May Dawkins Appropriate Aristotle?

"Either the Scripture was true and evolution was wrong or evolution was true and I must toss out the Bible. It was there that night that I accepted the Word of God and rejected all that would ever counter it, including evolution. With that, in great sorrow, I tossed into the fire all my dreams and hopes in science" - Kurt Wise, Professor of science and theology and director of the Center for Theology and Science at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

First Things has published a dialog between Francis J. Beckwith and Robert T. Miller on the criticism by Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, of Kurt Wise shown on the left who gave up a brilliant scientific career for a literal interpretation of the bible. Beckwith is an associate professor of philosophy & church-state studies, Baylor University while Miller is an assistant professor at the Villanova University School of Law.

Miller summarized the debate as follows:

In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins’ criticizes a promising young scientist who gave up a career in geology because of his literal understanding of Genesis, and Beckwith argues that implicit in Dawkins’ criticism is the view that “the human being who wastes his talents is one who does not respect his natural gifts or the basic capacities whose maturation and proper employment make possible the flourishing of many goods.

In other words, the notion of a ‘proper function,’ as Alvin Plantinga puts it, coupled with the observation that certain perfections grounded in basic capacities have been impermissibly obstructed from maturing, is assumed in the very judgment Dawkins makes.”

But, Beckwith argues, Dawkins may not consistently appeal to this notion of a proper function because Dawkins “does not actually believe that living beings, including human beings, have intrinsic purposes or are designed so that one may conclude that violating one’s proper function amounts to a violation of one’s moral duty to oneself. Dawkins has maintained for decades that the natural world only appears to be designed” but is not really so. Hence, Dawkins may not consistently criticize anyone on the basis that the person has violated a natural function.

The discussion was initiated with a comment entitled The Irrationality of Richard Dawkins by Beckwith which I have reproduced as the first comment in this thread. Robert Miller’s reply entitled Response to Robert Beckwith is reproduced as the second comment in the thread and Beckwith’s Rejoinder to Miller’s Response is reproduced as the third comment.

Can Dawkins appropriate Aristotle regarding Wise's decision?

Posted June 27, 2007

A Picture Worth A Thousand Words?

"It's an act of faith" - al-Shaikh, a young British Muslim woman.

In several threads in this blog we have discussed the increasing separation between the Muslim residents of Britain and their Christian and Secular counterparts. One recent example has been the debate in Clitheroe over the conversion of a church to a mosque.

In the June 22, 2007 issue of the NY Times this issue has become a front page lead story under the byline “Muslims’ Veils Test Limits of Britain’s Tolerance” written by Jane Perlez who wrote in part:

Increasingly, Muslim women in Britain take their children to school and run errands covered head to toe in flowing black gowns that allow only a slit for their eyes. On a Sunday afternoon in Hyde Park, groups of black-clad Muslim women relaxed on the green baize lawn among the in-line skaters and badminton players. Their appearance, like little else, has unnerved other Britons, testing the limits of tolerance here and fueling the debate over the role of Muslims in British life.

Many veiled women say they are targets of abuse. Meanwhile, there are growing efforts to place legal curbs on the full-face Muslim veil, known as the niqab. There have been numerous examples in the past year. A lawyer dressed in a niqab was told by an immigration judge that she could not represent a client because, he said, he could not hear her. A teacher wearing a niqab was dismissed from her school. A student who was barred from wearing a niqab took her case to the courts, and lost. In reaction, the British educational authorities are proposing a ban on the niqab in schools altogether. A leading Labor Party politician, Jack Straw
, scolded women last year for coming to see him in his district office in the niqab. Prime Minister Tony Blair has called the niqab a “mark of separation.” David Sexton, a columnist for The Evening Standard, wrote recently that the niqab was an affront and that Britain had been “too deferential.”

Although the number of women wearing the niqab has increased in the past several years, only a tiny percentage of women among Britain’s two million Muslims cover themselves completely. “For me it is not just a piece of clothing, it’s an act of faith, it’s solidarity,” said 24-year-old al-Shaikh, “9/11 was a wake-up call for young Muslims.”

She started experimenting with the niqab at Brunel University in West London, a campus of intense Islamic activism. Other Muslims find the practice objectionable, a step backward for a group that is under pressure after the terrorist attack on London’s transit system in July 2005. “After the July 7 attacks, this is not the time to be antagonizing Britain by presenting Muslims as something sinister,” said Imran Ahmad, the author of “Unimagined,” an autobiography about growing up Muslim in Britain, and the leader of British Muslims for Secular Democracy. “The veil is so steeped in subjugation, I find it so offensive someone would want to create such barriers. It’s retrograde.”

Since South Asians started coming to Britain in large numbers in the 1960s, a small group of usually older, undereducated women have worn the niqab. It was most often seen as a sign of subjugation. Many more Muslim women wear the head scarf, called the hijab, covering all or some of their hair. Unlike in France, Turkey and Tunisia, where students in state schools and civil servants are banned from covering their hair, in Britain, Muslim women can wear the head scarf, and indeed the niqab, almost anywhere, for now.

But that tolerance is slowly eroding. Even some who wear the niqab, like Faatema Mayata, a 24-year-old psychology and religious studies teacher, agreed there were limits. “How can you teach when you are covering your face?” she said. The niqab, to her, is about identity. “If I dressed in a Western way I could be a Hindu, I could be anything,” she said. “This way I feel comfortable in my identity as a Muslim woman.”

Some British commentators have complained that mosques encourage women to wear the niqab, a practice they have said should be stopped. At the East London Mosque, the women were crowded into a small windowless room upstairs, away from the main hall for the men. A handful of young women wore the niqab, and they spoke effusively about their reasons. “Wearing the niqab means you will get a good grade and go to paradise,” said Hodo Muse, 19, a Somali woman. “Every day people are giving me dirty looks for wearing it, but when you wear something for God you get a boost.”

One woman, Sajida Khaton, 24, interviewed as she sat discreetly in a Pizza Hut, said she did not wear the veil on the subway, a precaution her husband encourages for safety reasons. “I’m in Pizza Hut with my son,” said Ms. Khaton, nodding at her 4-year-old and speaking in a soft East London accent that bore no hint of her Bangladeshi heritage. “I was born here, I’ve never been to Bangladesh. I certainly don’t feel Bangladeshi. So when they say, ‘Go back home,’ where should I go?”

Is this picture worth a thousand words?

Posted June 22, 2007

God Is Not Winning!

"The religious industry simply lacks a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century." - Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman

Gregory Paul & Phil Zuckerman have a detailed review in Edge–The Third Culture on why the world’s main religions are in decline while secularism and materialism are in the ascendancy. Paul and Zuckerman write in part:

Disbelief now rivals the great faiths in numbers and influence. Never before has religion faced such enormous levels of disbelief, or faced a hazard as powerful as that posed by modernity. How is organized religion going to regain the true, choice-based initiative when only one of them is growing, and it is doing so with reproductive activity rather than by convincing the masses to join in, and when securely prosperous democracies appear immune to mass devotion?

Religion is in serious trouble. The status of faith is especially dire in the west, where the churches face an unprecedented crisis that threatens the existence of organized faith as a viable entity, and there is surprisingly little that can be done to change the circumstances. The evangelical authors of the World Christian Encyclopedia lament that no Christian "in 1900 expected the massive defections from Christianity that subsequently took place in Western Europe due to secularism…. and in the Americas due to materialism…. The number of nonreligionists…. throughout the 20th century has skyrocketed from 3.2 million in 1900, to 697 million in 1970, and on to 918 million in AD 2000…. Equally startling has been the meteoritic growth of secularism…. Two immense quasi-religious systems have emerged at the expense of the world's religions: agnosticism…. and atheism…. From a miniscule presence in 1900, a mere 0.2% of the globe, these systems…. are today expanding at the extraordinary rate of 8.5 million new converts each year, and are likely to reach one billion adherents soon. A large percentage of their members are the children, grandchildren or the great-great-grandchildren of persons who in their lifetimes were practicing Christians" (italics added).

It is well documented that Christianity has withered dramatically in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The failure of the faith in the west is regularly denounced by Popes and Protestant leaders. Churches are being converted into libraries, laundromats and pubs. Those who disbelieve in deities typically make up large portions of the population, according to some surveys they make up the majority of citizens in Scandinavia, France and Japan. Evolution is accepted by the majority in all secular nations, up to four in five in some.

In his paper "Christianity in Britain, R. I. P." Steve Bruce explains that the recent rise of pagans (ancient or modern as per New Ageism and Scientology) is not nearly sufficient to make up for the implosion of the churches, which are in danger of dwindling past the demographic and organizational point of no return. A commission of the Church of England agreed, proposing that little attended Sabbath services be dropped, and concluding that the advent of modern lifestyles "coincides with the demise of Christendom." The church commissioned Making Sense of Generation Y study advised the clergy to "avoid panic."

Perhaps that response would be appropriate considering the absence of quantitative evidence of a significant Christian revival in any secularized democracy. God belief is not dead in these nonreligious democracies, but it is on life support. The ardent hopes of C. S. Lewis and John Paul II to reChristianize Europe have abjectly failed.

America's disbelievers atheists now number 30 million, most well educated and higher income, and they far outnumber American Jews, Muslims and Mormons combined. There are many more disbelievers than Southern Baptists, and the god skeptics are getting more recruits than the evangelicals. The rise of American rationalism is based on adult choice. The results can be seen on the bookshelves, as aggressively atheistic books such as Sam Harris' The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, and Daniel C. Dennett's Breaking the Spell, break the mainstream publishing barrier onto the best-sellers lists. Long disparaged as neither moral or American, the growing community is beginning to assert itself as a socio-political force. It is to be expected that in 2nd and 3rd world nations where wealth is concentrated among an elite few and the masses are impoverished that the great majority cling to the reassurance of faith.

Nor is it all that surprising that faith has imploded in most of the west. Every single 1st world nation enjoy long, safe, comfortable, middle class lives that they can be confident will not be lost due to factors beyond their control. It is hard to lose one's middle class status in Europe, Canada and so forth, and modern medicine is always accessible regardless of income. Nor do these egalitarians culture emphasize the attainment of immense wealth and luxury, so most folks are reasonably satisfied with what they have got. Such circumstances dramatically reduces peoples' need to believe in supernatural forces that protect them from life's calamities, help them get what they don't have, or at least make up for them with the ultimate Club Med of heaven. The result is plain to see. Not a single advanced democracy that enjoys benign, progressive socio-economic conditions retains a high level of popular religiosity. They all go material.

To put it starkly, the level of popular religion is not a spiritual matter, it is actually the result of social, political and especially economic conditions. Mass rejection of the gods invariably blossoms in the context of the equally distributed prosperity and education found in almost all 1st world democracies. Mass faith prospers solely in the context of the comparatively primitive social, economic and educational disparities and poverty still characteristic of the 2nd and 3rd worlds and the US. The practical implications are equally breath taking. Every time a nation becomes truly advanced in terms of democratic, egalitarian education and prosperity it loses the faith. That is why perceptive theists are justifiably scared.The religious industry simply lacks a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century

You can read the complete article at Edge–The Third Culture.

Do the religions have a reliable stratagem for defeating disbelief in the 21st century?

Posted June 19, 2007

In Awe of Aphids and Motorcycles

"It all started with a big bang didn’t it ?"
This guest blog was written by Victor Ince who is a member of the Summerland United Church. Victor grew up in Northern Ireland and recently retired as a Project Manager with the Interior Health Authority in British Columbia, Canada. Victor's reflection on the aphid causes him to ask if anything else is required for unconditional acceptance of an inexplicable universe.

I’m in awe! Actually I’ve been in awe all my life. I’m really just a big kid – and I don’t want to change.

I spent my earliest years in a small town on the north coast of Ireland. My earliest recollections center around two things which still fascinate me today - motorcycles and the seashore. Many youthful hours were spent chasing crabs and small fish in tide pools – collecting shells and making sandcastles. I was fascinated by waves crashing on rocks – gulls swooping in the breeze – just how do they do that I wondered?

My home town hosted a major motorcycle road race every year and my Dad always took me to watch these 'heroes' of mine in their leathers and helmets as they roared through the town streets. The sights and the crowds were unlike anything I would experience for the rest of the year - the noise was music to my boyhood ears. I have never lost this fascination with motorcycles and an awe of their speed and stability. I have learned the science of the boyhood mystery that explains why motorcycles to not fall over but it still remains a hard thing to grasp.

Every day I see things that just fill me with awe – simple things like the red winged blackbirds by the highway and the ospreys at Trout Creek. I wonder how they build their nests on top of those distant power poles. I certainly couldn’t do it and I’m a being with a 'superior' intellect.

I see evening rainbows and marvel at their beauty; I see lightning and marvel at its power. I could look at ladybugs and aphids going about their work all day and while watching them pause momentarily to admire the delicate beauty of 'their' roses. The lowly dandelion pushing its cheeky face out of that crack in yonder driveway fills me with amazement.

There is so much in daily life to thrill, amaze, comfort and educate one that it leaves me perplexed how we can usually trundle through life never noticing and never paying attention to the world's wonders that surround us. Even as we notice these wonders how often do we just accept their embracing of us as 'normal' and not especially noteworthy.

When I turn my thoughts to the greater universe I can not conceive the size of the world on which we all live and the infinite size of the space in which we float in a perfect rhythm with all the other celestial bodies -everything in its special place; everything in a magnificent order. I know how often in a thousand years a comet or a meteor shower will show up – and show on time it always does.

As I consider the 'big' questions for which scientists claim to provide 'answers' I hear echoing in my mind that it all started with a big bang or did it? No-one has given me an explanation of what blew up and I still seek to have someone explain to me in simple terms - just what blew up and where did this material universe came from? The universe is constantly expanding - into what is it expanding?

As I live in awe of how one small aphid goes about its work I sense that I should be in greater awe of this thing we call our universe. Yet, somehow the aphid is more important than the universe of which it is so miniscule a part. If I am destined to forever remain awed with the mysterious works of an aphid will I ever comprehend the even greatery mystery of the universe?

I hope I shall continue through this journey of life in awe of aphids, automobiles, motorbikes, moonbeams, bears and birds. These gifts from the universe continue to re-awaken in me daily that same awe first aroused within my boyhood soul when I saw that tiny crab scuttle under a rock and brave men on motorcycles roar down “my home street”.

Never do I want to 'grow up' if it means losing this feeling – I want and need this spirit within me each and every day.

As for the beginning and the end of time, or the size and shape of the universe, or what may exist beyond the boundaries of my time-space continuum, I leave to the higher power who understands what the creation of such a world really means while I just continue to marvel at each and every aphid.

The Big Bang - the source for awe of an aphid?

Posted June 15, 2007

Tony Soprano Is Going to Hell?

"For six seasons, 'Sopranos' fans have been asking what will happen to Tony. The answer: He is going to hell" - Patton Todd

Patton Dodd raises an interesting theological question in a recent article discussing the finale of the TV series “The Sopranos". He writes in part:

The opening image the third-to-last episode of "The Sopranos," is a steaming pile of trash. "Sopranos" devotees know that this isn't just any trash—it's Tony Soprano's trash, a pile of asbestos produced by a workers union the Sopranos are extorting. The trash is a fitting image for Tony's decline. Trash has been a way for the "Sopranos" to make literal the ways in which the Mafia is in the business of disposal. Mobsters don't just execute victims; they make them disappear. Being a good mobster means being a good custodian.

But we're in the End Times for Tony Soprano. He hasn't been a good enough manager of waste. Earlier this season the FBI discovered the resting place of Tony's first murder victim, a man Tony killed more than two decades earlier. The image of burning asbestos, then, is the answer to what has always been the most pressing question for fans of "The Sopranos":

What will happen to Tony? Answer: Tony Soprano is going to hell. Or: he's already in it.

Tony's potential for moral transformation, to choose good instead of evil, has always been part of the drama of "The Sopranos." Tony's evil is that of fits and starts. He cheats on his wife, Carmela, then dotes on her and pledges fidelity. If Tony is hell-bound, it's not because he's unaware of his direction. Tony is often pointed away from the path of destruction. Dr. Jennifer Melfi, his therapist, counsels him toward self-knowledge, but Tony chooses self-aggrandizement. His wife Carmela leaves him, and he lures her into coming back--without changing his wayward ways. In a near-death experience after being shot by his Uncle Junior, Tony has a dream that affords him clues as to how he could liberate himself from his evil life, but when he awakens, he ignores those clues.

We watch Tony because he is an Everyman. Whoring and murdering aside, we relate to him. His solid, hulking girth is imposing, but it is also pathetic. He floats on his pool in a green blowup mattress. He wakes up groggily each day, slumps down the stairs in his plain white bathrobe—stomach protruding beneath his tank top—and hopes Carmela has fresh coffee brewed. He rolls his eyes at his son's videogames, worries over his daughter's dates, and mans the barbecue grill for Sunday afternoon parties.

We watch the show, and the show watches us. It questions our affection for these characters, and it asks us to consider how we're like these people. The show is done asking, and I have to wonder how many "Sorpanos" viewers have heard these questions. The show does not extend grace toward its characters, and neither does it extend grace toward its viewers, whose hope for Tony's goodness is futile, and whose affection for Tony's sordid story is part of what allows Tony to exist.

Arriving in the restaurant in the final scene Tony played "Don't Stop Believing” on the jukebox during what was expected to be his 'last supper'. Viewers were left, however, to wonder whatever happened to Tony.

Is Tony Soprano going to hell?

Posted June 11, 2007

A Price Tag On Death?

"It's a very black thing to talk about," - Economist Andrew Oswald

In a June 05, 2007 article in Scientific American JR Minkel asks:

If money could buy happiness, how much would it take to bring it back after the death of a partner, child or spouse? Two economists have attached dollar values to deaths by comparing the way that lost loved ones lower scores on happiness surveys with the way that greater incomes boost scores.

"It's a very black thing to talk about," says economist Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England, but courts regularly award damages to bereaved survivors after the death of a loved one. Such awards, however, are not necessarily based on well considered rules. In the U.K., the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act provides for a lump sum of $20,000 to a surviving spouse or the parents of a minor. Recent U.S. court cases have valued life at as much as $18 million or as little as $10,000, according to a 2005 study.

Looking for a more equitable way to assign damages, Oswald and Nattavudh Powdthavee of the University of London reviewed data collected from 10,000 Britons tracked by the British Household Panel Survey, begun in 1991, which records major life events and includes questions designed to gauge overall mental health. They identified the amount of money, on average, that raised a person's mental health score by the same amount that a loved one's death lowered it.

They calculated that it would take $220,000 annually to raise someone's happiness to pre-death levels after a spouse dies, $118,000 for a child, $28,000 for a parent, $16,000 for a friend and only $2,000 for a sibling. Taking into account that some people might be harder hit than others could as much as double those amounts, Oswald and Powdthavee wrote in paper reported at a conference held last week on happiness research, law and policy at the University of Chicago (UC). Oswald agrees that more research is needed before the findings should influence policy, but he stands by the concept. "Just because it's hard to value this subtle thing is no reason not to try to do the best in being fair to victim," he says. "We're trying to make it logical instead of random."

Is this a logical way to compensate for the loss of a loved one?

Posted June 06, 2007