George Washington, sometime before the age of 16, transcribed Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. To modern ears many of these rules may seem quaint and moralistic, overly aristocratic and deferential. But though they are primarily rules of a bygone formality, good manners are most often an outward expression of respect toward others and there is a timeless wisdom in many of them. One of the prevailing undercurrents here at Afterall.net is a desire to be competent at speaking in love what one takes to be true and not trivial. The first article I wrote here was “Recipe for Conversation“, borne out of frustration with my own failure in many cases to speak with as much kindness as conviction. It is not easy to disagree without being disagreeable. Fortunately, to our great benefit, there is a long conversation in Anglo-American discourse about this subject of “civility” or “civil discourse”. Indeed, the American Experiment is in large measure an attempt to live well with differences. To that end, Washington’s rules with respect to civil conversation are worth considering. If nothing else, they are a glimpse into another time. Not surprisingly, incessant talkers and interrupters, not to mention gabbing with a mouth full of food, were as gauche then as they are now. As an aside, I’ve also added a new category, Civility & Rhetoric, to begin to gather books, quotes, and papers on this subject in one place. ~ Nate
The clear facts of consciously valued experience and of freely chosen purpose, the intelligibility and elegance of the deep structure of the physical world, the visions of transcendent value in art, the categorical demands of duty and of the search for truth, and the testimony of so many to a felt power making for goodness and uniting the mind to a higher selfless reality of wisdom and bliss – all these things the materialist has to consign to illusion. May it not be that it is the materialist who is refusing to see what is there?
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about consciousness and how it might contribute to evidence for the existence of God in light of metaphysical naturalism’s failure to provide a helpful explanation. Some of my thinking has culminated in the recently released Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge Studies in the Philosophy of Religion) (Routledge, 2008). Consciousness is among the most mystifying features of the cosmos. Geoffrey Madell opines that "the emergence of consciousness, then is a mystery, and one to which materialism signally fails to provide an answer."i Naturalist Colin McGinn claims that its arrival borders on sheer magic because there seems to be no naturalistic explanation for it: "How can mere matter originate consciousness? How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness? Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe, not prefigured by the after-effects of the Big Bang; so how did it contrive to spring into being from what preceded it?"ii Finally, naturalist William Lyons argues that "[physicalism] seem[s] to be in tune with the scientific materialism of the twentieth century because it [is] a harmonic of the general theme that all there is in the universe is matter and energy and motion and that humans are a product of the evolution of species just as much as buffaloes and beavers are. Evolution is a seamless garment with no holes wherein souls might be inserted from above."iii
In this essay, Lewis takes as his subject the thesis presented by two unnamed schoolmasters in what he calls “The Green Book”: that our value judgments refer only to our own sentiments and never to any intrinsic worth in the objects we judge (i.e. subjectivism). He is concerned as to what this will mean for the education of English children, and this essay constitutes one part of Lewis’ Abolition of Man, subtitled “Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools”. In the authors’ seemingly innocent and casual subjectification of value there is a subversive outcome: “I do not mean, of course, that [the schoolboy] will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.” The Green Book’s authors analyze a piece of banal and deceptive advertising. But, Lewis notes, the authors have effectively precluded any normative judgment of the ad, for a similiar judgment upon Johnson, Wordsworth, or Virgil could be no less an accurate description of a reader’s sentiments, and there is no other quality to which to appeal. Lewis ends with this oft-cited poetic prose: “And all the time — such is the tragicomedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” His argument continues in “The Way”. ~ Afterall
My conversion was in two parts: a natural part and a supernatural part. Here is the natural part: first, over a period of two years my hatred toward Christianity eroded due to my philosophical inquiries. Rest assured, I take the logical process of philosophy very seriously, and I am impatient with anyone who is not a rigorous and trained thinker. Reason is the tool men use to determine if their statements about reality are valid: there is no other. Those who do not or cannot reason are little better than slaves, because their lives are controlled by the ideas of other men, ideas they have not examined. To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church. Each time I followed the argument fearlessly where it lead, it kept leading me, one remorseless rational step at a time, to a position the Church had been maintaining for more than a thousand years. That haunted me.
The most important word in this entire book is the noun in the subtitle; this is a "novel"-a work of fiction. That is important to remember, especially after the statements on page 1, which move the work slightly into the arena of historical fiction, but only slightly. It is true that there are such organizations as the Priory of Sion and Opus Dei. It is true that the author has worked hard to describe accurately the contemporary European locations, including city layouts, buildings, and artwork, in which the plot is set. The statement that "all descriptions of… documents… in this novel are accurate" is, however, highly inaccurate!
I will sketch an argument that if we follow St. Augustine in seeing the cosmos —i.e., the sum total of all created existence—as a work of art, then we have good reason to be sceptical of the judgment that there are gratuitous evils. I will do so by stating several features of works of art each of which, when transferred to the case of the cosmos, makes it difficult to conclude that any evil we see is gratuitous. However this account does not undercut the religious claims that from the goodness of things in the universe we can tell something about God’s goodness. Paradoxically, evil does not give a strong argument against the existence of God, but good might give a strong argument in favor of it.
I am going to talk about the question of whether we can find an evolutionary basis for human morality. I am not a scientist, but a philosopher. So I am not going to try to pass judgment on the theory of evolution itself, as it applies to human beings. I do not regard philosophers as professionally competent either to pass a positive or negative judgment on the theory, except insofar as there are philosophical commitments embodied in it. However, I do regard myself as having made some progress in understanding human morality. In particular, I have been interested in and have written about the gap between the demands of morality on us and our natural capacities to meet those demands. This gap presents the problem of how we can be held accountable or responsible for a standard we are not equipped to meet either by innate capacity or natural development. So I want to ask the conditional question: if we assume that the theory of evolution as it applies to human beings is correct, does this help us answer the questions of whether we can be morally good and why we should be morally good? The first question, whether we can be morally good, is the question raised by the moral gap between the demands of morality and our natural capacities. It is only after answering this first question, “yes, we can be morally good,” that the second question arises of why we should be morally good, for we can only be held accountable or responsible for standards that we are able to reach. The burden of my presentation will be that we do not get an answer to these two questions from the theory of evolution. I am not arguing here that the theory is false, but that even if it is true, it doesn’t give us an answer. I will be looking at a number of recent attempts to provide such an answer from the theory, but I will claim that all of them fail.
I understand by an argument from design one which argues from some general pattern of order in the universe or provision for the needs of conscious beings to a God responsible for these phenomena. An argument from a general pattern of order I shall call a teleological argument. In the definition of ‘teleological argument’ I emphasize the words ‘general pattern’; I shall not count an argument to the existence of God from some particular pattern of order manifested on a unique occasion as a teleological argument.
I’ve been arguing that theistic belief does not (in general) need argument either for deontological justification, or for positive epistemic status, (or for Foley rationality or Alstonian justification); belief in God is properly basic. But it doesn’t follow, of course that there aren’t any good arguments. Are there some? At least a couple of dozen or so. According to Swinburne, a good argument is one that has premises that everyone knows. Maybe there aren’t any such arguments, and if there are some, maybe none of them would be good arguments for anyone. (Note again the possibility that a person might, when confronted with an argument he sees to be valid for a conclusion he deeply disbelieves from premises he knows to be true, give up (some of) those premises: in this way you can reduce someone from knowledge to ignorance by giving him an argument he sees to be valid from premises he knows to be true. These arguments are not coercive in the sense that every person is obliged to accept their premises on pain of irrationality. Maybe just that some or many sensible people do accept their premises. What are these arguments like, and what role do they play? They are probabilistic, either with respect to the premises, or with respect to the connection between the premises and conclusion, or both. They can serve to bolster and confirm (‘helps’ a la John Calvin); perhaps to convince.