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Worldviews

Worldviews

The Metaphysical Club

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The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Well Holmes, Jr., future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea — an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things “out there” waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent — like knives and forks and microchips — to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals — that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely dependent — like germs — on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea depends not on its immutability but on its adaptability.

The Story of Reality

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Biblical Christianity is more than just another private religious view. It’s more than just a personal relationship with God or a source of moral teaching. Christianity is a picture of reality. It explains why the world is the way it is. When the pieces of this puzzle are properly assembled, we see the big picture clearly. Christianity is a true story of how the world began, why the world is the way it is, what role humans play in the drama, and how all the plotlines of the story are resolved in the end. In The Story of Reality, bestselling author and host of Stand to Reason, Gregory Koukl, explains the five words that form the narrative backbone of the Christian story. He identifies the most important things that happen in the story in the order they take place: 1) God, 2) Man, 3) Jesus, 4) Cross, 5) Resurrection. If you are already a Christian, do you know and understand the biblical story? And for those still seeking answers to the questions of life, this is an invitation to hear a story that explains the world in a way nothing else will. This story can change your life forever.

Paul Tillich on Doubt as an Element of Faith

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The affirmation that Jesus is the Christ is an act of faith and consequently of daring courage. It is not an arbitrary leap into darkness but a decision in which elements of immediate participation and therefore certitude are mixed with elements of strangeness and therefore incertitude and doubt. But doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. Therefore, there is no faith without risk . The risk of faith is that it could affirm a wrong symbol of ultimate concern, a symbol which does not really express ultimacy (as, e.g., Dionysus or one’s nation). But this risk lies in quite a different dimension from the risk of accepting uncertain historical facts. It is wrong, therefore, to consider the risk concerning uncertain historical facts as part of the risk of faith. The risk of faith is existential; it concerns the totaliy of our being, while the risk of historical judgments is theoretical and open to permanent scientific correction. Here are two different dimensions which should never be confused. A wrong faith can destroy the meaning of one’s life; a wrong historical judgment cannot. It is misleading, therefore, to use the word “risk” for both dimensions in the same sense.

Kirk Dunston on Uncritical Faith in Science

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Many people today regard 21st-century science as a shining, monolithic spire of truth rising above the landscape of human ignorance and superstition. As a result, I often talk with people who fully apply all their critical thinking skills, and their full Internet-scouring abilities, to see if they can discover a weak link in evidence for the truth of Christian beliefs, but who have a complete, unquestioning faith in science. … As a scientist, I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the “good science” part is drowning in a mess of everything else. ¶ To distinguish between good science and the other rubbish in 21st-century “science,” one must first understand what constitutes good science. Good science, properly practiced, requires very little faith and can be trusted insofar as we can trust anything that human beings try to do well.

Steven Hayward on Postmodernism and the Possibility of Conversation

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Like most post-modernist professors of jargon, Caputo isn’t ever clear about anything, but he appears here to be saying that reason itself is “socially constructed,” and therefore subjective or arbitrary, or something. The close corollary is that language is also “socially constructed” and just a tool for power.  Whenever I meet such people I have two questions: Why are we having this conversation — if in fact we really can’t talk to each other?  Moreover, if language is an arbitrary social construction, then how are we having this conversation? May I answer by interpretive dance instead of sounds from my mouth? Why not?

Rupert Sheldrake Enumerates the Dogmas of Scientism

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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.)

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.

Damon Linker on the Left and Right

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To a remarkable extent, American political and cultural thinking takes place within well-worn, familiar grooves. The right is religious; the left is secular. The right frets about sexual liberation; the left cheers it. The right valorizes markets; the left views them with suspicion. The right praises individualism; the left longs for solidarity. The right defends nations and borders; the left longs for universalism. The right worries about the collapse of authority and the rise or moral and cultural decadence; the left does not.

Rowan Williams on Self-Defeating Determinism

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A determinist theory of human utterance has to be expressed in words; and such a theory amounts to saying that one group of noises (this particular theory) is and one group of noises isn’t reflective of what processes outside the self are ‘like’. The noises by which we purport to construct a comprehensive picture of causal necessity are saved from the bonfire which consumes the claims of all other utterances to show a state of affairs truthfully — whereas, in strict consistency, these noises would be as susceptible as any others to an analysis that correlated them with causal factors beyond themselves. It is the central and vitiating Cretan paradox of determinism — that I should have to be obliged to say that everything is determined, while necessarily implying thereby that nothing I say can be relied on to reflect extra-mental truth. If it is true that all my utterances are determined in a way that denies any connection between what I say and what is the case, at least one must also be truthful — that all my utterances are determined. And any supportive arguments for the truth of that utterance must likewise be exempted from the overall disconnection, if the claim is not to be wholly arbitrary. to five reasons for believing determinism is true is to undermine determinism. To articulate the evidence is to relativize it, because to assume that the noises I make in defending determinism have the property of causing you to believe it, or even disposing you to believe it, is manifestly unfounded, and dangerously near to being a flat contradiction of the warning not to assume that a state of belief can be caused by anything except a set of immediate physical causes.

C.S. Lewis on Naturalism and Inference on Trial

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The Naturalist might say, ‘Well, perhaps we cannot exactly see — not yet — how natural selection would turn sub-rational mental behaviour into inferences that reach truth. But we are certain that this in fact has happened. For natural selection is bound to preserve and increase useful behaviour. And we also find that our habits of inference are in fact useful. And if they are useful they must reach truth’. But notice what we are doing. Inference itself is on trial: that is, the Naturalist has given an account of what we thought to be our inferences which suggests that they are not real insights at all. We, and he, want to be reassured. And the reassurance turns out to be one more inference (if useful, then true) — as if this inference were not, once we accept his evolutionary picture, under the same suspicion as all the rest. If the value of our reasoning is in doubt, you cannot try to establish it by reasoning. If, as I said above, a proof that there are no proofs is nonsensical, so is a proof that there are proofs. Reason is our starting point. There can be no question either of attacking or defending it. If by treating it as a mere phenomenon you put yourself outside it, there is then no way, except by begging the question, of getting inside again.

Kyle Roberts on Blind Spots in Our Thinking

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The “blind spot” metaphor is ubiquitous to the point that we hear it with a yawn. But my accident reminded me that, while the familiarity of the metaphor may dull its impact, it is a powerful hidden factor of everyday life. Whether one is driving, theologizing, or debating social issues and public policy, blind spots are pervasive and dangerous. We are often too lazy to crank our necks for the full truth. It’s easier to keep looking ahead and assume all is well. It seems easier—until we crash.

Mark Oppenheimer on Freethought Factions

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The groups that make up the broader freethought community — atheists, who don’t believe in a god; agnostics, who are unsure; secular humanists, who seek to replace god-centered religion with a man-made ethical system; church-state separationists, who just want religion kept out of public life; and scientific skeptics, who work to overthrow superstition and pseudoscience — have two things in common. First, they oppose the hegemony of religious, including New Age, thinking in American culture. And second, they all have roots in very male subcultures.

Facebook on Gender

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Agender; Androgyne; Androgynous; Bigender; Cis; Cis Female; Cis Male; Cis Man; Cis Woman; Cisgender; Cisgender Female; Cisgender Male; Cisgender Man; Cisgender Woman; Female to Male; FTM; Gender Fluid; Gender Nonconforming; Gender Questioning; Gender Variant; Genderqueer; Intersex; Male to Female; MTF; Neither; Neutrois; Non-binary; Other; Pangender; Trans; Trans Female; Trans Male; Trans Man; Trans Person; Trans*Female; Trans*Male; Trans*Man; Trans*Person; Trans*Woman; Transexual; Transexual Female; Transexual Male; Transexual Man; Transexual Person; Transexual Woman; Transgender Female; Transgender Person; Transmasculine; Two-spirit

Brandon Ambrosino on the Difference Between Sex and Color

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One of the reasons I think our activism is so insistent on sexual rigidity is because, in our push to make gay rights the new black rights, we’ve conflated the two issues. The result is that we’ve decided that skin color is the same thing as sexual behavior. I don’t think this is true. When we conflate race and sexuality, we overlook how fluid we are learning our sexualities truly are. To say it rather crassly: I’ve convinced a few men to try out my sexuality, but I’ve never managed to get them to try on my skin color. In other words, one’s sexuality isn’t as biologically determined as race. Many people do feel as if their sexuality is something they were born with, and I have no reason to disbelieve them. But as I and other queer persons will readily confirm, there are other factors informing our sexualities than simply our genetic codes. ¶ Part of what it means to be human is to be adaptable and elastic, to try on new identities, to try new experiences, to play with the paradigm, to bend the norm to its snapping point and see if it cracks under the pressure of its own linguistic limitations. The re-inventiveness of our human condition is one of our greatest traits, and it’s worth protecting both legally and philosophically.

G.K. Chesterton on Unseemly Truths

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This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden. Theosophists for instance will preach an obviously attractive idea like re-incarnation; but if we wait for its logical results, they are spiritual superciliousness and the cruelty of caste. For if a man is a beggar by his own pre-natal sins, people will tend to despise the beggar. But Christianity preaches an obviously unattractive idea, such as original sin; but when we wait for its results, they are pathos and brotherhood, and a thunder of laughter and pity; for only with original sin we can at once pity the beggar and distrust the king.

Jeffery Jay Lowder on Three Facts and Naturalism

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In my life, I’ve identified as a non-denominational Christian, theist, agnostic, atheist, and atheist plus metaphysical naturalist, in that order. … My research has led me to the conclusion that metaphysical naturalism, which entails atheism, is more probable than theism. This conclusion follows from three facts. 

John Searle on How We Fit In a Universe of Particles

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There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy… How do we fit in? … We now have a reasonably well-established conception of the basic structure of the universe. We have plausible theories about the origin of the universe in the Big Bang, and we understand quite a number of things about the structure of the universe in atomic physics and chemistry. We have even come to understand the nature of the chemical bond. We know a fair amount about our own development on this little Earth during the past five billion years of evolution. We understand that the universe consists entirely of particles (or whatever entities the ultimately true physics arrives at), and these exist in fields of force and are typically organized into systems. On our Earth, carbon-based systems made of molecules that also contain a lot of hydrogen, nitrogen and oxygen have provided the substrate of human, animal and plant evolution. … The most important set of basic facts, for our present purposes, are given in the atomic theory of matter and the evolutionary theory of biology. … It is not at all easy to reconcile the basic facts with … a conception of ourselves as conscious, intentionalistic, rational, social, institutional, political, speech-act performing, ethical and free will possessing agents. Now, the question is, How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, non rational, brute physical particles?

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian

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Written in a respectful and conversational style, this unique book is designed to promote constructive dialogue and foster mutual understanding between Christians and non-Christians. The author, a skeptic and journalist, asks basic questions about Christian belief. What is the born-again experience? Why would God want to sacrifice his only son for the world? Do miracles really happen? How reliable is the Bible? What is the rapture? Why isn’t everyone a Christian? Each question is followed by commentary and analysis that is skeptical and tough but never argumentative or condescending. Christians will find the book useful as a basis for developing their apologetics, while skeptics will welcome Harrison’s probing rational analysis of religious claims. ~ Publisher’s Description

Mind and Cosmos

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The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology. Since minds are features of biological systems that have developed through evolution, the standard materialist version of evolutionary biology is fundamentally incomplete. And the cosmological history that led to the origin of life and the coming into existence of the conditions for evolution cannot be a merely materialist history, either. An adequate conception of nature would have to explain the appearance in the universe of materially irreducible conscious minds, as such. Nagel’s skepticism is not based on religious belief or on a belief in any definite alternative. In Mind and Cosmos, he does suggest that if the materialist account is wrong, then principles of a different kind may also be at work in the history of nature, principles of the growth of order that are in their logical form teleological rather than mechanistic. In spite of the great achievements of the physical sciences, reductive materialism is a world view ripe for displacement. Nagel shows that to recognize its limits is the first step in looking for alternatives, or at least in being open to their possibility. ~ Publisher’s Description

Alving Plantinga on Naturalism as Quasi-Religion

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Naturalism is what we could call a worldview, a sort of total way of looking at ourselves and our world. It isn’t clearly a religion: the term “religion” is vague, and naturalism falls into the vague area of its application. Still, naturalism plays many of the same roles as a religion. In particular, it gives answers to the great human questions: Is there such a person as God? How should we live? Can we look forward to life after death? What is our place in the universe? How are we related to other creatures? Naturalism gives answers here: there is no God, and it makes no sense to hope for life after death. As to our place in the grand scheme of things, we human beings are just another animal with a peculiar way of making a living. Naturalism isn’t clearly a religion; but since it plays some of the same roles as a religion, we could properly call it a quasi-religion.

Thomas Oden on What Modernity Is

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Modernity is a period, a mindset, and a malaise. The period begins with the French Revolution in 1789. The mindset is that ethos reflected by an elitist intellectual class of “change agents” positioned in universities, the press, and in influential sectors of the liberal church. This elite continually touts the tenets of modernity, whose four fundamental values are moral relativism (which says that what is right is dictated by culture, social location, and situation), autonomous individualism (which assumes that moral authority comes essentially from within), narcissistic hedonism (which focuses on egocentric personal pleasure), and reductive naturalism (which reduces what is reliably known to what one can see, hear, and empirically investigate). The malaise of modernity is related to the rapidly deteriorating influence of these four central values between roughly 1955 and 1985. … Anybody who knows the modern university knows that we have gone far beyond modernity. We left it behind in 1968. It is only a matter of catching up with where history is taking us. We must now learn how to live with the consequences of the failure of those assumptions and values. This is the challenge of the postmodern period.

A Brief History of the Soul

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The concept of the soul is accepted in many religious traditions and widely used in fictional worlds, and yet the idea that we are anything more than physio-chemical organisms seems out of step with contemporary secular thinking. Scratch the surface of western philosophy, however, and you find a history filled with arguments in favor of the idea that we are embodied souls. This book provides a clear and concise history of the soul, from Plato to cutting-edge contemporary work in philosophy of mind. Taking in the arguments of influential thinkers, such as Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, and Hume, Goetz and Taliaferro tackle keys issues, such as the problem of mind-body interaction, the causal closure of the physical world, and the philosophical implications of the brain sciences for the soul’s existence. A Brief History of the Soul brings together historical and contemporary scholarship to examine one of the essential questions of our existence.

The Good Book

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Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and-yes-the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions. The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity. Organized in 12 main sections — Genesis, Histories, Wisdom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good — The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated. Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way. ~ Product Description

The Nature of Nature

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The intellectual and cultural battles now raging over theism and atheism, conservatism and secular progressivism, dualism and monism, realism and antirealism, and transcendent reality versus material reality extend even into the scientific disciplines. This stunning new volume captures this titanic clash of worldviews among those who have thought most deeply about the nature of science and of the universe itself. Unmatched in its breadth and scope, The Nature of Nature brings together some of the most influential scientists, scholars, and public intellectuals — including three Nobel laureates — across a wide spectrum of disciplines and schools of thought. Here they grapple with a perennial question that has been made all the more pressing by recent advances in the natural sciences:Is the fundamental explanatory principle of the universe, life, and self-conscious awareness to be found in inanimate matter or immaterial mind? The answers found in this book have profound implications for what it means to do science, what it means to be human, and what the future holds for all of us. ~ Book Description