Philosophy

Beware of Dissecting Living things

I never did High School biology. The reason for my
reticence in the area, other than a desire to learn Chemistry, was that I hated the very idea of dissection. Something wells up in me when I’m called on to take the stuff that should be inside something into the outside, separating things from the living thing that was once there. 

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Of course, dissection is merely a physical application of the modes of learning we often deal with. The human brain can only understand so much at once and so needs to be given knowledge in smaller, bite sized, pieces, which we then fit into our general working model of reality, placing the new bits of knowledge into a much larger edifice we have been building (for good or ill) for the entirety of our lives.  

            My unwillingness to dissect living things may have provided a useful insight, however. As with physical analysis, there are types of deconstructive analysis when it comes to ideas that may give us good ideas, but in so doing can kill the thing we’re analyzing (sure that frog heart looks cool, but it isn’t really functioning as a heart anymore, nor can it, as there is now nothing for it to be the heart of). Deconstruction of an edifice can help us to learn useful things about the parts of the edifice and even how the parts work together, but the result can be that we don’t have a working system of which the constituent parts were once functioning as a part of, and we may have lost something in the deconstruction. 

            I start this week with a post like this because many of the odd ideas I want to throw out for consideration of erstwhile passers-by of my little corner of the interwebs find  much of their Genesis in this observation: 

            Some things can be fruitfully analyzed by taking them apart and looking at the pieces, but living things get killed that way. 

 

            I think this is true when it comes to the class of beliefs that are philosophically called “properly basic”, it is the reason that conversations with too many leading questions can be dangerous, to the asker, the answerer, and our society in general. It is even one of the reasons that  I think we Christians in democratic nations may have gone astray in the way we discuss and think about politics. In each case, there is (something analagous to) a living thing; a worldview, a society, a belief structure, or a body politic, that in the process of analysis is murdered by the means by which we search for understanding of them.  

            This isn’t to say it’s bad to seek knowledge of the things in question. More what I’m saying is that we need to be careful when analyzing, and especially removing things from any of these things without understanding first the role those things we’ve analyzed are playing, and perhaps exploring whether or not they should be removed, or if there is a valid replacement that can allow the frog to keep living, since we will have worldviews, belief structures, societies and bodies politic, and we need them to either survive or have valid workable replacements before we destroy the ones we have.  

            Analysis is useful for understanding, but its only one facet of understanding.

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Blogroll, Christianity, Culture, discernment, Love, Philosophy

Love is more real than we think.

 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:8–12, ESV)

Given the fact that the Bible tells me that “God is Love”, it’s surprising how long I lived under the impression that love was primarily a need or lack in me that was fulfilled by someone else. This leaves me imagining that God loves me because He needed someone to love, or because He was lonely or some such thing. Yet love is, when we get right down to it, more real than that. Love is not the result of need, but the power by which needs are fulfilled, primarily by God.

It is true that love needs an object (one of the reasons I believe in a trinitarian God…. that and the Bible tells me so). We talk about a love interest romantically as someone who “completes me”, or who I “need more than air” (or some other romantic verbiage that looks kinda silly outside of the romantic films they feature in). In the regular friendship situation, we think of friendship love as that which staves off loneliness, or gives meaning to our lives.

Love does those things, but I’m learning that the instrumental way we define things (something is like this, because this is the way we can use it) is at best a little deficient. It makes something the Bible seems to speak of in powerful and glowing terms into a mere method of fulfilling a need. It serves to make me as the object or subject of love more important than the love involved, as if love is valuable because it helps me, instead of being something that is valuable whether it meets my felt needs or not.

Even when John talks about love and how God is love, he says that God’s love is made manifest (revealed, made clear) in that He sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. It’s not that He is loving because he sent His son, but that he is love, so as a result He sent His Son. God’s love is not a result of God’s loving actions, but is the ground for God’s actions. He is not love because he does loving things, but he does loving things because He is Love.

Seems like a minor distinction? It’s actually very profound, especially if we see God’s love (as Paul does) as the ground for our own actions. You see, we do not love because we want to be loving, but because we have God’s love in us, we should do loving things. It is a reuslt of having been love.

Love is a positive thing, a real thing,not a fulfillment of need. It is not a corruption, but real in itself. Thus love is not about how we need others, but ultimately about how God’s love overflows in us, and through us to others.

Bradley Hook / Pexels

 

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Atheism, Philosophy, Rant

Watermelon on the Brain (or why Atheism is NOT a lack of belief in God)

*This is a cross-post with Truth seekers, where I am also known to post from time to time*

So. Someone tells me they are an atheist, and I say they need to back up the positive claim that God does not exist, and then they tell me “oh, I’m a weak atheist, I just lack the belief in God… I haven’t seen enough reason to say that God exists.”

Poppycock.

The above statement assumes that the epistemic default is disbelief in God, when in fact the default is a lack of knowledge. We have a name for that, but it isn’t atheism (weak or otherwise); it’s agnosticism.

Allow me an example. If I say that my head is a watermelon, you can do one of three things with that information. i) You can believe me, ii) you can disbelieve me, or iii) you can suspend judgement. This is true whether the assertion I make is a believable one or a largely dubious  one (like say, my head is a watermelon). Once the statement is made, there are only 3 possible responses to the truth of that statement.

If you choose to believe me, because I’m a nice guy and the picture on this blog is of a guy with a watermelon for a head, then you are assenting. We can call you a “watermelonist”. You need to get out more.

If you choose to suspend judgement, believing that you do not have the information to make a decision, then you are agnostic (you literally don’t know). You also may need to spend some time away from your computer.

You can also believe that since people do not usually have watermelons for heads, and I have provided scant evidence that I am the exception to that rule, my head is not in fact a watermelon. You are an “awatermelonist”. You think that it is

more rational to believe that my head is NOT in fact, a watermelon. While most of your support for that belief doesn’t need to be enunciated (few will challenge you on the truth claim you’re making), there does need to be support.

“your head is not a watermelon” is a positive statement. You are saying that I am incorrect, you are not saying that my belief in the watermelony goodness of my cerebellum is “unfounded” or “lacks evidence” alone (that is agnosticism). You are saying that because my claim is unfounded and lacks evidence, it is only reasonable to believe that it is false. This may

be a well founded belief (that my claim of having a watermelon for a head is false), but it is a positive one (statement X, where X is “Steve’s head is a watermelon”, is not true, because I have no reason to believe it is and many reasons to believe it is not), and as such, needs every bit as much support as the claim that I have watermelon rind for brains. That support

may be easier to find, but it is still necessary.

The same is true of “weak” atheism. It is a statement that the claims of theists lack support, and that as a result the assumption of atheism is more rational. This is NOT an absence of belief in God, but a statement of the disbelief in God. It is a positive statement, and like all statements, must be supported if challenged.

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Atheism, Culture, Ethics, History, Philosophy, Postmodernism, Rant, theology

Is it really beautiful?

One of the problems I’ve tended to have with materialism is how it seems to place into my own (subjective) mind (actually brain… and hence render them largely delusional as it relate to the universe itself). This isn’t only the case with my religious ideas, but also the ideas I have of good and evil, and even the idea of me.

How do I get there? After all, I don’t doubt that some materialists have every bit as high a moral code that they live by as I do, and even arch-materialists can work to do great things in the social sphere based on what they seem to think is a call to justice that is demanded of all of us. Heck, when Christopher Hitchens subtitles his book “How Religion Poisons Everything”, I think he is claiming that religion is, objectively and independent of subjective opinions on the matter, a bad thing.

The problem is, ironically, best exemplified by the use of Occam’s razor in materialism to deny the supernatural. Occam’s razor (which nicely trims Plato’s beard) is the principle that, all things being equal, the simplest explanation for a phenomenon is most likely the correct one. The result is that since science is more than capable of coming up with material explanations for most things, that it is rational to assume that science will come up with material explanations for all things.

What then of ideas and concepts that do not seem to be solely material, such as the existence of subjects other than me, or transcendent morality, aesthetics, or even the idea of “me”? Materialism would claim that all of these are simply the result of material processes in the brain reacting to external stimuli. ie. whatever these things are, they exist only in brains, and any seeming transcendence is simply the commonality of human experience.

This means that a painting is not itself beautiful, but instead makes me feel good (whatever “me” is). It means that torture is not independently wrong, but simply something that I find abhorrent. It also means that my most directly experienced object, since it cannot be materially experienced (namely the “I”), is simply something “I” mistake for a person when in fact it is noting more than the collocation of atoms. (at this point, if “you’re” following me, you might be giggling, as “I” am…”I”‘m guessing most people rightly find this silly).

In any case, not taking it all the way, and assuming “I” exist, which is a properly basic idea if ever there was one. The

materialist conception seems to eliminate transcendent morality and beauty because those concepts exist only in human brains.

and were human minds to cease to be, so would those concepts. The result is that nothing is evil in itself, and nothing is in itself beautiful. There is no contrast in reality between the beautiful and the ugly (just personal psychology) or between the good and the evil (just personal taste).

Thus we come to a statement someone recently used on me to try to claim the rationality of his belief structure:

“Can’t we just say the garden is beautiful, without attributing faeries to it?”

He apparently wanted to mean that there was no need to credit a ground to the beauty of the garden, just the bare fact of it. But my response is that he has already appealed to “faeries” in claiming that beauty is a proper descriptor of the garden rather than simply his experiences of the garden. That I choose to think about that ground, and indeed have a name for it (God), has already been assumed in the statement.

Of course, no one needs to take my route. Maybe morality, beauty, subjectivity (and if you think about it, logic, mathematics, reason and even knowledge itself) really are just modes of human thought that are not true of the universe itself, but only categories we humans find useful. Maybe Occam’s razor really should be used as a law of reason, rather

than simply a priciple. Humanity has had large groups already in that camp (many forms of Zen Budddhism for example).

Such a route seems unlikely to further science or society, however, since the simplest explanation of the universe is still (as it was in first year philosophy) solipsism. In this case Occam’s razor seems to be instead a guillotine.

In the end, I think that our experiences should only be attributed wholly to delusion with evidence that it is, in fact, delusional.

It is for that reason that I would say that Handel’s “Messiah” really is beautiful, that evil really is fundamentally wrong, that reason really talks about the universe and not simply the categories of data that enters my sense receptors, and that there is real good in the world (not just things that are good on opinion).

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Culture, discernment, Economics, Philosophy, Politics, Postmodernism, Rant

Humility and the Triumph of (Over)Confidence

So this morning I again ran into the issue of fan death in Korea through a facebook comment, and I had a chance to reflect on my experience…

A quick explanation: Fan death is the belief that if a person on a hot day closes off their room and falls asleep with a fan pointed at him, there is a chance that he will die.

Sounds kinda strange, especially coming from a country with an extremely high level of scientific education. There is no shortage of people who think this is a very stupid belief, and to be honest, I used to be one of them. But then, I actually got past my immediate dismissiveness and looked into it a bit. Now, I’m still not sure I’m fully convinced of the need for timers on fans (which are standard in Korea), but I do have to agree with some climatologists and the American EPA (see appendix B)  that there is at least something to this.

So what happened here? Why was I so convinced that people who believed something that was easily checkable were wrong simply because their belief did not fit into my preconceived ideas. I had forgotten the fact that it is best to not just know THAT something is incorrect, but do the work of finding out why it is incorrect. I think this is one of the reasons

behind the Biblical statement that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. (Ps 111:10, Pr 1:7; 9:10) That is to say, you will be strikingly unable to learn if you believe yourself to be the apex of knowledge and truth (thus have no fear of God).

I think this is common in society at large as well. Reading opinion pieces in the world’s newspapers, you will often find them full of confident assertions (some true, some less so) with little basis in either argumentation or reference to some place where I can go check myself. It seems to be part of almost all debates (climate change, capitalism/socialism, religion, politics, and on and on).

The upshot is that I wonder if the dominant culture has trained people to be so confident of their own beliefs, that very few people are even listening to opposing positions anymore, and even fewer are learning anything.

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