Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I thought today's class was fun. Seriously, though, I'd be happy to let Kat or someone else be the discussion moderator. I calls 'em as I sees 'em but I don't always sees 'em right.

On Thursday it's
Let's try to do the group distribution thing: Group #1 post comments and questions/topics on the Shapiro essay, Group #2 Levine etc. (as well as on whatever else you're moved to think about).

There are two Antonys at the end of the line because one's in the book and one's on the web, at the link indicated. Group #4 gets Antony in the book, Group #5 "Good Minus God."

P.S. Still thinking about our class discussion in A&P yesterday on evolution & meaning... (continues)


  1. I enjoyed today's class as well, and am enjoying my new-found ability to actually leave comments on the site. I don't know why my computer won't allow this, but, the library ones will, so, that's where I'll do this from.

    I would, however, like to suggest a moratorium on hand-raising. I think we've established that we can be respectful of each others' time and opinions. The waiting in line instead of speaking up causes people to lose their point or the group to lose the focus, whatever it may have been. I think the risk of everyone talking at the same time is worth it. Just my opinion.

    I also just don't like raising my hand in a Philosophy class. Something just seems weird about it. My opinion.

  2. I think it stems from a desire to be overly polite, since we are dealing with traditionally taboo subjects. You know, like an "err on the side of caution" vibe. I am more than happy to listen to other people's opinions, even those who might tend to go on a bit.

    I try to abide by the old maxim "Be bright, be brief, be gone." Say your piece, make your point, and spare us the verbal meandering. Failing that, maybe we need a kitchen timer set to 60 seconds ;-)

  3. I've never imposed a formal hand-raising policy in any course. I have occasionally found it necessary to encourage self-control and mutual consideration, and to scold those who did not make an effort in that direction. So everybody, speak when you must. If it gets out of hand we'll resort to the small group discussion format (which, as I said today, seems like a good idea occasionally anyway). And understand, please, that if I've not called on you it was entirely inadvertent.

  4. Perhaps Baggini was merely trying to say that evolution doesn't convey meaning to our lives in some active sense, comparable to a deity imposing meaning from the outside. We as individuals are still perfectly capable of finding meaning in the process, but by no means are we obligated to.

    Personally, I find profound meaning in the fact that each and every one of us are the products of an epic struggle for survival that stretches back billions of years. The idea that random chance (guided by non-random survival) could culminate in moon landings and swimsuit calendars is the closest I would come to using the term "miraculous."

  5. While we're on the subject of finding meaning in evolution, I read this over at Choice In Dying this morning. Eric MacDonald often has awesome things to say.

    "Is evolution consistent with belief in a god that would be religiously meaningful?

    That’s the key question, and no one even bothers to ask it. For there could certainly be a god that was consistent with evolution, but that god would be, without a doubt, either evil and cruel, or powerless. And neither type of god would be religiously meaningful.

    This was Darwin’s problem. He realised, over the years, more and more, that the theory he had discovered was simply inconsistent with the goodness of god, and duck and dive as they please, no one has suggested how to make evolution consistent with a god’s goodness. It really doesn’t take much imagination to see why. There is only one plausible way in which a god might be consistent with all the pain and suffering that is the direct consequence of that god’s using evolution as the means of creation. First, human beings must be a distinct creation, and, second, the suffering of animals must be irrelevant to the question of the goodness of god. This seems to be the pope’s way out. But it doesn’t work, however plausible it seems. First of all, it is simply impossible for any but a psychopath simply to discount the suffering of animals as irrelevant to any imagined god’s goodness. And second, the claim that human beings are a separate and distinct creation is one which the theory of evolution denies. Human biology is continuous with the biology of all living things. We are one little twig on the tree of life.

    The pope and many other Christians, of course, don’t really believe in evolution at all, because they believe that, at some point in the development of life, god directly intervened and created a being with a soul, namely, us. This ontological saltation, of course, is not a part of the theory, but an addition that simply makes a nonsense of the theory. In order to create intelligent, rational beings, who had a ghostly kind of free will, god had to intervene directly in the process, and, as a result, an entirely new order of being was created. This is not supported by the scientific evidence. It is a theological presupposition — made up stuff! The evidence is quite clear. Human beings are animals, like all the other animals on earth, and like them, human beings are related to all of life, including plants and bacteria, amoebae, and even more primitive forms of life. There is no ontological jump from animals to human beings. Given the theory of evolution, there is simply no reason to believe such a thing. We can trace our lineage back to a common ancestor of gorillas and chimps, and further back to the beginning of life, to one-celled creatures just beginning their billions of years’ long journey to the amazing diversity we see in the world around us, including ourselves.

    Even on this theological supposition, what are we to do with the billions of years of suffering of so many animals that have come to be and then lost the evolutionary fight, and were replaced by more successful forms of life? Billions of years of meaningless, pointless suffering, with no one around to respond with awe and wonder, as human beings can. It is simply intolerable to believe that there is a god who used this method for creating us, for bringing us into being. It is a completely mechanistic, algorithmic process, set in motion billions of years ago, and just by chance, happened upon beings like us who can think about the universe and our surroundings, and find it full of things at which we can wonder, and consider with awe. The entire reason for the stridency of the new atheism lies right there. There is no reason to believe a god necessary for the production of this evolutionary process, and any god that was responsible for it would have to be a monster."

  6. Moon landings AND swimsuit calendars as the apex of human civilization? I love it!

    And thanks for reposting MacDonald, David. Terrific stuff. But I still prefer a gentle explanation (like this) to a strident and angry screed. I get angry with pig-ignorant fundamentalists too, but there are lots of hearts and minds in the middle, still in play and amenable to sweet reason.

    1. Interestingly, the name of the post that I pulled this excerpt from is entitled "Let’s Keep New Atheism Strident."

    2. Eric's assertion is that if New Atheism is seen as strident for its commitment to reason, then it should indeed remain strident. Speaking out unapologetically against the dangers of ideologies that are an afront to reason has yielded enormous progress in the effort to extricate ourselves from the stranglehold of religion. Now that the fear of being killed (or even socially ostracized)for speaking out is much lower, the process is only accelerating.

    3. Fairly or not, New Atheists seem to be widely perceived as strident not mainly because they love reason but because they viscerally despise religion. I know, I know: despising religion and loving reason are flip-sides of the same coin for many. But Baggini's right, it's fundamentalism that we should have in our sights. I spent time yesterday with a charming, freethinking scholar of religion from California who reminds me that we perhaps (and understandably) view all this through a distorted lens here in the southland... forgetting that they're not ALL fundamentalists.

  7. I may be a little lost. Are we expected to have ALL of Philosopher's without Gods read for tomorrow's class? because if so, I'm a little behind.

  8. Ideally, read 'em all. Realistically, begin with your group's essay and do your best. Divide and conquer!