Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The meaning of life

We talked about the meaning of life today in A&P, so this post was inevitable.

The meaning of life?
Well, it's nothing special. Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

 And of course, with people of no creed as well.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Tao of Physics

Is it all quantum flapdoodle (as skeptic Michael Shermer says), or is there really a Tao bridging the worlds of physics and New Age philosophy? And if there is, can we say so? ("The Tao that can be spoken is not the true Tao" etc.)

Well, Fritjof Capra has certainly sold a lot of books saying it. And now he has a chapter in How the Hippies Saved Physics. (The title deliberately mimics Thomas Cahill's paean to the Irish.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


The church of what's happenin' NOW

Alain de Botton has announced plans to build a series of temples for atheists in the UK. The move follows the publication of de Botton’s latest book, Religion for Atheists.
Why should religious people have the most beautiful buildings in the land?’ he asks. ‘It’s time atheists had their own versions of the great churches and cathedrals... You can build a temple to anything that’s positive and good. That could mean: a temple to love, friendship, calm or perspective... Even the most convinced atheists tend to speak nicely about religious buildings. They may even feel sad that nothing like them gets built nowadays. But there’s no need to feel nostalgic. Why not just learn from religions and build similarly beautiful and interesting things right now?

Do atheists and humanists need ritual and ceremony, if not an elaborate palace in which to conduct them? Well, could be. Not sure I'll be in the pews for it, but to each her own. 

Or, they could just all get together at the station.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"We really should wrap up the whole evil thing..."

The problem of evil, pain, & suffering, today's topic in CoPhi, is an intense subject. Far too many suffer far too much to find anything funny in it at all. The most seriously disturbing theistic responses are themselves painful to witness. Bart Ehrman calls it "God's problem" but of course it's ours. Here, though, is what I would say to God about it if I had the opportunity:

And here's what @author says:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Good without gods

A helpful moral primer, posted by David in A&P:

"Part of morality's essence is adopting a plural view..." Exactly. This means tolerating a plurality of views, in addition to recognizing a plurality of moral agents. 

Pascal's Wager

If we run out of God arguments today in A&P, we might want to take a closer look at Pascal's famous wager. (SEP, IEP) I've not yet met a really thoughtful person who endorsed it, but it still has an allure for many. But James didn't like it, and there wasn't much he wasn't willing to like.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

So what if faith is quixotic and mad?

Is there anything at all to be said for fideism? Guess it depends on what you think of Don Quixote.
Faith is indeed quixotic. It is absurd. Let us admit it. Let us concede everything!
Concede everything, and continue believing anyway. That drives many atheists right up the wall. I'm still trying to understand why such a smart and sane guy as Martin Gardner could "admit that faith is a kind of madness" and still embrace it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Niall Shanks vs. William Dembski

I mentioned my late former colleague Niall Shanks in A&P class today. Here's a clip from his 2004 debate with William Dembski, who wrote the paper I also mentioned today on "How to Debate an Atheist-If You Must."

Shanks was brilliant and funny, a strong debater and a good companion over an "ale" or two. His book God, the Devil, and Darwin is terrific. I just wish he'd taken better care of his health.

Stick a Babel Fish in your ear

"A final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God"-

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I hold in my hands a complimentary copy of "The New Atheism," published by the Southwestern Journal of Theology (Thanks very much, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and requested at the instigation of an A&P student (Thanks, Dean.)

One section is headlined "Outrageous Quotes by New Atheists," beginning with this one from Dawkins:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic,  homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Is it outrageous? I think it's outrageous that more theists aren't outraged by the Old Testament.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

James & Dewey on "natural piety"

We're doing the Doubt Quiz today. It might be instructive and amusing to take a look at William James's stab at a similar exercise back in 1904.
Do you believe in personal immortality? "Never keenly; but more strongly as I grow older."
Do you pray? "I cannot possibly pray—I feel foolish and artificial."
What do you mean by 'spirituality'? "Susceptibility to ideals, but with a certain freedom to indulge in imagination about them. A certain amount of 'other worldly' fancy. Otherwise you have mere morality, or 'taste.'"
What do you mean by a 'religious experience'? "Any moment of life that brings the reality of spiritual things more 'home' to one."

James in this quiz exhibits an experientially-inclusive sensibility I've called "global naturalism." It makes room for lots of indulgent personal "fancy" about what some would consider supernaturalism. It's this that distinguishes his form of natural piety from John Dewey's in A Common Faith.

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Home and Away"

"Amazon Prime" has won me over.

I was listening to Scott Simon on "Morning Edition" Saturday when he tweeted something about his memoir Home and Away, which I'd not previously known of. Impulsively I ordered it, and here I am less than two days later, on MLK Day, just $3 poorer and reading Simon's account of how that horrible day in Memphis in 1968 seared the young author and NPR reporter-to-be in Chicago.

That's in the chapter called "Cubbie Love." Simon mentions King's "creative tension," which I mentioned in my post this morning.

And the book arrived with a bonus: an envelope stuck in the middle, postmarked "Oxford, U.K" and return addressed from "The Queen's College/Oxford." Page notes are scribbled all over it. It's addressed to a reporter at the Globe in Boston.

It looks to be a terrific memoir, and a fine evocation of what Scott Turow calls in his blurb a portrait of "the powerful personal mythology that every dedicated sports fan creates for him or herself." I think I have my topic for the next "Baseball & Literature" conference.

And, I think I'm going to trust more of my impulses from now on.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Moneyball and philosophy

The moral of this story, for me? You're a loser if you can't enjoy life's passing show and celebrate small victories as they come. Lovely film, sad man.

Billy's problem is a version of George Santayana's:
"The problem still remains," argues Henry Samuel Levinson, commenting on Santayana, "how to display suffering's meanness and then transcend it by celebrating 'passing joys and victories in the world.'" DS
Go A's. Go us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Here we are in the goldfish bowl

Annie Dillard's descriptions of collective self-consciousness are unmatched. When we're truly awake we know we're in a "goldfish bowl" of mutual shared awareness. Will we waste this opportunity, while the lights are on, or use it well? That's also the challenge of the classroom.
I am sitting here looking at a goldfish bowl and busting my brain. Ich kann nicht anders. I am sitting here, you are sitting there... Here we are...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Following Jesus

"Jesus" uses twitter purely for information and self-expression. Me too.

Their creator wants to know "why the scare quotes? That really is Jesus!"

 I tell my students J & M are just 2 guys. Don't want any inquisitions or fatwas here in middle Tennessee!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Beginning of Infinity"

Where does infinity begin? I don't know what that question means, but I have been enjoying David Deutsch's Beginning of Infinity. He has harsh words for classical Empiricism (as do we Radical Empiricists) and other species of "bad philosophy" that by his reckoning deny the possibility of progress. And he offers a charming revery featuring Socrates himself.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ron Paul's 15 Most Extreme Positions | Mother Jones

He's a crank, but evidently so is a huge chunk of the electorate. So we do have to pay attention to

Ron Paul's 15 Most Extreme Positions | Mother Jones:

'via Blog this'

Most salient to me are his disgraceful repudiation of public action on behalf of civil & human rights and the environment:

Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.

Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964because it was a "massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society."

Barry Goldwater was wrong. Extremism in defense of liberty is a vice.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"I wake up"

Has anyone before Winifred Gallagher ever thought to mention Keith Richards and William James in the same sentence?
...when Keith Richards is asked how he feels when he emerges on-stage to confront a hundred thousand screaming fans, he says simply, “I wake up."
...In life's best moments, whether we're writing a book or a letter, making love or dinner, that's how we are, too: awake, focused, rapt.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Chiropractic: An Indefensible Profession - Skeptical Health : Skeptical Health

This is a strong but slanted indictment. I'm skeptical too, but a healing profession is truly "indefensible" only if no one can plausibly claim to have benefited from its therapeutic ministrations. Some of my best friends are chiropractors, one in particular, and she has too many defenders to ignore.

Chiropractic: An Indefensible Profession - Skeptical Health : Skeptical Health:

'via Blog this'

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