Up@dawn 2.0

Friday, January 31, 2014

Berry Lectures at Vanderbilt

Please join us for the first in our 2014 series of Berry Lectures in Public Philosophy on Tuesday, February 11th in Buttrick Hall, Room 101.  The theme for this year’s series is Human Existence: Insights from Philosophy’s History.   The full schedule appears below. 

Our first speaker in the series is Professor Lenn Goodman.  His topic is “Two Ways to do Metaphysics without Really Trying: Aristotle and Avicenna on Being at Large.”  The lecture begins at 7:00pm, and will be preceded by a light reception at 6:30pm.  All are invited. 

Many Thanks,
--Robert Talisse
Professor of Philosophy and Department Chair


The Berry Lectures in Public Philosophy
Human Existence: Insights from Philosophy’s History

Tuesday, February 11
7:00pm, Buttrick Hall, Room 101
Lenn Goodman
Two Ways to do Metaphysics without Really Trying:
Aristotle and Avicenna on Being at Large

Tuesday, February 18
7:00pm, Buttrick Hall, Room 101
Julian Wuerth
What is Enlightenment?
Kant’s Copernican Revolution

Tuesday, February 25
7:00pm, Buttrick Hall, Room 101
David Wood
‘What does not kill me makes me stronger’:
Why we Still Read Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

Thursday, March 13
7:00pm, Wilson Hall, Room 126
José Medina
Love and Other Demons:
Wittgenstein and Skepticism

All Lectures are Free and Open to the Public
Sponsored by the Vanderbilt Philosophy Department with the Generous Support of the Berry Fund

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Daily Quiz

1. (T/F) The Dalia Lama, in his book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, said that if science proved religious claims in Buddhism false, then one must abandon those religious claims.

2. What was Einstein's view of Buddhism?

3. How do we avoid "the disease of finding science disenchanting"?

4. What's epiphenomenalism?

5. Does the question of what preceded the Big Bang make any sense, on Flanagan's view?

6. Does Flanagan think we're "clueless" about whether mental states are material?

Also of note:
Does Buddhism reject God and soul? (68)

What does Buddhism "see through" regarding cosmological and design arguments? (68)

"Science has scriptural traditions of its own." How so? (70)

What's F's view of "scientific materialism"? (72)

Can "karma" be naturalized? (73-5)

Are evolutionists and Buddhists equally prone to invoke "received wisdom"? (77)

And there's much more of note here, in this chapter. You tell me...

Help me out, please, and claim your QRs (Quiz Runs): Post those FQs by the day before class, so I'll have time to incorporate them into the quiz. 

Question from the "Good Book"

Q: What is hope? (Lamentations, page 72, verse 14)

A: The illusion of possible good

God has struck me!

'Ello all!

I won't be in class today, but hopefully I'll be able to stop by happy hour and play catch up.
My pipes have burst and my house is flooding, didn't God strike Pharaoh's indoor plumbing too?

Anyway, here's some stuff for contribution.

(T/F) Of the two Buddhist claims Flanagan asserts we need to "keep an eye out for," does he believe any are actually required by the Buddhist faith?
DQ: Do you believe there can be a "convergence of science and spirituality?"

And some media!

I thought it was appropriate.

Free* Food at Happy Hour Today!

An important message from Jon:
I won't be in class/at happy hour tonight; sadly I seem to have angered the Sinus Infection god and am currently in a state of rather unpleasant battle with him (he seems to find my atheism blasphemous, but I keep arguing that at least there's evidence for my existence).  In my absence, I'd say that you should have everyone save their food receipts from tonight's happy hour and let's go ahead and submit those ASAP, so that we may open up the possibility of further "engagement funding."
So, *free as in reimbursable. Pay and enjoy now, get your rebate later.

Faith: An Excerpt from Peter Boghossian' Book

The following is an excerpt on faith from Peter Boghossian's book A Manual for Creating Atheists, which is available at Amazon.  I highly recommend it.  

As a Street Epistemologist, you’ll find subjects will attempt to evade your help by asserting that every definition of faith offered is incorrect and that you “just don’t understand” what faith really is. When pressed, the faithful will offer vague definitions that are merely transparent attempts to evade criticism, or simplistic definitions that intentionally muddy the meaning of “faith.”

More common still are what Horseman Daniel Dennett terms “deepities.” A deepity is a statement that looks profound but is not. Deepities appear true at one level, but on all other levels are meaningless. Here are some examples of deepities:

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11: 1)

“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (Alma 32: 21) 1

“Faith is the act in which reason reaches ecstatically beyond itself.” (Tillich, 1957, p. 87)

 “Faith is faith in the living God, and God is and remains a mystery beyond human comprehension. Although the ‘object’ of our faith, God never ceases to be ‘subject.’” (Migliore, 1991, p. 3)

“Making faith-sense tries to wed meaning and facts. You can start with either one, but it is important to include the claims of both.” (Kinast, 1999, p. 7)

“Having faith is really about seeking something beyond faith itself.” (McLaren, 1999, p. 3)

 … and additionally, virtually every statement made by Indian-American physician Deepak Chopra.

For example, Chopra’s tweets on February 7, 2013, read:

“The universe exists in awareness alone.” 

“God is the ground of awareness in which the universe arises & subsides”

 “All material objects are forms of awareness within awareness, sensations, images, feelings, thoughts”

 One could easily fill an entire tradition to employ deepities, used slippery definitions of faith, and hidden behind unclear language since at least the time of Augustine (354– 430).

 The word “faith” is a very slippery pig. We need to get our hands on it, pin it to the ground, and wrap a blanket around it so we can have something to latch onto before we finally and permanently subdue it. Malleable definitions allow faith to slip away from critique.

Faith—belief without evidence.

“My definition of faith is that it’s a leap over the probabilities. It fills in the gap between what is improbable to make something more probable than not without faith. As such, faith is an irrational leap over the probabilities.” —John W. Loftus, “Victor Reppert Now Says He Doesn’t Have Faith!” (Loftus, 2012)

Faith—pretending to know things you don’t know.

Not everything that’s a case of pretending to know things you don’t know is a case of faith, but cases of faith are instances of pretending to know something you don’t know. 

Group One: The Multitudes of One "True" Faith

Q: The Dalia Lama, in his book The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality, that if science proved religious claims in Buddhism false, then one must abandon those religious claims? A: True

Not to beat a dead horse that doesn't exist, but I thoroughly enjoyed our semantic discussion of faith, belief, and hope.  I feel very lucky to be in a class with such sharp, thoughtful students.

Concerning our discussion, the overarching problem that kept surfacing indicated that any definition of faith suffers (or benefits) from the same indeterminate vagueness as the nature of God.  When theists are often pressed for evidence of their particular god in a non-religious setting, for example, the angry, jealous god of the Bible--the one that wins wars and football games, sends tornados to punish homosexuality, and assures priests that women are not worthy of leadership positions--is no where to be found.  When pressed for evidence, this god suddenly becomes the "first cause," the "unmoved mover," love,  the sustainer of the universe outside of space, time and logic, etc.  Then, non-believers are often accused of not understanding the nature of faith, or all attempts to define faith are incomplete.

The trouble with this view is that the portrayal of God as some sustaining force in the the outer cosmos renders Him completely unrecognizable by the majority of Christians.  If that particularly vague image of Abrahamic god were remotely true, then the Bible would be no longer than a band flyer at Bonnaroo.

The data shows that 86% of Protestants and a whopping 94% of Evangelicals take the Bible as the "net word of god."  52% of Evangelicals take the Bible literally--all of it.  41% of Protestants do the same.  For Bible literalists, that means the earth is 6,000 years and God is an old bearded guy in the sky sporting a bathrobe. And guess what: they are certain this is true because of faith.

I think Peter Boghossian put is best when he said vague definitions of gods and faith are transparent attempts to avoid criticism.  But here he helps us out a bit.  He contends that faith is not only belief without evidence, but faith is really "pretending to know something you don't."

But don't take my word for the above data.  Here's a link to all the 2012 Pew Research on Religious belief in the United States.   The specific data quoted is under the Views of Scripture section.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Power of Skype Compels You

Hey kids,

Are your crazy religious parents thinking about killing you because they're certain (have faith) you are possessed by the Devil?  If they find out you're taking an Atheism class, are you in danger of being smothered in your sleep by a religious loved one?  Does your pastor, priest, or Supreme Court Justice insist that the Devil is real, and is coming to a town near you?  Well have no fear--redemption is only an Internet connection away.  

If you have about an hour, 300 bucks, and WiFi, personal salvation can be yours. 

Check out the Arizona pastor's purification procedure by proxy and Skype Almighty

If you're wondering about the blog-post tittle, it's a word-play on a scene from the 1973 film The Exorcist.  I saw The Exorcist when it originally came out, and it scared the daylights out of me. I'm a sucker for a good scary movie--Devil or not.  

Quixotic fideism

I enjoyed our little impromptu discussion at the beginning of class yesterday, prompted by Devin's interest in these quotes:
Faith is indeed quixotic. It is absurd. Let us admit it. Let us concede everything! Miguel de Unamuno
To believe in spite of anything! That is the essence of quixotic fideism. Martin Gardner
I was reminded of the last time the subject came up in A&P, two years ago. It was a provocative topic then too:

Secular believers and the feeling of faith-

Begin the Baggini: we begin Julian Baggini’s Atheism today in A&P. His BBC celebration of secularity is a good introduction.

The Secular Society has a nice place, but wait ’til you see Alain de Botton’s Atheist Temple. (Thanks Dean.) Puts the Crystal Cathedralto shame.

Baggini has little use for fideism. After reading Martin Gardner I have to say I’m also unimpressed with the quixotic “believe in spite of anything” school.

And yet. I can’t shake the sense of a “feeling of faith” I don’t know personally, am deeply skeptical about, but still can’t bring myself to dismiss out of hand. JMH:
Some people may be tone-deaf to the idea of evidence, some may be tone-deaf to the feeling that there is a higher power—we must forgive them each their failing. But there is also a tradition by which both sides refuse to engage the interesting questions: believers refuse to consider the reasonableness of doubt, and nonbelievers refuse to consider the feeling of faith.

It’s an odd dynamic, emerging from the juxtaposition of this class with CoPhi. On alternate days I find myself either the most or the least assertive atheist in the room, all because I’m trying to “engage the interesting questions” and “consider the feeling of faith.” I’m always seeking someone’s forgiveness. (Cue Mr. Prine.)

I wish the hard-core “secular believers” in A&P could have seen the looks of blinking incomprehension on some students’ faces when I said yesterday, as matter of factly as I feel it, that I simply do not accept the concept of “hell.” (Well, there have been a few staff meetings… but never mind.)

I find it easier to renounce the concept of hellfire, anywhere and anytime, than to flatly repudiate someone’s heartfelt testimonial of, say, an encounter with angels. That’s inconsistent, I know. Angels make no more sense than demons.  But angels are benign and helpful spirits, and people do need help. Nobody needs to roast, or to espouse a loving god who could be capable of turning up the heat.

Still, and though I typically don’t say so, the angel-feeling is not the “feeling of faith” I feel obliged to respect. I usually just only ridicule it “in my heart.” (Like Jimmy Carter, that’s also where I do my best sinning.)

My greater regard is for the more amorphous, mysterious, mystical experiences  that result in something imprecise but uplifting being somehow registered by the experiencer. Again, people need help. They need uplift. I don’t want to deprive people of the help they need.

But maybe  the greatest help will come when “all of God’s children” are confident enough in human solidarity and humane secularity to look the universe squarely in the eye and not blink at its failure to reflect what JMH calls our humanness. We are the repositories and the expressors of value, not it. Or rather, we are the part of it with values. As Julian Baggini says, we just need to have a little more faith in ourselves.
Atheism is not a faith position because it is belief in nothing beyond which there is evidence and argument for; religious belief is a faith position because it goes beyond what there is evidence or argument for.
Thus Christianity endorsed the principle that it is good to believe what you have no evidence to believe, a rather convenient maxim for a belief system for which there is no good evidence.
It is a simple error to suppose that just because atheist beliefs are also “unproven” or “uncertain” that they too require faith. Faith does not plug the gap between reasons to believe and certain proof.
So here is a first step in moral thinking. Forget any transcendental lawgiver or divine source of morality. Just think about what is needed for a human life to go well and you will soon find that most of what we recognize as morality comes into play.
…being good is a challenge for everyone, atheist or non-atheist.
Dean sends a link (take your base, Dean):

Sam Harris has a new book coming, on atheism & spirituality:

He hinted at it more than a year and a half ago, so it’s about time that The End of Faith author Sam Harris announced his next book.
It’s called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (Simon & Schuster), it’ll be released this September, and it’s already available for pre-order. Patheos
And another Dean link: Anybody find anything troubling about this, in a church-stately way? http://mtsunews.com/community-support-yields-microgrants/

Let the superscripting madness begin!

So in today’s pursuit of defining some of our terms, I settled an inner argument I had with superscriptingFlanagan.  While at once superscriptingFlanagan seemed absurd and cheeky, I’ve now begun to realize that it can be incredibly useful at saving space.  For example, I can say LibertarianismMill and that makes it much easier to make the distinction between philosophical libertarianism and political libertarianism--if you will, LibertarianismRon Paul.  The more I consider it, the more I realize that this is really a much better way to distinguish different concepts with the same names, as opposed to writing them out by hand.  So it took a few months, but I’ve finally warmed up to superscriptingFlanagan.  But hey, that’s just OpinionJon.

P.S., if you're interested in doing the superscripting thing here's a quick, rough video tutorial: