Consider all. Test All. Hold on to the good.

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Being Human

Martha Gelhorn on Making a Difference

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All my reporting life I have thrown small pebbles into a very large pond, and have no way of knowing whether any pebble caused the slightest ripple. I don’t need to worry about that. My responsibility was the effort. I belong to a global fellowship, men and women, concerned with the welfare of the planet, and its least protected inhabitants. I plan to spend the rest of my years applauding that fellowship and cheering from the sidelines. Good for you. … Never give up.

Christiane Amanpour on Bearing Witness to Horror

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I have spent the past decade in just about every conceivable war zone. I have made my living bearing witness to the most horrific events of the end of the 20th century. Because CNN is seen all over the world, I’ve become globally identified as a harbinger of war and disaster. Wherever I go, people say jokingly — or maybe not so jokingly — that they shudder when they see me: “Oh, my God. Amanpour is coming. Is something bad going to happen to us?” U.S. soldiers, with whom I now have more than a passing acquaintance, joke that they track my movements to predict where they will be deployed. And I have calculated that I have spent more time at the front than most normal military units. … And then there’s the nightmare of what we see: in Rwanda, piles of bodies being lifted by bulldozers after a genocide and dumped into mass graves — and the toughest of soldiers, supervising this, in tears. In Bosnia, little children being shot in the head. In Somalia and Ethiopia, the walking skeletons heralding those terrible famines. I remember once doing a live shot from a so-called famine camp in Somalia, in which I showed a man, told his story, and explained how ill he was. I suddenly realized that he was dying at that very moment. And I didn’t know what to do — I didn’t know how to move the camera away, how not to sully what was happening in real life. These images and these sounds will never leave me.

Richard Rodriquez on Race and History

Go This lack of a sense of history has allowed us a kind of romance with race and ethnicity that is fanciful. I did a documentary some years ago about America and teenagers and the past and all these kids who were announcing themselves as wanting to recover their history, as though it was some reassurance, when everything I've ever read about American history is an embarrassment. It's filled with tragedies of all kinds. The notion that we would study history in order to feel better about ourselves is just ludicrous. But we have this romantic sense because we know it so little, our past really seems noble. I don't look to Aztec Mexico for any reassurance about my identity. I'm aware that Aztec Mexico was a decadent society; its bloodlust was so extreme that its ultimate sexual energy was its pursuit of death. There's nothing in that history for me that leads me to the romantic calendars that you see in Mexican restaurants with the Aztec, almost naked with the feathers coming out of his head, and the Aztec princess at his knees. Nothing of that is convincing to me. History is a terrible, terrible burden which we need to confront, but I don't think the search for authenticity begins there.

Stephen Jay Gould on Being Human

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If we accept this common argument of natural historians, and insist that the “essence” of humanity can be defined only by the overt variation among the more than 6 billion human beings on earth, then how can we characterize ourselves at all in a world of evolutionary continuity? If we descended smoothly from the apelike common ancestor of humans and chimps, then how can humanity achieve any clear definition? Doesn’t all life form a single glop of continuity, extending all the way back to primordial bacteria?

Stephen Jay Gould on the Essence of Being Human

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Nature provides no moral messages for our complex and confusing lives. But this evolutionary argument for construing the “essence” of humanity as the sum total of our variation within the discrete boundaries of our species does provide an important insight into what might be called the biological meaning of human equality. If all living humans form one distinct historical entity, not a set of stages in a continuum leading backward into our evolutionary ancestry, then we cannot order our variation into any ranking of worth based on “higher” or “lower” stages. A person becomes a full human being by genealogical membership within our evolutionarily discrete species, and not by possessing “essential” traits that we may happen to judge as more valuable than others: the strength of Mark McGwire or the brains of Albert Einstein. In this sense, we must regard the birthright of humanity as being truly inalienable in the most literal way. A person born into this biological entity cannot sell his or her membership for a mess of pottage or for all the world’s gold and power. Every human being contributes equally to the full variation that defines our essence. In this sense, the most mentally limited person remains as fully and completely human as McGwire or Einstein. This truly biological view of human essences can only elevate the familiar words of Tiny Tim to more than a saccharine pronouncement at the end of kiddie Christmas specials: “God Bless Us, Every One!”

Value and the Good Life

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For as long as humans have pondered philosophical issues, they have contemplated "the good life". Yet most suggestions about how to live a good life rest on assumptions about what the good life actually is. Thomas Carson here confronts that question from a fresh perspective. Surveying the history of philosophy, he addresses first-order questions about what is good and bad as well as metaethical questions concerning value judgments.Carson considers a number of established viewpoints concerning the good life. He offers a new critique of Mill’s and Sidgwick’s classic arguments for the hedonistic theory of value, employing thought experiments that invite us to clarify our preferences by choosing between different kinds of lives. He also assesses the desire or preference-satisfaction theory of value in detail and takes a fresh look at both Nietzsche’s Ubermensch ideal and Aristotle’s theory of the good life. In exploring foundational questions, Carson observes that many established theories reston undefended assumptions about the truth of moral realism. Arguing against this stand, he defends the view that "good" means "desirable" and presents a divine-preference version of the desire-satisfaction theory. In this he contends that, if there exists a kind and omniscient God who created the universe, then what is good or bad is determined by His preferences; if such a God does not exist, what is good or bad depends on what we as rational humans desire. Value and the Good Life is the only book that defends a divine-preference theory of value as opposed to a divine-command theory of right and wrong. It offers a masterfully constructed argument in answer to an age-old question and will stimulate all who seek to know what the good life truly is.. ~ Product Description

The Proper Study of Mankind

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Oxford professor, philosopher, and historian of ideas, the late Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-97) was also one of the finest English essayists in the 20th century. This retrospective collection of 17 of his best essays surveys his entire career as a thinker, including his work in political philosophy and the philosophy of history, his thoughts on the Enlightenment, Vico, and Machiavelli, and his passion for Russian literature. Reprinted are such seminal essays as "Two Concepts Liberty" and "The Hedgehog and the Fox," as well as his reflections on Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Edited by scholars Hardy and Hausheer, who also provides an introduction, and with a foreword by Noel Annan, this book also includes a helpful bibliography. A fitting epitaph for a man passionately and eloquently devoted to ideas. ~ Library Journal

Carol Zaleski on the Afterlife

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Although social surveys indicate that roughly 80 percent of Americans believe in life after death, it is a belief cherished against the grain of perceived official skepticism; and among academically trained religious thinkers, one finds a greater measure of skepticism than in the population at large. For many, immortality is not a matter for reasoned debate, but is simply ruled out of play, along with guardian angels and statues that weep. It is taken for granted, as if it were a premise accepted by all reasonable people, that no one seriously believes in Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory, in the life of the soul, the resurrection of the body, or the personality of God as the concrete realities they were once imagined to be.

Carol Zaleski on Dualism

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As for dualism, much has been said of the violence it does to our unity as psycho-physical creatures, but this is questionable. Multiplicity and disunity are as strong a feature of our existence as psychosomatic unity. We are legion, as the demons say. It is a marvel that all our different parts work together. At best, we are a symphony; but the second violins have quarreled with the wind section, and as we age these quarrels increase. Why should it surprise us if at death the soul separates from the body? Separating is the order of our lives as we tend toward death. If a man’s jowls can sink down while his brow stays up, why can’t his soul rise up when his body sinks down? All of our flesh is being pulled downward by the gravity of the grave; every day our skin is sloughing off cell by cell; at each stage of life we slough off the skin of a previous stage; and at death we lose what was left of those skins. Perhaps that will be the chance to emerge as the person one was meant to be.

Plantinga’s Philosophical Rennaisance

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In a recent issue of Philosophy Now, Daniel Hill describes how the work of Alvin Plantinga has revolutionized the discipline of Philosophy of Religion. His cursory sketch of the subject and his observations on Plantinga’s unique and peerless contributions are an interesting introduction to the field and its leading spokesperson. Several of Plantinga’s articles [link expired] are available online. For a fuller synopsis of his life and work, consider reading The Analytic Theist.

Tom Wolfe on Bases in the Hookup Culture

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Back in the twentieth century, American girls had used baseball terminology. “First base” referred to embracing and kissing; “second base” referred to groping and fondling and deep, or “French,” kissing, commonly known as “heavy petting”; “third base” referred to fellatio, usually known in polite conversation by the ambiguous term “oral sex”; and “home plate” meant conception-mode intercourse, known familiarly as “going all the way.” In the year 2000, in the era of hooking up, “first base” meant deep kissing (which was now known as “tonsil hockey”), and the groping, and the fondling; “second base” meant oral sex; “third base” meant going all the way; and “home plate” meant . . . learning each other’s names. Getting to home plate was relatively rare, however.

Richard Dawkins on Science and Meaning

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Accusations of barren desolation, of promoting an arid and joyless message, are frequently flung at science in general … But such very proper purging of saccharine false purpose; such laudable tough-mindedness in the debunking of cosmic sentimentality must not be confused with a loss of personal hope. Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life’s hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don’t; not if we’re sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions. To accuse science of robbing life of the warmth that makes it worth living is so preposterously mistaken, so diametrically opposite to my own feelings and those of most working scientists, I am almost driven to the despair of which I am wrongly suspected. … The feeling of awed wonder that science can give is us one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that makes life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living it is finite.

George Stephanopoulos on Government

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Because I believe in original sin, because I know that I’m capable of craving a cold beer in a village of starving kids, because I know that selfishness vies for space in our hearts with compassion, I believe we need government. A government that forces us to care about the common good even when we don’t feel like it, a government that helps channel our better instincts and check our bad ones. I don’t think government is good, just necessary.

Charlotte Allen on the Human Condition

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[W]e can take comfort from the things that have survived for 2,000 years and are likely still to be around when another thousand have passed: wine and song; dogs and ball games; parties and horoscopes; sandals and earrings; the Greek and Latin classics; lovely young ladies and obnoxious aunts; courage and hope and fear of death; the love of parents for their children.

Jeffrey Satinover on Religious Certitude

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I suppose that God Himself is doing just fine, but His earthly defenders are on the ropes, and it’s our own fault. Religion deservedly comes in for more criticism in its failures than does science, because genuine religion claims for itself the ability to know what’s true, whereas genuine science claims for itself only the ability to quantify the probability of a thing being wrong. (Bad science and bad religion simply swap roles, the former proclaiming Truth, the latter worshiping Doubt.) Religion’s bête noire is the fact that a genuine truth arrogantly asserted — that is, without so much as a moment’s consideration that it might be false — is a most pernicious kind of falsehood, far worse in its effects on the humane than a flat mistake. It’s a matter of modesty. It never uses the term, but science itself is a method to insure modesty of claims (however arrogant its practitioners). Religion, on the other hand, speaks constantly of the virtues, and then, on the whole, displays them with no greater consistency than does any other human institution.

Bettijane Levine & Eli Wiesel on Evil

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After years spent studying the world’s great philosophers and writers, of poring over the Bible, Talmud, Torah and other ancient texts, of discussions with inspired social and religious leaders, [Eli] Wiesel
still has no answer to the question of what makes people good or evil. “I can give all the usual answers — education, home, parents, peer pressure. But these are just factors. The mystery of why people become
good or evil is still just that — a mystery.” But he has thought of one “rational approach” to ensuring more goodness in humanity. It is respect. “If I respect The Other for whatever The Other is, and The Other respects me for whatever I am, then there can be understanding and even great friendship between all people.”

The Study of Human Nature: A Reader

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This unique anthology provides an introduction to a wide variety of views on human nature. Drawing from diverse cultures over three millennia, Leslie Stevenson has chosen selections ranging from ancient religious texts up to contemporary theories based on evolutionary science. The second edition of The Study of Human Nature offers substantial selections illustrating the perspectives discussed in Ten Theories of Human Nature, — the Bible, Hinduism, Confucianism, Plato, Kant, Marx, Freud, Sartre, B.F. Skinner’s behaviorism, and Konrad Lorenz’s ethnological diagnosis of human aggression. The Islamic tradition and 17th-18th century philosophers Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau are also represented. Selections from Rousseau, J.S. Mill, and Nancy Holmstrom raise feminist issues, and Henry Bracken’s paper deals with racial issues. Examples from E.O. Wilson’s sociobiology and his critics are also included, together with Chomsky and recent examples from evolutionary psychology. ~ Product Description

Human Persons as a Test Case for Integrative Methodologies

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No one can reasonably deny that the recent Intelligent Design movement has gathered considerable momentum in the last five years. And in spite of one’s overall assessment of that movement, it remains clear that its clarion call to critique contemporary philosophical naturalism is one that must be received warmly by Christian intellectuals. In this regard, William Dembski has reminded us that the Intelligent Design movement has a four–pronged approach for defeating naturalism: (1) A scientific/philosophical critique of naturalism; (2) A positive scientific research program (intelligent design) for investigating the effects of intelligent causes; (3) rethinking every field of inquiry infected by naturalism and reconceptualizing it in terms of design; (4) development of a theology of nature by relating the intelligence inferred by intelligent design to the God of Scripture.1

Philip Yancey on Being Mostly Ignorant about Hell

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Still, I must insist that the most important question about heaven and hell — who goes where, whether there are second chances, what form the judgments and rewards take, intermediate states after death — are opaque at best. Increasingly, I am grateful for that ignorance and grateful that the God who revealed himself in Jesus is the one who knows the answers.

Brothers Judd on Science, Reason, and Turtles on Fenceposts

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It seems to me that modern man, with our touchingly naive belief in reason and science and our delusion that we can understand existence, has lost sight of how miraculous existence truly is. Science, with button-bursting pride, offers us explanations for the history of the universe, but has not even begun to dream of what might have preceded the Big Bang. Science assures us that we are not unique, that there must be myriad planets with intelligent life on them, intelligence that is similar or even superior to ours, but can not answer the Fermi Paradox: “where are they?” Science assures us that Darwinism explains away the rise of humans and that had this or that element of evolution been just slightly different, we may never have existed, and that there must be other planets where life is quite different. And yet, with all of these scientific explanations, the fact remains that to the best of our knowledge: we exist; alone among the creatures of creation, we can comprehend our existence; and our creation seems to have been a goal of the universe. I know, I know, that’s far too anthropomorphic, yadda, yadda, yadda… Well, there’s an old saying down South, maybe it’s even popular down near where Mr. Price lives and teaches: if you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, it’s safe to assume he didn’t get there by himself. You can, of course, concoct all kinds of theories, maybe even prove some of them scientifically, that’ll show that the turtle got there naturally, but, as for me, I’d tend to assume that someone placed him there. As you look around the universe, we damn sure seem to resemble that turtle.

Thomas Cahill on an End to the Everlasting Hills

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Is not the desire of the everlasting hills that they be saved from their everlastingness, that something new happen, that the everlasting cycle of human cruelty, of man’s inhumanity to man, be brought to an end?

Neil Taylor on Resurrection Reenacted

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Crucifixion demands entombment. And entombment generates drama. Who is hiding in the cupboard of French farce? Who is behind the screen on Blind Date? What is the bran tub, or the cracker, or the long awaited letter when it drops in the letter-box? Open the box! The drama of entombment is there literally in the stage illusionist’s repertoire. It might have died with Harry Houdini, but it hasn’t. I saw it only the other day on television: the comedian Freddie Star, bound and shackled and then submerged in a fish tank. Curtains drawn round the tank. Lights dimmed. A roll of drums, the lights flash, and then the lights go up and the curtains are drawn back to discover… an empty fish tank. And a few minutes later, Freddie is discovered somewhere else, damp but unharmed and smiling, the Starr reborn. … I come back to death, ‘nothing more terrible, nothing more true’. We go to Shakespeare’s tragedies, go to sit in the dark in our boxes at the theatre, to confront what ‘we can’t escape’. And Shakespeare shows us the mutilated bodies in a stage spectacle. And he portrays death as final, ‘the sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always’. But the ritual of theatre-going won’t allow it to rest there. We are obliged to remain incarcerated while another stage-spectacle is enacted, the resurrection before our eyes of the actors who are dead. The curtain call. It is a cheat. Like death. Something I know I can’t escape, yet can’t accept. Tirez le rideau.

The Enemy Within

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Have you ever wanted to read the Puritans but felt too intimidated to give it a try? You are not alone. And now, you can get the same doctrine without the cumbersome sixteenth century grammar and syntax. Kris Lundgaard’s book distills John Owen’s powerful books on Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin into easy to understand, bite-zize chapters that edify and instruct without tripping your mental circuit breakers! If you, like me, often find yourselves living in Romans 7:14-25 and want to know how to kill sin, get this book. It will furnish you with sharp weapons. ~ Brian G. Hedges at Amazon.com

Louis Pojman on Ethics and the Afterlife

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Imagine that you have been miraculously transported to the dark kingdom of hell, and there you get a glimpse of the sufferings of the damned. What is their punishment? Well, they have eternal back itches, which ebb and flow constantly. But they cannot scratch their backs, for their arms are paralyzed in a frontal position, so they writhe with itchiness throughout eternity. But just as you are beginning to feel the itch in you own back, you are suddenly transported to heaven. What do you see in the kingdom of the blessed? Well, you see people with eternal back itches, who cannot scratch their own backs. But they are all smiling instead of writhing. Why? Because everyone has his or her arms stretched out to scratch someone else’s back, and, so arranged in one big circle, a hell is turned into a heaven of ecstasy. In our story people in heaven, but not in hell, cooperate for the amelioration of suffering and the production of pleasure. These are very primitive goods, not sufficient for a full-blown morality, but they give us a hint as to the objectivity of morality. Moral goodness has something to do with the ameliorating of suffering, the resolution of conflict and the promotion of human flourishing.

Dallas Willard on Adultery

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Intimacy is the mutual mingling of souls who are taking each other into themselves to ever increasing depths. The truly erotic is the mingling of souls. Because we are free beings, intimacy cannot be passive or forced. And because we are extremely finite, it must be exclusive. This is the metaphysical and spiritual reality that underlies the bitter violation of self experienced by the betrayed mate. It also makes clear the scarred and shallow condition of those who betray. ¶ One of the most telling things about contemporary human beings is that they cannot find a reason for not committing adultery. Yet intimacy is a spiritual hunger of the human soul, and we cannot escape it. This has always been true and remains true today. We now keep hammering the sex button in the hope that a little intimacy might finally dribble out. In vain.