Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Dangerous Christian Talk (DCT)

I am in the midst of some reading for an introductory philosophy course I am doing at uni. The reading is taken from the book "Religion, Ethics and The Meaning of Life". The relevant sections looks at two christians view on DCT, Divine Command Theory.

The problem with DCT is that implies either that morality is arbitrary (evidence from psychology and neuroscience seem to suggest not) or that religion is morally redundant. There are two different responses, one by a Dr.Sharon Kaye, the other by a Dr.Harry Gensler. Both, as I far as I can tell have PhDs in philosophy, and there's evidence in a rather flimsy analogy by Kaye that she definitely does not have a PhD in Chemistry.

However, I am not here to discuss their arguments, faulty at times though they are. Both of these academics have a moment in their writing that reveals an inner disgust for atheists. Gensler directly says that atheists cannot be as moral as those who believe in god, Kaye talks of atheists as if they are some fringe group, and is rather condescending, and one of the "questions for further reading" is "In general terms how would you defend morality from an atheistic perspective?".

Let's start with the last thing. The question its self is not wholly unreasonable, but its phrasing and context given it some sinister implications. Firstly the use of the word "defend" raises all two of my eyebrows. This word not only implies that something is under attack, but it holds connotations of fighting and factionalizing. For book clearly aimed at Christians, the question, which is supposed to be reflective seems far too aggressive, and enforces a divide and an us versus them attitude.

Gensler actually says, and I quote "Believers can have a fuller and deeper morality [than atheists] - since they have all this plus the religious dimension." Christopher Hitchens often spoke of the claims of the religious to have access to information the irreligious don't, and that to gain this information you had to join the faith, or become a proper member (clergy, etc). Gensler is doing much of the same, More importantly his statement is dripping with arrogance and a sense of superiority. On issues of morality I ask to see some form of empirical evidence. Actions talk louder than words and if you claim to be morally superior, as indeed Gensler does, then I ask for the evidence, to prove at least somewhat that your claims are not just the echo of your smugness and self satisfaction.

Finally we have this by Kaye "My version of DCT not only makes it possible for atheists to be fully moral, it does so without making God morally redundant." Thank you Dr.Kaye for allowing me, a savage and barbaric atheist to be "fully" moral. Kaye's statement may have been made with the best of intentions, but for any freethinker it is utterly condescending. Once again, to paraphrase Hitchens, the idea that because atheists do not believe in god atheists are immoral is an monstrous accusation. It is true Kaye does  not say this, but her attitude seeps through that one line she wrote, she might as well think that for what its worth, and she treats atheists (in a general sweeping claim) as if they had the intellectual capacity of a horse.

The point is, DCT is a tool of foul logic that has hideous undertones.      

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sum Over Histories: The Self And Illusion (I Have the Body Of John Wilkes Booth)

People much, much smarter than I have been discussing, since at least the early 20th century, and probably before then, the concept of the self. Neuroscience, which has pinpointed most functions to a certain part of the brain, is struggling to find exactly where consciousness “occurs”, where our sense of self is created. This has led many (well at least some) psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers to suggest that the self is an illusion.

But as Julian Baggini points out, in his short but engaging Ted Talk , we might have just as much trouble defining what makes a watch a watch. Of course you can take a watch apart, disseminate it, say this does that, and this does that, but the individual components do not make a watch unless placed together correctly. Likewise, many the things that we understand craft our concept of self, things like memory, belief and knowledge, we have a decent understanding of. The minute and second hands are lying on the table before us, we know how they work, but we are seemingly unable to put it all back together to create the fully functioning watch. Next to these disseminated bits, we have the fully functioning thing, wondering what the mystical component that makes it all work is.

In the mechanical view and analogy of the brain just presented, it suggests that consciousness is akin to a missing cog, a mechanical puzzle piece we are still looking for.  However, what we are looking for may just be a connection, a central process of combining things like memory, belief, knowledge and language together. It is at least worth considering that the “self” is a sum greater than its parts. The question remaining of course, is how all these come together, cause if we are to maintain a mechanical view of the brain, this information must be linked.

As you can see, I rather neatly talked myself in a circle there, highlighting the problem neuroscientists are currently encountering in their “search for consciousness”. If we maintain a mechanical view of the brain, there is, at the very least a pathway missing, there is something to physically look for.

Going backing to Julian Baggini, we have an interesting problem at hand. With the current pool of knowledge, it would appear that the self is an “illusion”, but our self is something whose existence we are keenly aware of. In a strict and technical sense it may be an “illusion”, but there is always a gap between theory and practicality. If there is one thing we can determine, it is that our existence is absolute, even in a matrix like scenario. We don’t even have to be aware of our existence to exist. As stupid of statement as it sounds, dogs and cats exist, and yet in all likelyhood their concept of self is limited.

Our self exists, it is real, even if it is not yet “tangible”. We can change as our memory changes, our beliefs change, our knowledge changes. These things cause a change of self, but this volatility of self, lets called it, is surely only evidence against it being an illusion. The logical extrapolation of our self being illusion is that we don’t really exist, and that’s just absurd.      


1) This a work in progress so to speak, as the act of writing this has made me realize what a mindfuck of an issue this is, so while I will only ever edit this post for the sake of factual correctness (or attach note noting a change of 
opinion/viewpoint), expect more post on the same topic in the future. 

2) I know what "Sum Over Histories" refers to. It was a clever interdisciplinary title, nothing more.
3) I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth