Tuesday, September 30, 2008

If a Creator does not exist

Although this is completely unrelated to what we are currently discussing in class, I have been thinking more about religion lately, and some questions have come to mind. All of our readings are discussing ideas behind religion and a supreme creator. I was wondering for those philosophers who do not believe in a Creator, how would they explain the phenomenon of speaking in tongues? I have witnessed this before from a close individual whom had never lest the United States, and would have never known any other language, they spoke in tongues. I know it is off topic, but I thought someone may have some ideas.

Jack London, Medusa-truth and Maya-lie

My Studies in the Novel course is overlapping a bit with this course, and I am currently writing a Paper on Jack London's philosophies and their prevalence in  his novel "Martin Eden". I stumbled across this article and I am using it as the basis of my paper. However, and I hope I'm not jumping ahead of the course, I think this article has some interesting remarks on the a perspective of God/man's reason for life.

It speaks about the medusa truth and maya lie and I was interested to see if any of you recognize this and if so if you could enlighten me more on it's origin. If not, well here is the article and perhaps we will discuss it later either here or in class. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Durkheim and Suicide

From the reading on Durkheim I thought that when he said that the tighter the social ties, the lower the rate of suicide. The idea was that in Protestant countries the people have greater individual freedom and are more on their own before God, and Catholics have a more integrated social community. The Protestant countries tend to be more egoistic and therefore more suicide. I think that this notion is interesting that the more individualistic a group or society is, the more likely they are to be selfish and commit suicide. It seems that the role that religion seems to play in a society can be a very important one. It is strange to think that simply depending upon whether someone is Protestant or Catholic can determine their likelihood to kill themselves.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Elitism, Politics & Religion


The above article is written by author Sam Harris ("The End of Faith", "Letter to a Christian Nation") about the underlying issues within the political arena that have been brought to light by the candidacy of Sarah Palin for Vice President. Putting aside the elements of being a Republican or Democrat (which I admit is difficult given what each party brings to the conversation), the article raised a few questions for me.

Does political elitism equate snobbery? It would not be looked upon negatively to expect our soldiers, doctors, athletes, or pilots to be elite (as Harris points out). But when it comes to the political field, elitism carries the element of snobbery to it. Being knowledgeable about the world; its policies and practices, seeing power and desiring to be the best all of a sudden is looked down upon. I see elements of Nietzsche's master and slave moralities here-we want people to lead that are like us, we want to see compassion, pity, etc.

From our reading on Durkheim, morals cannot be divorced from religion. Is it possible then to have a democracy that is neutral on religion but has moral principles? Or are we forced to have the religion card played time and again? Whose religious morals do we follow or are they the same? I sense pluralism around the corner with this argument. There is talk of wanting God back in the government/classroom (at least there was in the environment I was brought up it) but whose God or view of God?

Sunday, September 14, 2008


This weekend has been one of the craziest weekends i've experienced in a long time. It has really pointed me to the fact that people really are good. Sure they may not always act like it and they slip up, but i think deep down inside us all there is a desire to love, to help and to build one another up.

This past wednesday night, one of my bestfriends/roomate's brother passed away in a car accident. I was woken up thursday morning by his aunt who wanted to get into our apartment to break the news to him. After about an hour or so, he packed up and went with her to Greensboro to be with his family. Needless to say, it was a rough morning.

Thursday night, my roomates and I drove to Greensboro to spend time with our roomate and his family. When we arrived we were welcomed by everyone as if we were part of the family.

This past weekend was filled with tears, laughter and recollections of past memories of my roomate and his brother. It's weird though... in the midst of the tragedy and sadness, I got to see the goodness in people really come out

Friends that had long slipped through the radar suddenly popped back up and came to my roomates side to love him and do whatever they could to help. Flowers were sent in, phone calls were made to encourage and uplift the family, and today at 3pm, almost 1,000 people showed up to share in the celebration of his brothers life and to be there for my roomate and his family.

I personally saw so many people come forth to offer support and love to his family. I think it's cool to see how emotionally trying times can bring the best out of people.

I think this ultimately points to the question of whether people are inherently good or bad. I know that Christianty points to the fact that man is naturally fallen, but i think this viewpoint still expresses the idea that God can still work through the fallen and all the depravity.

I think this weekend i learned that people do want to do good. They want to help, they want to love, and they want to share in life with one another. Sometimes it takes tragedy to remind us that we aren't the center of the universe and escape our pride and self-centeredness.

I dont know how relative this is to the direction the class is facing right now, but to me this was the most important and relative thing of the weekend. I guess it's just something i was thinking about

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Self-defeat in Philosophy

Arguing that a position is self-defeating is a fairly common, and often devastating, form of philosophical argument. It also has a limited aim; it is purely negative. I wanted to give you some examples so you’ll have more context when this comes up in our discussions about religion.

One of the most famous instances of this form of critique killing a philosophical position involves the Verification Theory of Meaning. Roughly, the VTM is

If a sentence can’t be proven true or false through empirical observation or by definition of its terms, it is meaningless.
But of course the VTM itself can’t be proven true or false through empirical observation or by definition of its terms. By its own standards, it’s meaningless. That tells us that this is not a good theory of meaning. (Logically: if P implies not-P, then not-P.) It does not tell us what a good theory would be.

Epistemological skepticism is a ripe field for this kind of argument. The (naïve) skeptic says,
No one has any knowledge
and then immediately has to answer the sly question, How do you know?
Or the skeptic may say
All human thought is weak, biased, and ultimately unprovable; therefore no inferences are sound.
So I guess that one isn’t sound either? Some skepticism amounts to declarations like
I have an excellent argument that no arguments are excellent! Or
My philosophical view is that no philosophical views should be taken seriously
which is hard to take seriously. Such observations tell us that these skeptical positions aren’t correct. But they get us no closer to actually having any particular knowledge.

Hard-core historicism has a similar problem. The hard-core historicist tells us
All philosophical positions are purely products of their time and circumstances,and therefore none has a greater claim on truth than any other.
But since the HCH includes himself here, his views have no special claim on truth, and we ought not pay him any more attention than we do some long-forgotten two-bit sage. You can get the same effect in logic:
Every generalization has exceptions.
No sentence of seven words is true.
All dogmatic assertions should be rejected.
Each of these defeats itself. Richard Rorty is famous for his remark,

Truth is what your peers will let you get away with saying
but his peers did not let him get away with saying this.

Morality offers similar pitfalls, often where skepticism or relativism are concerned. Suppose a cultural relativist offers

Moral principles are only valid for cultures that endorse them.
What is the status of this principle outside a relativist culture? Is the relativist trying to make an (inconsistently) absolute claim, one that applies everywhere? Or are they simply trying to legislate for their own culture, and everyone else has genuinely absolute principles (which, being absolute, also apply to the relativist)? Neither option is attractive. Consider also

Moral principles are never absolute.
Except this one?

No one has the right to say what morality is for everyone.

Except you, Mr. Speaker?
There is no truth about morality

Other than that? And
Everyone has their own opinion about morality, so you can’t trust anyone’s moral reasoning
is an inference that defeats itself, again. We can be sure that these are not truths. We have no way of proceeding from this observation, however, to any positive, substantive moral views.

There are subtler ways to look for self-defeat, too. The empiricist slogan

All knowledge comes from the senses
is unlikely to be justified by appeal to sense experience. You do not look around and observe trees, houses, and knowledge. Foucault used to say things like
Truth-claims are attempts to exercise social power
and this leads you to wonder how to read Foucault’s books. Cautiously, I guess. Hume (and Nagarjuna!) argued that

There is no stable, persisting self.
Sez who? Likewise for
Language never captures reality, and
Conceptual thought always falsifies.
In fairness, Nagarjuna seems clear that even these doctrines will have to be relinquished. They are “true” in the Buddhist sense that they assist in enlightenment, not in the sense that they capture an unfalsified reality. (One wonders what to think, though, about “these doctrines assist in enlightenment.”)

Now with all that background, I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to go back over Keller’s rendition of the religious pluralist’s views:
The content of religious doctrines does not matter
Each religion sees part of spiritual truth, but none sees the whole
Religious belief is too culturally conditioned to be ‘truth’
It is arrogant to insist that your religion is right and to convert others to it
It is ethnocentric to believe that our religious views are superior to others
and see if they are self-defeating, in obvious or subtle ways. Comments welcome.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reflection on Interreligious Harmony

After reading Interreligious Harmony it made me think about wether this way of living life could be used for everyone. The idea that we should all be accepting and open to other people's religous choices sounds great, but can everyone actually implement this. He discusses the idea of accepting others religous practices while still following your own. Many relgions teach that you should try and convert unbelievers to believers of their religion so it is difficult for me to see how this would follow his ideas. In an ideal world I think everyone would be tolerant of everyone in their religious choices but I think it is unrealistic to think that it could actually occur.

All Ideas are Religions?

The article given in class, I thought, was based a strange assumption. That is that all ideas anyone can have are religions, and unprovable. I think the author assumes this mainly because of his definition of religion

"It is a set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing"

What the author leaves out is that religions are based on faith, and not reason. The context in which he gives this definition, (in order to refute secularists), seems to imply that he left that part of religion out on purpose, in order to make a point. If religion were what he defined it as, religion would include all ideas. There are, though, incredibly important differences between religion, and philosophy and science.

Religions are interpretations of the world based on the religion's unchanging premise, that is believed because of faith. The bible, for example can be interpreted in different ways for different denominations, but a religious christian would not question the basic premise: that the bible is true.

Philosophy does not have these basic assumptions. This is mostly true of science too. Ideas in philosophy are proven to the very end. Ideas that are refuted rationally are rejected (or modified), and not interpreted into a fixed premise. The entire idea of philosophy is to actually know things, and not blindly believe anything.

It seems, for the author, abstract ideas are unknowable, and therefore can only be thought about through faith. This, of course, is an abstract concept that he seems to "know" to be true.

Secularists and athietsts do have dogmatic beliefs, as do all people, but dogmatic beliefs are not the only kind of ideas. The author gives the example of a secularist who was questioned about why she thinks human rights exist, until she admitted she couldn't think of why she believed this. The author concludes that because she cannot think of a rational reason why she believes in human rights, there is no objective reason to believe human rights exist. He fails to see the terrible logical leap he made. Human rights can't be proven by rationality, because this one woman failed to prove her beliefs? She simply didn't know the reason behind human rights. She instead believed in human rights blindly.

This is the difference between belief and knowledge. This woman in the example believed human rights existed, but did not know it. It might as well have been a religious belief. This in no way means there isn't a rational objective reason for this idea this woman happens to believe in. She may be wrong objectivly, or right objectivly, but that's not what was being argued. Her dogmatic beliefs were.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

History of Religion


Please visit this site and watch this 90 second clip covering the history of Religion. There are many questions that could be raised from this, feel free to offer your own, but I will offer only a few.

Why have Christianity and Islam seen such widespread propagation when they have only been around 2000 years compared to Hinduism's 5000 year history?
What are so enticing about their "spectacles?"

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"There Can't Be Just One True Religion"

The author of the hand-out seems to lump all Christianity into one group when he speaks at the end in the section 'Christianity Can Save the World'. He does mention "within Christianity-robust, orthodox Christianity-there are rich resources that can make its followers agents for peace on earth". Having grown up in "the Church" I do not share this view. The branch of Christianity that I once ascribed to did not believe in peace on earth made by human hands; the only peace would be when Jesus comes back. Until then, the whole of creation groans for Jesus' return. I acknowledge and agree that historically and even today, members of 'the faith' seek to aid those in need (like the work done by groups such as Mother Theresa's Missionaries of Charity) and others like it. It seems to me that the message of Jesus (caring for those in need, turning the other cheek, loving your enemy, etc.) has been overshadowed by doctrine, creed and belief. I do not know if that is the case; its how I have seen it and I could be off. I guess the question I have is, is it fair to group all forms of Christianity together? And is it fair to say that only within the mentioned "robust, orthodox Christianity" are found the resources to make its followers agents for peace on earth? Is peace on earth a goal for Christianty to be attained by Christians? If so, which branch? The Catholics? The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? The Seventh-Day Adventists? I think the differences in beliefs between the denominations tare greater han the similarities and these differences can be found in what the goals of each branch are.