Thoughts on Theodicy

One of the most famous reasons to reject the existence of God is the existence of evil. Either evil or God can exist, not both. The dilemma relies on the supposition that these three propositions cannot all be true at once

  1. God is all good.
  2. God is all powerful.
  3. Evil exists.

In modern atheist rhetoric, the whole thing is stated as though not a single Christian, Jewish, Muslim, otherwise religious person has ever noticed the potential logical hang up with believing these three things. Thus a non-Christian or atheist of some sort will point out that a good God would stop evil, a powerful God can, but evil happens therefore either proposition 1 or 2 isn’t true…therefore in a non-sequitur of immense proportions, “if God is not all powerful or all good by my definition, then God does not exist.”

Now, many solutions to the problem of evil have been proposed and of them some are logically sound solutions. This is very important because the rhetoric works like that:

  1. If I can make you feel confused about the problem of evil, then you are irrationally believing in God.
  2. I stated the problem of evil, therefore you are confused,(or even if you’re not), therefore God does not exist. (I know it does not follow, just thinking of discussions at dinner parties.)

The more sophisticated version is here:

  1. Believing in God does not comport with reality if the problem of evil creates a contradiction.
  2. The problem of evil does entail a contradiction.
  3. The law of non-contradiction states that contradictory statements cannot both be true.
  4. Therefore one of your beliefs (God is powerful, God is good, and evil exist) is false.

Here’s the thing. As long as there is, as far as I know, one logical solution to the problem of evil (even if you do not think that solution is true), then it loses its force as an argument.

The argument against God’s existence from the existence of evil does not require the discovery of a 100% true solution to be rendered null. It simply requires a demonstration that the propositions are not necessarily contradictory. This is why we still use Newtonian physics despite the existence of other models that apparently create a contradiction. There is not, that I am aware of, a definitively true, solution to the relationship between classical physics, quantum mechanics, and physics approaching the speed of light. But a plausible account is what allows the propositions of those systems to be held until a truer solution is produced.

With respect to the theistic problem of evil, Vox Day, a video game programmer and fiction author, has written a brief but poignant response to the classical problem of evil:

As for the idea that an all-powerful and all-loving God should wish to stop and be able to stop evil, to say nothing of the idea that the existence of evil therefore disproves the existence of such a god, well, that doesn’t even rise to the level of midwittery [this word, which I know I heard growing up, is a Voxism on the internet].

 

One has to have a truly average mind and remain ignorant of basic Biblical knowledge to find either of those concepts even remotely convincing.

 

Imagine the Sisyphean hell that is the existence of a video game character, literally created to die over and over and over again. Does the misery of his existence prove that the video game developer does not exist? Of course not. Does it prove that the developer has any limits upon him that the video game character can observe? Of course not. Does it prove that the developer has any particular enmity for the character? Not at all.

 

Now, it does prove that the developer is not all-loving. But then, the Christian God is not all-loving. He plays favorites. He loves some and He is very specific about others for whom He harbors not only antipathy, but outright hatred. It is fine to attack the idea of an all-loving god, but it is a mistake to assume any such attack is even remotely relevant to the Christian religion.

Vox’s points evade the objection to God’s existence on the grounds of analogy. If a video game programmer makes a game whose characters have awful experiences, the programmer still exists. On that score, our objections to God’s existence on the grounds of our experiences in life don’t square with the logical arguments nor the testimonial evidence that God/gods exist(s).

He also notes that God, in Scripture, plays favorites. There is a sense in which that is true. I would say that Scripture does tend toward the notion that God is love and thus all-loving. But God being all loving does not mean, as is mistakenly supposed, that God is equally nice to all. His point still stands, even if one of his premises needs fine tuning. It’s more accurate, I suppose, to say that God is love in the same way that God is good. God is the height of goodness in a sense that is infinitely superior and also infinitely other than our own.

Aside from Vox’s objection, it is also the case that many people who suffer the most god-forsaken experiences and torments, like Jesus on the cross and still end up believing in God and God’s love. So the argument against God’s existence from the existence of evil fails on evidence of the experience of many religious persons. Of course, one could respond that they’re experiencing severe cognitive dissonance.

As mentioned above, there are several other solutions to the problem. Many of them are falsifiable, many are compatible with one another, and some contradict others, but they take any logical bite out of the objection to God’s existence because of evil):

  1. God created evil on purpose (Calvin, Augustine, Edwards, Jung, etc).
  2. Evil is an aberration within creation. (Open theism, classical theism, Anabaptist thought)
  3. A creation with the possibility of evil is a necessary precursor to a creation without evil (Irenaeus, Dallas Willard, Plantinga, and Swinburne)
  4. Evil is non-existent, it is simply a good thing going against its nature by means of deformity or free will. It is a designation for such things as deviate from God. It is not an actual subsisting thing (if no wills existed besides God’s, none of creation could be evil no matter how desolate, because existence is good).  (Aquinas, Eastern Orthodox thought)
  5. Creation entails difference from God, thus the possibility of evil, precisely because creation is not God.
  6. God is not all good.
  7. God is not all powerful.
  8. God is all powerful and all good, but those do not mean what you think they mean.
  9. God finds the problem of evil abhorrent too, hence the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, and the promised new creation. God is solving it in creation and space-time history.

On the Importance of Philosophical Reasoning for Biblical Exegesis: Edward Feser and Romans 1:18-23

Introduction
In my mind, the ability to engage in philosophical reasoning in order to tease out the implications of particular interpretations of the Bible and other truths is indispensable for reading the Bible and teaching it to others.

Example

Edward Feser, in a post titled, “Repressed Knowledge of God?” comments that the common interpretation of Romans 1:18-23 is mistaken. Here is the passage in question from the ESV, I would translate it differently, but it reflects the most common interpretation:

Romans 1:18-23 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (21) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

The common interpretation is that the atheist is the person to whom these verses refer. This can be seen in the writings of many schools of Christian apologetics. The idea is that atheism is always a matter of intellectual dishonesty because the Bible teaches that knowledge of the God of the Bible is so obvious that it can only be suppressed by sheer force of will. Personaly, I think that some people are atheists because they accept bad arguments just like some people believe in God for silly reasons.

Without thinking about Christian theology, the psychology of all atheists, and broader philosophical conclusions, the text of Romans 1:18-23 itself militates against seeing atheists in this passage. The passage is not about people who believe in no gods, but rather those who have good reason to worship the God of the Hebrew Scriptures, but choose to worship idols.(See the footnote of this post about the passage in question for an alternative interpretation). The passage gives good insight into the results of idolatry, which is related to atheism, but it is not directly about atheism at all.

Feser, without attempting to exegete the Bible passage in question, refutes the view that God’s existence is so obvious as to only be denied on purpose rather handily. Here is the relevant portion of his argument:

Do we have a natural tendency to believe in God? Yes, but in something like the way in which someone might have a natural aptitude for music or for art. You might be inclined to play some instrument or to draw pictures, but you’re not going to do either very well without education and sustained practice.  And without cultivating your interest in music or art, your output might remain at a very crude level, and your ability might even atrophy altogether.

Or consider moral virtue.  It is natural to us, but only in the sense that we have a natural capacity for it.  Actually to acquire the virtues still requires considerable effort.  As Aquinas writes: “[V]irtue is natural to man inchoatively…both intellectual and moral virtues are in us by way of a natural aptitude, inchoatively, but not perfectly…(Summa Theologiae I-II.63.1, emphasis added), and “man has a natural aptitude for virtue; but the perfection of virtue must be acquired by man by means of some kind of training” (Summa Theologiae I-II.95.1).

Now, knowledge of God is like this. We are indeed naturally inclined to infer from the natural order of things to the existence of some cause beyond it.  But the tendency is not a psychologically overwhelming one like our inclination to eat or to breathe is. It can be dulled.  Furthermore, the inclination is not by itself sufficient to generate a very clear conception of God.  As Aquinas writes:

To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude… This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching… (Summa Theologiae I.2.1, emphasis added)

In other words, from a philosophical point of view, to claim that God’s existence is only and ever obvious, is simply untrue. Now, that does not automatically mean that Paul doesn’t teach the falsified point of view. But for those with a conservative evangelical definition of the Bible, it means alternative interpretations should be sought. 

Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness

Book Review: The Gospel of Happiness: Rediscover Your Faith Through Spiritual Practices and Positive Psychology by Christopher Kaczor

Introduction

I found out about this book from twitter, when James K.A. Smith mentioned anticipating it’s release. I had never heard of the author before, but he’s an ethics professor with his PhD from Notre Dame.

The aim of the book is stated on page 18:

In this book, I highlight the many ways in which positive psychology and Christian practice overlap. I point out empirical findings in positive psychology that point to the wisdom of many Christian practices and teachings. I also provide practical suggestions on how to become happier in everyday life and how to deepen Christian practice based on contemporary psychological insights. All of this points us toward deeper fulfillment in this life, and in the life to come. This is why I titled this book The Gospel of Happiness – because this is good news, very good news indeed (18).

The argument is fairly obvious from chapter to chapter. The chapter titles are:

  1. The Ways to Happiness
  2. The Way of Faith, Hope, and Love
  3. The Way of Prayer
  4. The Way of Gratitude
  5. The Way of Forgiveness
  6. The Way of Virtue
  7. The Way of Willpower

Dr. Kaczor looks at the relevant psychological research concerning each topic as well the Biblical and historical teachings of Christianity and shows their coherence and overlap. After he makes these comparisons he makes recommendations for personal practice.

The Bad
I really found very little objectionable in the book. Perhaps a more New Testament studies oriented definition of the word gospel would have been nice. The gospel is not merely, “good news” because it makes us happy. It is good news because it is an announcement about God’s kingdom. But this weakness is forgivable because the author isn’t a New Testament scholar. Also, it makes very little practical difference to the content of the rest of the book.

There are two formatting issues though: the book uses endnotes which are as annoying as having socks full of fire ants. Also, there is no index. An index would have been wonderful.

The Good
Where shall I begin? For starters, the book takes on Nietzsche’s notion that Christianity makes people weak, miserable, and stupid (183). Many Christians feel guilty about pursuing happiness, power, or success and I think that this comes from adopting a Nietzschean understanding of Christian ethics instead of Biblical one.

Another wonderful aspect of the book is the content of the endnotes. The amount of helpful literature cited is a great library builder.

More importantly though is the content of the book. As stated above the author means to show how positive psychology and Christian teaching over lap and offer practical advice for improving happiness. I’ll summarize the first chapter to show how the author does this so that you can see that he performs his objective admirably:

The Ways to Happiness
In this chapter, Kazcor uses Martin Seligman’s PERMA definition of happiness and shows how Christian teaching and practice, at its best, fulfills the requirements of each piece of the puzzle (21). It is important to recognize that Kaczor and Seligman define happiness as flourishing and well-being, not merely as positive emotion (as you’ll see). PERMA stands for positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement (21). Here are summaries of Kaczor’s explanation of each.

  1. Positive Emotions
    Kaczor cites several lines of research that indicate that religious people generally have higher positive emotion than irreligious people (22-23). He does observe that Christians are “called to love God and neighbor regardless how they may be feeling at the moment” (24). He also observes that doing the right thing while experiencing negative emotions is harder. I would add that Kant would say that makes it even more moral. Essentially, Kazcor notes that since we know the our emotions impact others and how we make decisions, we are obligated to care about fostering positive emotions in ourselves in ways that are not contrary to the Christian life. In doing this, we are able to foster well-being and emotional happiness in others (26). What I wish he did observe here was that doing the right thing for our neighbor can lead to positive emotions (he does say this on pages 66-67).
  2. Engagement
    Engagement is our flow or activation of our strengths in order to accomplish some task. Kaczor reminds readers that in Genesis, man was made to “tend the garden.” With this in mind, he notes the importance of legitimate work as a way of experiencing unity with God (29). I’ve written about this  myself.
  3. Relationships
    Seligman’s taxonomy of happiness includes relationships as a “rock-bottom fundamental of human well-being” (30). Kaczor here writes about the obvious place of human relationships in the teachings of Jesus. His main focus here is Jesus’ command to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:24). I would have added the importance of embedded personality in ancient thought is simply assumed in the Bible, so much so that while individuals are responsible for their actions, their identity is not merely related to achievements like in Proverbs, but it is linked integrally to their community associations (in Christ, the body of Christ, the church of God, etc).
  4. Meaning
    Kazcor notes that Seligman defines meaning as “belonging to and serving something you believe is better than the self” (32). Kaczor points to the subjective experience of Christian obedience in small things as a level of meaning added to people who aren’t famous for their contributions to the world (33). He also notes the objective question of whether or not anything actually has meaning and notes that Christianity claims to offer objective meaning to the life of the Christian and to explain the objective meaning of the cosmos and human existence in general. If Christianity is true, then meaning is provided for like Paul says, “your work in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
  5. Achievement
    Here Kaczor notes the importance of feeling successful for human happiness, but also notes the traps that Christian morality trains us to avoid: greed, vanity, and social comparison which are all things that positive psychology notes do not actually contribute to overall happiness (40). In my opinion, many Christians are so concerned to talk about God’s grace saving us from sin despite our failure to do good works that they fail to talk about the importance of tackling small and big tasks for God, neighbor, and self in order to be happy. But the Bible does say that with toil there is profit and with mere talk there is only poverty. Paul also approves of a certain measure of pleasure in spiritual growth (Gal 6:4).

Conclusion
Over all I find the book to be a wonderful clarification of the position of Christian theology and the Biblical witness on happiness, but it is not merely that. It also functions as a defense of Christianity because it shows that Christianity is actually good for you. Finally, the book is a great book for devotional reading or for pastors to read in order to help Christians in their pursuit of Christ and of earthly and eternal happiness. I highly recommend it.

Burning off dead wood

What is a human being and how does it grow? Two men offer helpful and constructive answers can be found below. To be human is to be the sort of creature whose mind can incorporate struggles and trials into itself to become more. Marcus is commenting on the Stoic concept that human beings are rational animals, Peterson is commenting on Scripture in the first quote and on Jung’s understanding of Solve et Coagula[1] in the second. I hope what follows is helpful and encouraging:

Marcus Aurelius

Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events by accommodating itself to what it faces— to what is possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp. What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed, consumed by it— and makes it burn still higher. (Aurelius Meditations, Hays Translation 4:1)

 

Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. (Aurelius 5:20)

Jordan Peterson

It’s not just a little linear, it’s step-wise, right? It’s that the you that emerges as a consequence of your latest catastrophe is everything that you were before plus something more. And that actually constitutes what you might describe as measurable progress, right? And that’s another argument against moral relativism, because if you can do everything that you could do before, and you can do some more things we could just define that as better. It’s not a bad definition. And then we have enough. It’s like, what you’re trying to do is to differentiate the world and differentiate yourself and every time you undergo one of these revolutions then hopefully both of those things happen. And then there’s a moral to that story, too, which is do it voluntarily and maybe do it don’t wait for it to happen catastrophically. Keep your eyes open and when something goes a little bit wrong that you could fix it. Don’t say, “No, that doesn’t matter.” Maybe it does matter. Maybe it is matter. Maybe it’s exactly the matter out of which you should be built.[2] 

 

[confronting the unexpected and undesired good is…] It’s a forest fire that allows for new growth, and that’s how those things are put together and, and it’s useful to know too because if you burn something off you might think well there’s nothing left. That’s not true! If it’s dead wood, then you have room for new growth. And you want to be doing that on a fairly regular basis. That’s the snake that sheds its skin and transforms itself, right? That’s the death and resurrection, from a psychological perspective. It’s exactly the same idea! Now, we don’t know the upper limit to that, right? Because we don’t know what a person would be like if they let everything that they could let go let go and only let in what was seemly, let’s say. But you can see, that’s funny we know that to some degree you can see people vary from you can see people start to do that, it’s not a rare experience. And people improve very rapidly. They can improve their lives very rapidly, a lot of it is low-hanging fruit. If you just stop doing really stupid things that you know are stupid your life improves a lot so and it frees you up. It also means there’s a there’s an element there that’s also associated with pride because people tend to take pride in who they are, and that’s a bad idea because that stops you from becoming who you could be because if you’re proud of who you are you won’t let that go when it’s necessary you won’t step away from it you know and then you end up being your own parody That’s also a very bad idea. You want to be continually stepping away from your previous. Part of that too is that you have to decide, are you order, or are you chaos, or you the process that mediates between them? If you’re the process that mediates between them you are the thing that transforms. And that’s the right attitude for human beings because that’s what we are. The thing that voluntarily confronts chaos and transforms. That’s what we are. And so, for better or worse, you know, that’s our deepest biological essence, you might say. So, you can let things go if you know that there’s more growth to come.[3] 

 

Reflections

Aurelius’ meditations and Peterson’s broader argument provide a helpful rationale for learning the dialectical arts, adopting asceticism, and a more positive approach to life’s trials.

References


[1] One of my dear friends was deeply interested in Jung and before his tragic death wrote the song linked above.

[2]

Two Types of Honesty

There are two types of honesty:

  1. Frankness: Saying what you think/feel is true, simply. When one is being frank, you could speak complete untruths (objectively speaking) while still being honest.
  2. Scientific Accuracy: This mode of honesty is intentionally humble in the sense that you say what you think could provide evidence for, qualify what you mean, and admit which elements of what you say are unclear to you.

Each mode seems to have its weaknesses and is more appealing to those of certain personalities and occupations.

Taylor Swift: Great American Philosopher

I read a great quote in a meme. So I decided to find its source. It had a philosopher’s touch:

Live your life like you’re 80 looking back on your teenage years. You know if your dad calls you at eight in the morning and asks if you want to go to breakfast? As a teenager you’re like no, I want to sleep. As an 80 year old looking back, you have that breakfast with your dad. It’s just little things like that that helped me when I was a teenager in terms of making the choices you won’t regret later.

Anyway, as it turns out it was Taylor Swift. And while I don’t like her music, it is true that she receives a lot of hate from the political left (the last time I was on Twitter there must have been hundreds of articles about how evil she is). She in fact deserves credit for these remarks. They are, in fact, similar to Jonathan Edwards’ resolution 17:

Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.

Then there is resolution 52:

I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age. July 8, 1723.

Abraham’s Virtues

God Blessed Abraham in All Things

Yoram Hazony makes the case that in Genesis, Abraham is painted as a paradigmatically virtuous character. The primary evidence is that while Abraham is not perfect, God has confidence that he will “command his children and his house after him, and they will keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and right.[1]” Also significant is Genesis 24:1, “And the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things.”

Abraham’s Virtues

What are Abraham’s virtues (According to Hazony):

  1. He can be generous to strangers.
  2. He is troubled by injustice to the point of taking great risks to obstruct it (he even argues with God).
  3. He insists on only taking what is his and paying for what he gets.
  4. He is pious.
  5. He is concerned to safeguard his own interests and his family’s.

Many Christians tend to think of self-interest as a vice rather than a virtue. I made my own based on the Abraham story. It nearly matches Hazony’s:

  1. Abraham’s willingness to enter covenants is both altruistic (bless the earth) and self-interested (make a great name, you’ll be blessed, etc)
  2. Abraham rejects human sacrifice (see Genesis 22).[2]
  3. Abraham believes in right and wrong as absolute categories and challenges God’s actions on their basis.
  4. Abraham doesn’t fear conflict, or rather, shows great courage in the face of battle (when it comes to the power of giant cities, he has a harder time, but in his defense fighting tribal kings is a different animal that opposing the might of emperors in their walled megacities).
  5. Abraham insists on hospitality.
  6. Abraham trusts God (Genesis 15:6).

The Good Life in the Bible

Virtues are the mean between extremes and can easily become vices without careful introspection. And in Abraham’s story, we see time and again where his self-interest conflicts with the well-being of his wife (letting her into a royal harem!) and his trust in God (having a child with Hagar).[3]

In academic Biblical studies, the focus is typically on the apparent evils committed by this or that Biblical character that they tend to miss the idea that the authors are painting pictures of the good life. Because of this, they highlight the necessarily difficult task of making wise and just decisions in light of a hierarchy of goods which are often in conflict.

The idea that Abraham was virtuous despite nearly killing his son and that he was deeply concerned with his family’s riches and reputation is intellectually difficult. While I take the story of Isaac as a rejection of human sacrifice, most people I know think Abraham was really going to do it. But despite Abraham’s flaws, anybody could read through the Abraham story (Genesis 12:1-24:1) asking, “what does this say about living a full and good life?” The food for thought would be filling.

References

 [1] This is Hazony’s translation of Genesis 18:19. The Philosophy of the Hebrew Bible, 112.

[2]  In my mind, Genesis 22 makes it clear that Abraham, never for a second, was going to submit to the demand to kill Isaac. The New Testament has readings of the story implying that perhaps God could raise Isaac from the dead if Abraham did it. That may be true, but in the story, Abraham tells Isaac that God would provide an offering for the sacrifice.

 [3] 113

Simplify Complex Problems Like Descartes

Ever Feel Stupid?

Many of us wish we were smarter than we are. Rene Descartes even felt this way:  

“For myself, I have never fancied my mind to be in any respect more perfect than those of the generality; on the contrary, I have often wished that I were equal to some others in promptitude of thought, or in clearness and distinctness of imagination, or in fullness and readiness of memory…I will not hesitate, however, to avow my belief that it has been my singular good fortune to have very early in life fallen in with certain tracks which have conducted me to considerations and maxims, of which I have formed a method that gives me the means, as I think, of gradually augmenting my knowledge, and of raising it by little and little to the highest point which the mediocrity of my talents and the brief duration of my life will permit me to reach.”

So, though he felt less clever than many others, he was able, by his estimation to increase in knowledge and mental ability over time because of a method of thinking which he came upon at a young age. And while we shouldn’t fool ourselves, his IQ has apparently been estimated to be around 162, his methods may yet help us. He made important contributions to philosophy, intellectual method, (for better or for worse) to anthropology with his dualism, and to theological proofs. Even Hume claimed to be convinced by Descartes’ proofs of God’s existence.

The Method

Let’s assume, for a moment, that Descartes really did improve his mind with his method. Don’t we sometimes face relationship problems, philosophical questions, difficult assignments, or some other such issue that makes us freeze or look for distractions? Descartes did too, but he used this method:

  1. The first [rule] was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgement than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.
  2. The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.
  3. The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.
  4. And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.1

A Paraphrase

Did you get that?

Here’s my paraphrase:

  1. Start with what you know. Ask these questions, “What do I know? What can I figure out? What is the problem I am facing? What facts are present? What knowledge do I have that is less certain?”
  2. Break the problem down into smaller pieces. For example, when trying to solve a relationship problem find answers to questions like, “How do I feel? Is this feeling based on selfishness or a genuine offense? Do I need to apologize for anything? Who wronged me? What did they do?” In a mathematics problem break the problem down into smaller steps. Try to discover which equations apply through trial and error, find out precisely which unknowns/variables you must discover, look at mathematical expressions in terms of discrete steps like in the classical order of operations (PEMDAS). 
  3. Then start solving it. Answer from the simplest and easiest questions first. Then move toward the hardest and most complex synthesized answers. Just because you do not know the solution to a problem does not mean that it is not available. 
  4. Through the whole process, take notes. Write everything down, the human mind is fallible, forgetful, and is jogged quickly by lists, diagrams, and graphical representations. Write what you know, write the smaller problems and questions, write the solutions to them and the steps, then finally bring it all to a conclusion. 

Good philosophy is the art of asking and answering the biggest and smallest questions of our existence. 

References

1Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, (Electronic Edition), 2.7

The Loquacious Atheist: He Is Speaking Pure Gibberish

When I heard that Daniel Dennett’s new book on consciousness was released, I didn’t care. He has a tendency to argue in this format:

  1. Here’s an idea it isn’t worth explaining from the past.
  2. Here’s my alternative that uses sciency words.
  3. It cannot be explained by current science, but with enough scientific advances, it obviously will be explained.
  4. Logic, etc.

I’m hardly exaggerating. It’s like Sam Harris, but less endearing because it isn’t podcast format and he doesn’t look like Zoolander. I stopped reading Dennett’s books when I recognized that pattern.

David Bentley Hart refers to mistakes like this as the pleonastic fallacy, explaining qualitative distinctions in terms of quantitative increments toward some grander whole. He’s especially fond of the accusation in The Experience of God. In Breaking the Spell, Dennett basically argues that a bunch of physics explanations are true, biology is probably just as accurate, therefore there is no need for a first cause since more explanations will be found. In other words, being itself can be explained by things that already apparently possess being. Theodore Beale made this awesome meme about his style:

[ATHEIST+LOGIC.jpg]

Having mentioned Hart, the silver lining of new Dennett books being released is that Hart lumbers forth from whatever tome laden cavern he inhabits in order to put pen to paper for a brief, scornful essay before returning to his arcane pursuits. Apparently, Dennett does not disappoint and continues his pattern of argument. And Hart, not to be outdone, makes fun of him for it:

Dennett, however, writes as if language were simply the cumulative product of countless physical ingredients. It begins, he suggests, in mere phonology. The repeated sound of a given word somehow embeds itself in the brain and creates an “anchor” that functions as a “collection point” for syntactic and semantic meanings to “develop around the sound.” But what could this mean? Are semiotic functions something like iron filings and phonemes something like magnets? What is the physical basis for these marvelous congelations in the brain? The only possible organizing principle for such meanings would be that very innate grammar that Dennett denies exists — and this would seem to require distinctly mental concepts. Not that Dennett appears to think the difference between phonemes and concepts an especially significant one. He does not hesitate, for instance, to describe the “synanthropic” aptitudes that certain organisms (such as bedbugs and mice) acquire in adapting themselves to human beings as “semantic information” that can be “mindlessly gleaned” from the “cycle of generations.”

But there is no such thing as mindless semantics. True, it is imaginable that the accidental development of arbitrary pre-linguistic associations between, say, certain behaviors and certain aspects of a physical environment might be preserved by natural selection, and become beneficial adaptations. But all semantic information consists in the interpretation of signs, and of conventions of meaning in which signs and references are formally separable from one another, and semiotic relations are susceptible of combination with other contexts of meaning. Signs are intentional realities, dependent upon concepts, all the way down. And between mere accidental associations and intentional signs there is a discontinuity that no gradualist — no pleonastic — narrative can span.

Similarly, when Dennett claims that words are “memes” that reproduce like a “virus,” he is speaking pure gibberish. Words reproduce, within minds and between persons, by being intentionally adopted and employed.

And so it goes. 

Rod Dreher is a White Supremacist

When Rod Dreher, whom I typically think of as a fairly intelligent fellow of the male-librarian sort, saw this:

he wrote the following in response to this horrible discrimination on the part of the DNC against white heterosexualmales :

Got that? They do not want white heterosexual males to apply (unless you’re a transgendered male). Note the “they/them/theirs” at the bottom.

Doesn’t matter if you have the tech skills to help the Democrats win elections. If you’re a cisgendered straight white male, your application goes to the bottom of the pile. Brilliant, just brilliant.

The thing that just slays me about liberals like this is that they have no clue whatsoever that this kind of discrimination is immoral and offensive. This stuff is not new. I was told in 1997 by a newspaper that initially welcomed my job application that my CV was put in limbo because the publisher decided that he didn’t want a white male in that job, unless they couldn’t find anybody as qualified as me. After a national job search that lasted several months, their search was fruitless, and they said they would now like to bring me in for a job interview. By then, I had just taken a job in NYC, and was on my way to a different life.

I’m glad things worked out the way they did for me, but man, did that experience ever stay with me. It impressed upon me the injustice of the days when prejudice kept women and minorities for being considered fairly for jobs. That was unjust. But you don’t make up for one injustice by perpetrating another. That’s what the (white, male) liberal publisher of that newspaper was trying to do. And I’m sure he thought of himself as a virtuous man.

This mentality exemplified by Madeleine Leader has a lot to do with why, at the end of the day, I’ll end up voting Republican out of pure self-protection, and to protect the job prospects of my children, especially my sons. Good job, Democrats.  You are telling straight white people that they are second-class citizens who don’t deserve fairness. You’ll continue to find self-hating liberal whites who are willing to accept this garbage, but many more aren’t falling for it — and know what kind of world Democrats are preparing for them when and if they take power again.

Note Dreher’s use of the phrase, “protect the prospects of my children, especially my sons.” This is reminiscent of the alt-right’s fourteen-words, a slogan which could only be agreed with by psychopaths, racists, or Nazis: We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children. 

We’ve been assured by sociology professor Jessie Daniels that the preservation of the white, hetero-normative families is itself a form of privilege and white supremacy (seriously, see the tweet screenshots below). Now, I’m not going to question experts. She is obviously correct. And if she is correct that voting, using money, distributing property, saving money, getting married, having sex, and reproducing in the interests of your family is racist, is Rod Dreher going to repent? Will he renounce, disavow, and reject his wife and children in the name of the one true virtue: diversity?

Note:

Satire?

Appendix