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Patrick J. Deneen on the Presuppositions of a Great Books Education

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Books were understood to be a storehouse of wisdom from the past, a treasury and repository of hard-won experience and knowledge of these limits. What these books taught was itself a justification for an education centered around them. Because the present and future were believed to be fundamentally identical to the past, the past was understood to be a source of wisdom about our condition as humans in a world that we do not command. An education in great books was itself a consequence of a philosophical worldview, and not merely an education from which we derived a worldview (much less sought an education in critical thinking).

Patrick J. Deneen on Uncritical Critical Thinking

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Many commend the teaching of great or core texts to provide something more than the exercise of “critical thinking,” a goal onto which academics have latched (after the ferocious curriculum battles of the 1980s and 1990s) with an almost audible sigh of relief. Debates about substance were put to rest as agreement was reached on the contentless goal of critical thinking, which allowed academics to lay down their arms and embrace the common project of cultivating a thinking style . Indeed, it has reached a pass in which the only idea impervious to critical thinking is the shared goal of critical thinking: No one quite knows what it is, but we can all agree that we want our students to be able to do it. Push-pins is equal to Homer, and Homer equal to push-pins, since both can be claimed to foster critical thinking.

Thomas Boys on the Insistence of Miracles

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A miracle is an extraordinary manifestation of supernatural power, perceptible to unbelievers as well as believers. Grace is a manifestation to believers only: Miracles are manifestations to unbelievers. A miracle is something perceptible to the senses, or to the intelligence, of a natural man. A miracle, therefore, may be called something tangible: something that we can lay before him and allege to him: something concerning which we can make an appeal to his natural perceptions: something concerning which we can charge it upon his conscience, that he knows within himself that such a thing has taken place. The world, therefore, is opposed to the doctrine of miracles: and opposed to it for this very reason, because they are tangible or perceptible. And mock professors, in like manner, shrink from the doctrine of miracles: because it brings them, at once, to an issue with the world. They shrink not, equally, from the profession of spiritual truths; because these may be eluded by the world, and lead to no issue. Doctrines, the world can explain away: miracles, it cannot. Here is something that it cannot get over. It is easy, for instance, to say to a man sick of the palsy, “Thy sins be forgiven thee;” because there is nothing to shew, at the moment, whether they are so or not: the issue stands over to the day of judgment. But it is not so easy to say to him, “Arise, and walk;” because, if the speaker be an impostor, he knows the sufferer will not rise and walk, and he dreads the consequent exposure.

Paul K. Moser on God as a Title Not a Name

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Setting the bar high, indeed as high as possible, we will approach the term “God” as a supreme title of personal perfection rather than a proper name. (We can always lower the bar if our overall evidence calls for this.) Likewise, some variants of monotheism suggest that the term “God” is a normative title requiring worthiness of worship. Given such a title, no mere potentate who dominated over all others will qualify as God. Something beyond domination is needed, because worthiness of worship is needed. Such worthiness is normative, not merely descriptive, and therefore does not support the false claim that “might makes right.” According to this view, “God” is not God’s name, because the term “God” is a normative title. A title can be meaningful but lack a titleholder. In talking about God, then, we can give a fair hearing to proponents of atheism and agnosticism without begging questions against them or otherwise dismissing them.

Paul K. Moser on Expectations and Religious Epistemology

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Many people, including philosophers, have misguided expectations for God. These expectations are misguided in their failing to match what would be God’s relevant purposes, if God exists. The latter purposes include what God aims to achieve in revealing to humans (the evidence of) God’s reality and will. Misguided expectations for God can leave one looking for evidence for God in all the wrong places. In failing to find the expected evidence, one easily lapses into despair, anger, or indifference toward matters of God. We find such regrettable attitudes among many people, including philosophers and theologians. ¶ The needed antidote calls for a careful reconsideration of our expectations for God. This antidote enables us to approach religious epistemology in a way that does justice to the idea of a God worthy of worship. As we shall see, the evidence available to humans from a God worthy of worship would not be for mere spectators, but instead would seek to challenge the will of humans to cooperate with God’s perfect will. This would result from God’s seeking what is morally best for humans, including (a) their cooperative reconciliation to God, (b) their redemption from volitional corruption, such as selfishness, pride, and despair about human life, and (c) their ongoing cooperative life with God. ¶ What if, as Kierkegaard (1846) suggested, God maintains God’s value by refusing to become a mere third party and instead offering second-person (I–Thou) access to humans? What if, in addition, God is elusive in hiding from people unwilling to cooperate with God’s will? Such “what if” questions can shake up misguided expectations for God and point us in a new, reliable direction.

Noah J. Efron on Opposing Narratives of Science and Religion

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A Newtonian might put it this way: for every myth there is an equal and opposite myth. Consider popular accounts of Christianity’s relations to science. Everyone is familiar with the myth that popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and pastors all saw it as a sacred duty to silence scientists, stymie their inquiries, and stifle their innovations. Lately, a new account of Christianity’s link to science has been put forth, opposite in attitude to the first but equally bold and, in the end, equally wrong. In this account, not only did Christianity not quash science, but it and it alone gave birth to modern science and nurtured it to maturity. And the world is a far better place for it.

Dennis R. Danielson on Heliocentrism as a Promotion

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Rather scandalously, heliocentrism was seen as “exalting” the position of humankind in the universe and pulling the earth up out of the cosmic sump that Copernicus’s predecessors thought it occupied — and conversely, placing the divinely associated sun into that central yet gained location. … Copernicus tried to enhance the status of the center by envisaging it as an advantageously located throne (sodium) that formed a poetically fitting place from which the kingly sun (sol) could illuminate and govern his subjects. In Copernicus’ cosmology, the center was transformed into a place of hone, while at the same time earth was promoted to the status of a “star” that “moves among the planets as one of them.”

Lesley B. Cormack on the Medieval View of the Earth’s Shape

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Did people in the Middle Ages think that the world was flat? … From the seventh century to the fourteenth, every important medieval thinker concerned about the natural world stated more or less expliclity that the world was a round globe, many of them incorporating Ptolemy’s astronomy and Aristotle’s physics into their work. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), for example, followed Aristotle’s proof in demonstrationg that the changing positions of the constellations as one moved about on the earth’s surface indicated the spherical shape of the earth. Roger Bacon (d. 1294), in his Opus Maiusi (ca. 1270), stated that the world was round, that the southern antipodes were inhabited, and that the sun’s passage along the line of the ecliptic affected climates of different parts of the world. Albertus Magnus (d. 1280) agreed with Bacon’s finding, while Michael Scot (d. 1234) “compared the earth, surrounded by water, to the yolk of an egg and the spheres of the universe to the layers of an onion.” Perhaps the most influential were Jean de Sacrobosco, whose De Sphera (ca. 1230) demonstrated that the earth was a globe, and Piere d’Ailly (1350-1410), archbishop of Cambria, whose Imago Mundi (written in 1410) discussed the sphericity of the earth. Both of these books enjoyed great popularity; Sacrobosco’s book was used as a basic textbook throughout the Middle ages, while d’Ailly’s book was read by early explorers like Columbus. … With the exception of Cosmas, no medieval writer denied that the earth was spherical — and the Catholic church never took a stand on the issue.

Cornelius Hunter on the Just-Add-Water View of Life

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Evolution’s just-add-water view of life had led astronomers to expect that the universe is teeming with life. ETs should be common and if we point our radios to the stars we should eventually pick up some interesting signals. But no such signals have been found. It is a clear example of yet another falsified evolutionary expectation. … Krauss makes the common evolutionary appeal to future findings. “We currently DO NOT know,” the publicly-funded professor begins, “the factors that allow the evolution of life in the Universe.” ¶ I’ve seen this response many times. Evolutionists argue the science proves their theory, and when they are presented with the actual evidence they then make the argument from ignorance. So [when] the evidence is against them, future science might switch things around. ¶ Absolutely. That certainly is true. Who knows what science may discover in the future.

David Bentley Hart on the Discipline of Theology

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The majority of the faculty of most modern universities would surely regard the claim that theology constitutes some kind of “science” absurd and presumptuous. ¶ Religion, after all (as  everyone knows), is a realm of purely personal conviction sustained by faith, which is (as everyone also knows) an entirely irrational movement of the will, an indistinct impulse of saccharine sentiment, pathetic longing, childish credulity, and vague intuition. And theology, being the special language of religion, is by definition a collection of vacuous assertions, zealous exhortations, and beguiling fables; it is the peculiar patois of a private fixation or tribal allegiance, of interest perhaps to the psychopathologist or anthropologist, but of no greater scientific value than that; surely it has no proper field of study of its own, no real object to investigate, and whatever rules it obeys must be essentially arbitrary.