Monday, 16 April 2007

A Depressing Thought

John Rawls (1921-2002) published A Theory of Justice (1971) when he was my age: 50. Even worse, Jesus saved the world by the time he was 34.

Seven Dumb Ideas About Race

See here. (Thanks to Mark Spahn for the link.)

Rapping the Rappers

Here is John Fund’s latest column—about rap “music.”

Faith, Emotion, and Theism

I find it disturbing that some of my fellow atheists dismiss theism as merely a matter of faith or emotion. This begs all the interesting and important philosophical questions, such as what faith is, what emotion is, whether faith is compatible with reason, how emotion is related to reason, whether belief in God is properly basic (i.e., such that it requires no justification), and whether there is any evidence for theism.

If faith is belief in the absence of evidence (or reasons), then theism need not be, and for most people is not, a matter of faith. The overwhelming majority of theists believe in God on the basis of evidence, including the evidence of religious experience. The evidence is all around us: in every flower, in the orbits of the planets, in the diversity of life. The teleological argument for the existence of God proceeds as follows:

1. The universe appears to be designed.

Therefore, probably,

2. The universe was designed (from 1).


3. There is a supernatural designer, viz., God (from 2).

The first inference is inductive, the second deductive. The premise (proposition 1) is a factual claim that even atheists can accept. (I, for example, accept it.) Debate centers on the strength of the inference from 1 to 2. There is nothing in this argument that requires faith. The other great theistic arguments—ontological and cosmological—also cite reasons in support of the proposition that God exists. The former is a priori, the latter a posteriori. Both are deductive. Anyone who says that theism must rest on faith hasn’t studied these arguments.

If faith is belief in the absence of conclusive evidence (or reasons), then, admittedly, theism is a matter of faith, for few theists would claim that there is conclusive reason to believe that God exists. The teleological argument, for example, claims only that God’s existence is probable on the evidence. Note that by this standard, even scientific beliefs are a matter of faith, for scientists never claim to have conclusive evidence for their theories. They claim only that the theory in question has withstood repeated, rigorous testing. Whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen. Think about it. Scientific reasoning must be inductive, else it could not generate new knowledge about the world. Deduction purchases necessity at the price of informativeness. Induction purchases informativeness at the price of necessity. Even scientists can’t have both informativeness and necessity.

So either (1) theism is not a matter of faith or (2) both science and theism are matters of faith. I can’t think of any sense of “faith” in which theism but not science is a matter of faith.

As for emotion, it is not incompatible with reason (even if it is sometimes an impediment to it). Each of us is both rational and emotional, albeit in different mixtures. That belief in God makes people feel a certain way, or experience certain emotions, doesn’t mean that it’s based on emotion. This confuses the ground of belief with an accompaniment of it. Most of our beliefs make us feel a certain way, but we don’t thereby dismiss them as groundless. For example, my belief that the Detroit Tigers won the 1984 World Series is accompanied by a number of distinct emotions, such as pride and joy. This goes no way toward showing that it’s groundless. Theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne are as hard-headed and rational as any atheistic philosopher. Each has made important contributions to metaphysics and epistemology. If you want emotion, read Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Their contempt for theism—and for theists—is palpable.

The Wild Monk

One of my readers, Mark, has a blog entitled “The Wild Monk,” which I have added to the blogroll. It appears to have just one post so far: a long essay entitled “The Cold War Is Not Over: Europe and the Post-Modern Left.” Perhaps Mark will clarify the nature of the blog, and his intentions for it, in a comment to this post. By the way, if other of my readers have a blog and wish to draw attention to it, please link to it in a comment to this post.

Diamonds and Throw Weights

Some of you—the old farts—will recognize the title of this post. Many years ago, White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan quipped that women are more interested in diamonds than in throw weights. This was before political correctness had run amok in society, but Regan still got into trouble. He was said to be a chauvinist, a bigot, a sexist, and many other bad things. But didn’t he speak the truth? The typical (average) woman is more interested in diamonds than in throw weights. I’d be willing to wager a great deal of my personal wealth that this is so. If you reply that men, too, are more interested in diamonds than in throw weights, then let me revise the claim. It is that women, more than men, are more interested in diamonds than in throw weights. If the claim is true, as I believe it is, then why was there an uproar? Are there truths that must not be spoken? Regan wasn’t saying that every woman is more interested in diamonds than in throw weights, which is manifestly false. (Jeane Kirkpatrick is a counterexample.) He was making a generalization, like “Men are taller than women” (which is true). Men are different from women in many respects, as even some feminists will acknowledge. They think differently; they reason differently; they have different emotions; they value different things; they are attracted to different things; they have different attitudes to things like competition, combat, and children. Poor Donald Regan. He was vilified for speaking the truth—an early victim of political correctness.

Addendum: If you’re wondering what a throw weight is, see here. Scroll to where Dr Drell says, “I can’t say precisely.”


Would it be cheating for me to make a baseball prediction two weeks into the season? If you will indulge me, here goes. The Detroit Tigers will defeat the Atlanta Braves in the World Series in six games.

Addendum: Here are the World Series predictions of several Dallas Morning News sportswriters:

Tim Cowlishaw: Detroit over Arizona.

Kevin Sherrington: New York Yankees over Los Angeles (shades of 1977 and 1978!).

Jean-Jacques Taylor: New York over Boston (shades of 1986!).

Evan Grant: Detroit over San Diego (shades of 1984!).

Richard Durrett: New York Yankees over New York Mets (shades of 2000!).

Feel free to make a prediction.

Best of the Web Today


Invested in Government

Will Nehs sent a link to this story. My salary is paid by the State of Texas, and ultimately by Texas taxpayers, so I can’t very well complain about having one’s hand in the government till. Then again, I earn my salary. Many people receive benefits for which they have not worked.

R. M. Hare (1919-2002) on Moral Reasoning

I want to suggest that [moral reasoning] is a kind of exploration, and not a kind of linear inference, and that the only inferences which take place in it are deductive. What we are doing in moral reasoning is to took for moral judgements and moral principles which, when we have considered their logical consequences and the facts of the case, we can still accept.

(R. M. Hare, Freedom and Reason [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963], 88)

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Letter From California: A Late-Night Seminar on Lewis Thomas,” by Verlyn Klinkenborg (Editorial Observer, April 11), brought back memories of growing up on Long Island during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

The threat of nuclear holocaust seemed very real then. Frequent drills would send my classmates and me scurrying into our school’s fallout shelter or into the hallways to duck and cover.

Ducking and covering seemed ridiculous even then, but the prospect of surviving nuclear attack only to spend years in a dark, dank basement lined with canned food didn’t afford much solace either.

Over time, my fear was tempered by the knowledge that the United States was a superpower, that vast oceans separate us from our enemies, and that the concept of mutually assured destruction was an effective deterrent.

But the attacks of 9/11 shattered these illusions. The oceans failed to keep the terrorists out of our country, and superpowers have no advantage over an enemy who wants to die and has access to weapons of mass destruction.

This is not the world I hoped my children would inherit.

Sheryl Jedlinski
Palatine, Ill., April 11, 2007

A Year Ago


A Millionaire

When I woke up this morning, having allowed the computer to do maintenance all night, I saw that the odometer read “999996.” I wanted to see it roll over to a million, so I waited a few seconds and hit “refresh screen.” It was cool to see “1000000.” I did a quick calculation. I started this blog (né AnalPhilosopher) on 5 November 2003. That’s 1,258 days ago (counting the leap-year day in 2004), so an average of 794.9 people have visited each day. Writers want (need?) to be read. I’m a writer. I’ve probably reached more people with this blog than with all of my scholarly writings put together. Thanks for visiting. I’ve had a ball with this blog for the past three and a half years (I haven’t missed a single day of writing in it) and look forward to many more years of engagement with readers. I write; therefore I am.