening, in our sanctuary, I was with many friends as we worshiped God and listened to the story of Jim & Sallie Collins and their time in a Christian community in Zimbabwe. Then, we had the Lord’s Supper together.
Linda and I led worship, and John Collins accompanied my guitar-playing on the violin. There were times last night when I felt so moved by God, especially as we sang about what the cross of Christ means, that I could not sing. At one point I just told everybody that I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this, so they should just keep singing. For me, it was one of those presence-of-God moments that was tangible and manifest and experiential. I’m thinking about this now, and I am thankful for it. Thank God that he sent Jesus. Thank God for the cross.
Then Jim and Sallie shared. They did such an excellent job! And, it was hard for them. Why? Because they served together with 16 white Jesus-followers for several months together, and this group called Community of Reconciliation helped the dirt-poor Zimbabweans in the area, raising crops, collecting water in a parched land, worshiping together, holding Bible studies, and any other things.
Then one evening, during a Bible study, anti-government rebels carrying guns and grenades and AK-47s invaded. And threatened to kill them all. At one point a rebel held a gun to Sallie’s forehead. Jim and Sallie were separated from their 4-year-old son Michael. The rebels did not kill them that evening. But they vowed to come back in a year. And they did come back in a year. That’s when they killed 16 Jesus-followers, including children and babies. They killed them, not with guns, but with knives and hatchets. They tied each one’s hands behind their backs with barbed wire. Then, one by one, forcing the others to watch, the rebels hacked them to death. They threw grenades in the buildings and burnt them. One little boy escaped. And one 12-year-old girl who was forced to watch the one-by-one torturing of her family and all her friends was given a note by the murderers and told to take it to the government officials. Which she did. She and the boy are alive today.
Jim and Sallie left before this happened. They had to return to their home in Kansas City. One day they got a call and were told the horrible story.
This slaughter in Zimbabwe was international news. I’ve put one of the New York Times articles about this below.
A memorial service was held. People came from afar to honor these slain, good people, who possessed no weapons to defned themselves, which was a rarity in Zimbabwe at the time.
The day after the memorial service the rains came and filled up the dams and ponds the Community had built for the people.
Jim and Sallie shared this story last night, accompanied by many photos of the people, the Zimbabweans who were helped, the buildings and dams, and the aftermath of the killings to include a photo of a blood-spattered wall in a room where the executions were held. Then we took communion. During communion we played a tape that was made of the blacks and whites who loved Jesus with all their hearts worshiping together in their African dialect. I sat there, as did many of you last night, pondering what happened to Jesus on the Friday following the Last Supper. I thought of the Cross. Of sin defeated. Of Satan and evil and the spiritual battle we are in and the victory over evil we have in the Cross and Resurrection. I thought of death. As Paul said, now death has lost its sting.
For me last evening was a communion service I shall never forget. So today - remember the Cross. Worship God. Follow Jesus.
ZIMBABWEAN VOWS TO PUNISH KILLERS
Special to the New York Times
Published: Sunday, November 29, 1987
Enos Nkala, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Home Affairs in charge of the country’s police force, today viewed the macabre scene at Olive Tree Farm near here where 8 of 16 murdered missionaries were hacked to death Thursday.
The somber Mr. Nkala stood in front of the small guest bedroom where the Christian missionaries, hands tied behind their backs, were killed by 20 anti-Government rebels.
Mr. Nkala left the room to walk among the acres of neatly tended vegetable and corn fields, commenting on the new irrigation pipes and new corrals and sheds for animals.
”This is so tragic,” he said. ”These religious people had really developed their farm, and they were working very much with the local peasants.” Helped Surrounding Peasants
He was told how the Pentecostal group, calling itself the Community of Reconciliation, held classes for the surrounding farmers. The members had allocated plots of their irrigated fields to black farmers who could keep the vegetables they grew.
”This land will never be so well cared for,” he said. ”A dark cloud of death has settled here.”
Then Mr. Nkala became angry. ”We are going to account for this,” he shouted. ”We are going to get these dissidents.”
”This Gayigusu is their leader, and he is still around here,” the Cabinet minister said, pointing to the granite hills surrounding the farm. ”Our men are out there now, all around, and we are going to get him. We want that Gayigusu, we want his head.”
Mr. Nkala’s vow of vengeance contrasted sharply with the nonviolent Christian spirit that pervaded the two homesteads, Olive Tree Farm and New Adam’s Farm, where the other missionaries were killed, about 30 miles south of Bulawayo. She Watched Helplessly
Esnath Dube, who had helped care for the children on the farms, told Mr. Nkala and other officials how she had watched helplessly as the victims were led, one by one, into the room where they were hacked to death, apparently because the rebels felt shots would alert nearby soldiers and policemen.
”They were peaceful, silent as they died,” Miss Dube said. ”They didn’t scream or cry. But I was screaming and crying. I vomited. It was awful.”
John Russell, 74 years old, had been living at New Adam’s Farm for five years but was away on vacation when the killings occurred. Two of his daughters and four of his grandchildren died.
”I don’t think I can come back here again,” he said. ”I love these farms and have been very happy here, but I just can’t come back.”
Mr. Russell said his daughters and their husbands had helped found the Community of Reconciliation to help bring Zimbabwe’s blacks and whites together after the 10-year guerrilla war to end white-minority rule.
”We all decided that we could not have armed guards and security fences to protect us from the dissidents,” he said, referring to the standard security measures taken by white farmers here. ”How could we live in a fortress and expect the people to trust in God? No, we couldn’t.” Squatters Are Denounced
Although the missionaries were highly respected by small-scale black farmers, they were not so popular among the poorest of the poor, the landless people forced by the shortage of land and the current drought to become squatters on the land of others.
”I hold the squatters responsible for calling in the dissidents against these missionaries,” Mr. Nkala said. He said that when the Government last week ordered squatters off the two mission farms, some of them issued threats.
There are thousands of squatters in the region, Matabeleland, and Mr. Nkala said the dissidents were acting on their grievances.
”These are problems we have in Zimbabwe,” Mr. Nkala said. ”The dissidents and the squatters are our own political and ethnic problems.”
”But we live in southern Africa, and all our problems are intertwined,” he said. ”You cannot separate them. South Africa is involved in backing these dissidents, just as they are backing Renamo in Mozambique and Unita in Angola.”
‘THOSE PEOPLE HAD A VISION’
KANSAS CITY, Nov. 28 (Special to The New York Times) - Members of the Community of Reconciliation knew the risks they were facing in Zimbabwe, according to the pastor of a Kansas City church that has helped support their mission.
”Those people had a vision,” said the Rev. Noel Alexander, pastor of the nondenominational Kansas City Fellowship Church, who has twice visited the missionary community with a team of supporters from his congregation.
”They knew the risks,” he said, ”because they had had confrontations with the dissidents before.”
His church was one of several that supported the little community of Pentecostal Christians. To give the community ”cash flow,” Mr. Alexander said, his church had helped them buy cattle. He said they had used some of that cash to buy blankets for Africans.
”They were a humble, selfless people who literally laid down their lives for their cause,” he said. ”That cause, as their name implied, was the reconciliation of man with God and man with man.”
Speaking of one of two Americans who were slain, David Emerson, 35, a native of Minnesota, Mr. Alexander said he was to have been married to Penelope Lovett, another victim. The other American was Karen Alice Sharon Ivesdahl, 34, a North Dakota native.
Monday, April 06, 2009
NOTE: If there's a God who created the mechanism of natural selection as a means of creating things, then Boyd's response is unnecessary, and we're back to the Francis Collins/Ken Miller ideas re. theistic evolution.
ALSO: Watch for more writing like Boyd's. I read his essay as expressive of his own need to find meaning and purpose in the ultimately meaningless and purposeless context of evolutionary naturalism. Again, there is "no real sense" in which we can say that evolution "creates" anything.
Sunday, April 05, 2009
- The needs religion addresses cannot be addressed by science. Science qua science says nothing about value. The advance of science will raise even more meta-physical questions. That bodes well for "religion."
- If the religious impulse is hard-wired into us, guess what: it'll never go away, at least not in our lifetime or many lifetimes to come. I view most "internet atheists" as hopelessly mired in theism's noetic framework. Why such protest? Really, on atheism, who cares?
- In my very tiny world as a philosophy professor at a community college, the packed-out rooms in my philosophy of religion classes show me that students are hugely interested in "religion" and God and want to talk about this and study these things with someone who will listen, dialogue with them, and assert a strong religious worldview.
- I personally don't think "religion" is in great jeopardy. But I am defining "religion" to include the deep existential religious impulse that I continue to meet and see in people irregardless of the evangelistic atheists. So is God "back?" I don't think he ever left.