Monday, 26 May 2008

Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?

Save yourself some time. Read the answer by the philosopher.

Addendum: Do you want my answer? Here it is:

Scientists, as such, provide naturalistic explanations of natural phenomena, such as the movements of the planets, the behavior of coyotes, and the process of photosynthesis. God, by definition, is a supernatural being (albeit one who can intervene in the natural world, which God created). Science, by its own terms, has nothing to say about the existence of God, and cannot, therefore, make belief in God obsolete. Only someone who is woefully confused about either science or God (or both) could think otherwise.

Feel free to provide your own answer.


Here is a video report on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who are rebuilding under new head coach Bo Pelini. I expect the Huskers to contend for the BCS title within three years.


Stanley Fish is naive if he thinks a professor’s values don’t affect his or her teaching. Maybe they shouldn’t, but they do. He makes it seem as though there is no indoctrination going on in American universities. Key passage:

Even in courses where the materials are politically and ideologically charged, the questions that arise are academic, not political. A classroom discussion of Herbert Marcuse and Leo Strauss, for example, does not (or at least should not) have the goal of determining whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized. Rather, the (academic) goal would be to describe the positions of the two theorists, compare them, note their place in the history of political thought, trace the influences that produced them and chart their own influence on subsequent thinkers in the tradition. And a discussion of this kind could be led and guided by an instructor of any political persuasion whatsoever, and it would make no difference given that the point of the exercise was not to decide a political question but to analyze it.

Notice the difference between “does not” and “should not.” Fish seems to think that because an ideal professor would never allow his or her values to come into play in the classroom, no actual professor ever does so.

Addendum: David Fryman wrote:

I tried to leave the following comment on your recent “Academia” post. For some reason, it didn’t go through:

Fish may be right about a history or politics class. But in a philosophy class, the most important issue is “whether the socialist or the conservative philosopher is right about how the body politic should be organized.” Indeed, a good professor will prompt students to make the strongest arguments for both sides and proceed socratically to sharpen students’ appreciation of the difficulties and nuances of each position.

At least, that’s how I was taught.

I don’t know what’s going on with the comment function. Sorry, David.


I did my first bike rally on 30 September 1989, a month and a half after I moved to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to take a tenure-track job at UTA. My best riding years were in the early 1990s, when I was in my early to mid-30s. I always went out with the lead pack in the rallies. A couple of times I stayed in the lead pack the entire way, which made me feel good. Sometimes I would last two hours before getting dropped. Sometimes I would last only one hour, or 30 minutes, depending on the terrain and how insanely fast the pack was going. When I took up marathon running in 1996, I cut back on my cycling. For several years now, the only riding I’ve done is on Saturdays, during the rallies. If I trained during the week, I could go faster; but I don’t need to go faster. I’ve found an equilibrium.

This year, for some reason, I’m going fast. Here are the eight rallies I’ve done so far, together with the speed ranking:

Aledo: fastest of six rallies
Lancaster: fastest of eight rallies
Granbury: fastest of five rallies
Muenster: seventh-fastest of 18 rallies
Hillsboro: fastest of one rally (!)
Cedar Hill: fastest of two rallies
Flower Mound: eighth-fastest of 18 rallies
Burleson: fastest of nine rallies

This is crazy! It must be the steroids I’ve been taking.

Addendum: Here is a scene from today’s stage of the Giro d’Italia. The winner of the stage, Italian cyclist Franco Pellizotti, averaged 11.89 miles per hour on the steep course.


Here is your entertainment for this Memorial Day afternoon. I fell in love with jazz when I lived in suburban Detroit from August 1979 to August 1983. There was a 24-hour jazz station (WJZZ) on the radio, which opened a whole new musical world to me. One of my favorite artists was (and remains) the violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. A Taste for Passion (1979), which I now have on compact disc, is a wonderful album.

“Politics of Grievance”

Here is Victor Davis Hanson’s analysis of Barack Obama. Don’t you love the Internet?

Addendum: The 2008 presidential election is going to be a referendum on white guilt. Obama is counting on it being broad and deep. Actually, he’s counting on it being broad, since the depth of one’s guilt doesn’t increase the number of votes at one’s disposal.

Addendum 2: Here is an audio interview with Shelby Steele, author of White Guilt and other books.

Bush-Hatin’ Paul

Paul Krugman¹ doesn’t sound optimistic about a Democrat victory this fall. In fact, he sounds downright pessimistic, not to mention embittered by the fact that his preferred candidate, Hillary Clinton, won’t secure the nomination. Don’t you love the part about Barack Obama’s health-care plan being “seriously deficient”? It is virtually indistinguishable from Clinton’s plan. The only difference is that Clinton wants to coerce people into purchasing health insurance. Obama merely wants to make it available to everyone.


¹“Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults” (Daniel Okrent, “13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did,” The New York Times, 22 May 2005).

J. J. C. Smart on the Trustworthiness of Utilitarians

One must not think of the utilitarian as the sort of person whom you would not trust further than you can kick him. In fact, as a matter of untutored sociological observation, I should say that in general utilitarians are exceptionally trustworthy and that the sort of people who might do you down are rarely utilitarians.

(J. J. C. Smart, “The Methods of Ethics and the Methods of Science,” The Journal of Philosophy 62 [24 June 1965]: 344-9, at 348)

Note from KBJ: A utilitarian will lie to you if he or she thinks doing so will maximize overall happiness. A utilitarian will steal from you if he or she thinks doing so will maximize overall happiness. A utilitarian will cheat you if he or she thinks doing so will maximize overall happiness. A utilitarian will torture you if he or she thinks doing so will maximize overall happiness. A utilitarian will frame you if he or she thinks doing so will maximize overall happiness. A utilitarian will kill you if he or she thinks doing so will maximize overall happiness. To a utilitarian, you are a mere means to collective ends; you are not an end in yourself. I don’t know about you, but I stay away from utilitarians.

A Year Ago



Here is the bracket for the 2008 NCAA baseball tournament. Eight teams will go to the College World Series in Omaha. My Arizona Wildcats won the College World Series in 1976, 1980, and 1986. I was a student there during the third victory. Back then, you were lucky to get the games on the radio. Now they are broadcast in high definition on ESPN. I have a feeling that this year’s team (38-17) will make it to the College World Series; and once you’re there, who knows what will happen? By the way, the Women’s College World Series begins Thursday in Oklahoma City. (Here is the bracket.) My Arizona Wildcats (41-17) are two-time defending champions. I enjoy both of these events. In fact, this is one of my favorite times of year, sportswise. Three great horse races; the College World Series; the Women’s College World Series; the Indianapolis 500; the Giro d’Italia; the French Open tennis tournament (which, admittedly, no longer interests me); NBA and NHL playoffs (ditto); regular-season baseball. How could it be any better?

Addendum: What are your 10 favorite sporting events, and why?

National Security

My friend Jeff sent a link to this column by William Bennett and Brian Kennedy.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Doctors Are Beginning to Say ‘I’m Sorry’ Long Before ‘I’ll See You in Court’” (front page, May 18):

The logic of taking rather than denying responsibility after errors is by no means limited to medical malpractice cases.

I hope we will see this approach spread to other areas.

Not only might this avoid unnecessary legal costs, but when injurers take responsibility for their mistakes, all parties benefit: the injured because the mistake has been acknowledged and fairly compensated, and the injurer because he or she has done the right thing.

The legal community in general could learn from the practice doctors are pioneering.

Jonathan R. Cohen
Gainesville, Fla.
May 18, 2008
The writer is a professor at the University of Florida College of Law.

Note from KBJ: How about the community of law professors?

Curro Ergo Sum

I’m a glutton for punishment. Instead of running 3.1 miles today, which I’ve been doing three times a week for many weeks, I ran 6.6. It was 83.8º Fahrenheit and very humid. I kept a steady pace and occupied my mind with philosophical and other problems (such as how to jump start my beloved Detroit Tigers). The southerly breeze had a cooling effect on certain parts of the course, and I was lucky that the sun beat down on me only 10% of the time. I hope you’re having a nice Memorial Day. I’m grateful to all those who risked their lives so that I may pursue happiness.

Addendum: My resting heart rate this morning was 45. The lowest I’ve ever recorded, in 23 years of biweekly recording, is 42.