In a very provocative and dense TEDx talk, Rupert Sheldrake posits ten core tenets of current, “materialistic” science, and suggests they should be questioned. The subversive ideas in the talk were so upsetting that power brokers and repeat offenders PZ Meyers and Jerry Coyne organized an effort to pressure TED to censor the talk. The ensuing discussion on how to differentiate between science and pseudoscience is worth following. Two follow-up interviews are equally interesting, with Alex Tsakiris on Skeptico and at The Best Schools. Sheldrake’s most recent work is Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery. Sheldrake propounds a thesis he has dubbed “morphic resonance”, which has a distinct paranormal tint. Dissenters to current scientific orthodoxy often claim that science has devolved into an orthodoxy, a core set of fundamental belief which, to question, is heresy. This episode would seem to reflect that. Science and skepticism should be regarded, rather, as processes, as methods of inquiry, not as sets of beliefs, as they so often are by those who claim them as a label. Whatever the merits of Sheldrake’s particular ideas, that materialistic scientism is the reigning orthodoxy is clear. (Censored video after the jump.)
Reasonable Faith has released a very well crafted “infovideo” (as I’m choosing to call these video infographics) illustrating William Lane Craig’s moral argument for the existence of God. An excerpt: “Without some objective reference point, we have no way of saying that something is really up or down. God’s nature provides an objective reference point for moral values – it’s the standard against which all actions and decisions are measured. But if there’s no God, there’s no objective reference point. All we’re left with is one person’s viewpoint – which is no more valid than any one else’s viewpoint. ¶ This kind of morality is subjective, not objective. It’s like a preference for strawberry ice cream – the preference is in the subject, not the object. So it doesn’t apply to other people. In the same way, subjective morality applies only to the subject; it’s not valid or binding for anyone else.” (Video is after the jump.)
In a four part series, Francis Beckwith addresses the primary arguments offered on behalf of legal abortion: “The pro-life position is subject to somewhat varying formulations. The most widely accepted and representative of these can be defined in the following way: The unborn entity is fully human from the moment of conception. Abortion (narrowly defined) results in the intentional death of the unborn entity. Therefore, abortion entails the intentional killing of a human being. This killing is in most cases unjustified, since the unborn human being has a full right to life. If, however, there is a high probability that a woman’s pregnancy will result in her death (as in the case of a tubal pregnancy, for example), then abortion is justified. For it is a greater good that one human should live (the mother) rather than two die (the mother and her child). Or, to put it another way, in such cases the intent is not to kill the unborn (though that is an unfortunate effect) but to save the life of the mother. With the exception of such cases, abortion is an act in which an innocent human being is intentionally killed; therefore, abortion should be made illegal, as are all other such acts of killing. This is the pro-life position I will be defending in this series.” Parts: “The Appeal to Pity“, “Arguments from Pity, Tolerance, and Ad Hominem“, “Is The Unborn Human Less Than Human?“, and “When Does a Human Become a Person?“.
In “I Am Not Charlie Hebdo“, David Brooks challenges us to live up to our self-proclaimed commitment to freedom of speech: “The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down. ¶ Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.”
Gregory Alan Thornbury relates the crucial role for his faith of a responsible Christian thinker: [Carl F. H.] Henry helped secure my faith because he was doing more than responding tit-for-tat to higher critics of the Bible’s historical reliability. Henry did that, but he went one step further: He brought philosophical gravitas … His focus was broad. He addressed epistemology — how we can know the truth, which was my primary concern as an undergraduate philosophy student. I had come within a whisker of losing my faith. But because Henry was a philosopher defending biblical authority, I rallied. ¶ I had come within a whisker of losing my faith. But because Henry was a philosopher defending biblical authority, I rallied. ¶ Humanly speaking, had it not been for … the theologian with a titanic brain and a journalist’s pen, I could have gone the other way. Henry showed me how to be both a scholar and a follower of Jesus. From that moment in my undergraduate days, I covenanted with God to help people like the 18-year-old version of myself — people who are on the boundary of leaving the church, and are looking for just one good reason to stay.
Samuel Goldman writes: “Rod Dreher has summarized the “Benedict Option” as “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life.” And small but vibrant communities around the country are already putting the Benedict Option into practice. Without being rigorously separatist, these communities do aim to be separate. Some merely avoid morally subversive cultural influences, while others seek physical distance from mainstream society in rural isolation. ¶ But a neo-Benedictine way of life involves risks. Communal withdrawal can construct a barrier against the worst facets of modern life — the intertwined commodification of personal relationships, loss of meaningful work to bureaucratic management, and pornographic popular culture — yet it can also lead to isolation from the stimulating opposition that all traditions need to avoid stagnation.”
Rod Dreher writes: “The decadence represented by Charlie Hebdo is probably a greater threat to Western civilization than anything the Islamists can dream up, and it’s important to keep that straight even as we defend the right to free expression and a free press. It destroys everything for the sake of … what, exactly? Charlie Hebdo was straightforward about its far-left agenda of driving all religion out of society. Houellebecq, who is not a religious believer, asks: what are people supposed to live by, then? Man cannot thrive without religion, he believes — and he believes this as a matter of sociology, not theology. … I don’t know what’s coming. Nobody wants to live under hard Islamism. The Islamists have nowhere built a society capable of thriving. But at the same time, the society the West has built and is building without God or any kind of sacred values other than the Self cannot be said to be thriving either. … We are morally compelled to defend artists and journalists against those who would kill them for what they draw or say. But we should be clear that we are defending one culture of death from another one.”
In a recent interview, “‘Literally,’ Emojis, and Other Trends That Aren’t Destroying English“, Steven Pinker directs his characteristic optimism to writing style. I’ve been guilty too often of reckless hyperbole, but at least I’m not alone. Pinker notes: “We are always in search of superlatives, of ways of impressing upon our hearer that something that happened is noteworthy or even extraordinary. And the words we use to signal that eventually lose their meaning. ‘Awesome’ is a recent example. In the UK, ‘brilliant’ is used for the most banal observations. Before that, words like ‘terrific,’ meaning inspiring terror, ‘wonderful,’ inspiring wonder, ‘fabulous,’ worthy of fable. We see the fossils of dead superlatives that our ancestors overused the way we overuse ‘awesome.’ ‘Literally’ is a victim of a similar type of inflation. The figurative use doesn’t mean the language is deteriorating. Hyperbole has probably been around as long as language has been around.” What I most appreciated in the interview is that, like me, Pinker is a proponent of placing grammatical delimiters outside of quotations, preserving their ownership by the sentence, to which they properly belong. In response to the interviewer’s insistence that it is untidy to place a comma outside of the quotation mark, Pinker argues: “Your aesthetics may have been shaped by a lifetime of seeing it in the American pattern, but this would be a case in which any aesthetic reaction should be trumped by logic. Messing up the order of delimiters in a way that doesn’t reflect the logical nesting of their content is just an affront to an orderly mind.” Hear. Hear.
No matter their cause, every group falls short of its aspirations. Amongst skeptics, atheists, and secularists, some less fêted voices like Michael Ruse and Julian Baggini have lamented the rise of a cavalry of imperious and hostile firebrands that have become the face of atheism. More recently, Massimo Pigliucci, a member in good standing of said community, echoes their concerns. He calls upon his cohorts to reject scientism, anti-intellectualism and a number of vogue theories and instead embrace classic epistemic virtues like charity, respect, and civility. Notably, he draws particular attention to the irony that it is the so-called “community of reason” that is so often hostile to the discipline of reason: philosophy.