Friday, December 30, 2011

Hitchens, Dawkins, and Craig

As I have said, I never thought it was realistic to expect a deathbed conversion from Christopher Hitchens.  But for all his ill-informed ranting and raving on the subject of religion, Hitchens was capable of showing a manful, basic decency toward the other side in a way some other New Atheists are not.  Consider these remarks by Hitchens about William Lane Craig, prior to their debate:

And compare them to the cringe-makingly dishonest tactics employed by Richard Dawkins in avoiding the public debate with Craig that he so obviously fears, and to these remarks:

(Hat tip to Peter Byrom for calling my attention to Hitchens’ comments.   Peter is the guy in the second clip asking Dawkins the question about Craig.)

Dawkins is a petty man.  Hitchens was not that.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Reading Rosenberg, Part V

In the previous installment of our look at Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, we began to examine what Rosenberg has to say about biological phenomena.  This time I want to take a brief detour and consider some of what Rosenberg says about the subject in his book Darwinian Reductionism.  I noted that while Atheist’s Guide pushes a generally uncompromising eliminative materialist line, Rosenberg resists the “eliminativist” label where issues in the philosophy of biology are concerned, and presents his views in that field as reductionist.  Darwinian Reductionism (a more serious book than Atheist’s Guide, and of independent interest) explains why.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Links of interest

Kathrin Koslicki and Tuomas Tahko are two important contributors to the current revival of interest in neo-Aristotelian metaphysics.  Tahko’s commentary on Koslicki’s book The Structure of Objects is available via his blog.

Mike Flynn, hard SF writer extraordinaire and friend of this blog, is interviewed here.

David Goldman argues that, like Europe, the Islamic world is facing a catastrophic decline in population.  

An interview at with the executive director of the winery that produces the Aquinas line of wines.

Robert Pasnau discusses Averro√ęs, the decline of Islamic philosophy, and the revival of philosophy in the medieval West.

Metaphysician Stephen Mumford describes the influence superhero comic books had upon him.

New and recent books to watch for: 

Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum, Getting Causes from Powers

Something new from the late David Stove: What’s Wrong with Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment [Links to reviews here.  Scroll down.]

Bruce Charlton, another friend of this blog, has recently published Thought Prison: The Fundamental Nature of Political Correctness

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hayek and Popper

My paper “Hayek, Popper, and the Causal Theory of the Mind” appears in the latest volume of Advances in Austrian Economics, a special issue edited by Leslie Marsh and devoted to the theme Hayek in Mind: Hayek’s Philosophical Psychology.  The publisher’s web page for the volume is here.  You can find Marsh’s website devoted to the book here, the table of contents here, and Marsh’s introduction to the volume here.  Here’s the abstract of my article (which follows the publisher’s required abstract format):

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My Christmas gift to you…

We’ve had some things to say about nothing (here, here, and here), or at least about how some people who themselves claim to have something to say about nothing in fact have nothing, or at least nothing of importance, to say about nothing.  Or something like that.  One thing’s for sure, and that’s that this is a subject about which one had better have a sense of humor.

So, for the blog reader who has everything, here’s a little more about nothing, and on the lighter side.  (Nothing can be pretty heavy, after all.)  For something on nothing written along philosophical but humorous lines, there’s nothing better than P. L. Heath’s article “Nothing” from the 1967 Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards.  Something also worth reading about nothing is Jim Holt’s “Nothing Ventured,” from the November 1994 issue of Harper’s.  Holt’s book on the subject, Why Does the World Exist?, is due to appear (not out of nothing, presumably) next year.  I’ll no doubt have something to say about it when it does.  (Holt’s little book Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, about which I’ve long been meaning to write up a blog post, is terrific.)

No need to thank me.  It was nothing.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The phenomenology of spirits

Human life is tragic.  And while there are, without question, a great many evils we would all wish away in a heartbeat if only we could, to wish away all of them would be to wish away much of what gives our existence depth and meaning.  Every grownup knows that life would lose its savor if it entirely lost its bite.  (Of course, a certain kind of atheist thinks that a really loving God would have made the world a 24/7 Disneyland.  But I was talking about grownups.)  

Nor are the pains always extrinsic to the pleasures.  Some of them are built in; indeed, the greatest earthly delights are never without a sharp sting.  Examples are all around us: Tobacco.  Women.  And whiskey.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Greene on Nozick on nothing

Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality surveys the various speculations about parallel universes on offer in contemporary physics.  Toward the end of the book, Greene discusses a proposal put forward by Robert Nozick in chapter 2 of his book Philosophical Explanations.  (Turns out that Greene took a course with Nozick at the time Nozick was writing the book.)  Greene notes that even if any of the multiverse theories currently discussed by physicists -- those inspired by quantum mechanics, string theory, inflationary cosmology, or what have you -- turned out to be correct, one could always ask why the world is as the theory describes it, rather than some other way.  (This is one reason why it is no good to appeal to such theories as a way of blocking arguments for God as an Uncaused Cause of the world.  We had occasion recently to note some other problems with this atheist strategy.)  But Nozick put forward a version that Greene regards as not subject to this question -- what Greene calls the Ultimate Multiverse theory.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011)

Christopher Hitchens, who had been suffering from esophageal cancer for over a year, has died.  I think I first came across his work around 1990, at the time his book Blood, Class, and Nostalgia appeared.  (My copy is still around here somewhere.)  I recall seeing him on television -- grilling some George H. W. Bush administration official, perhaps -- and being very impressed by his forceful and formidable intelligence.  I have always been conservative and have usually disagreed with him, but I followed his work with interest from that point on, long before he started to please right-wingers with his well-argued criticisms of the Clintons and support for the Iraq war.  He was almost always smart, funny, and interesting even when he was wrong.

Except on religion, where he was a complete bore and an insufferable hack.  There is no use sugar-coating that fact now that he is gone, and Hitchens was not in any event a fan of the polite obituary.  Religion is the last subject about which to have a tin ear or a closed mind, and Hitchens had both.  Some Catholics seem to have gotten it into their heads over the last year that he might convert -- as if someone who is overtly so very hostile to Catholicism simply must be compensating for a secret longing for it, and is sure to be moved by the prospect of imminent death to let his inhibitions fall away.  This struck me as romantic fantasy, born of too steady a diet of happy “crossing the Tiber” stories.  Sometimes a man has mixed feelings about you, but will accentuate the negative, loath as he is to acknowledge the merits of an adversary.  And sometimes he just hates your guts, and that’s that.  As far as I know, Hitchens was no closer on his deathbed to becoming the next Malcolm Muggeridge than he had been when penning his decidedly un-Muggeridgean book about Mother Teresa.   I very much hope I am wrong.  

The Hitchens jokes in The Last Superstition are the only ones with any affection behind them -- well, some of them have it, anyway.  (No one who knows me or my work could think I regard a crack about one’s affection for the sauce as a serious insult.  Which makes it ironic that the one joke my publisher demanded I remove was a certain jibe about Hitchens’ boozing.)  Of the four horsemen of the New Atheism, Hitchens was the only one I found likable, and the only one possessed of a modicum of wisdom about the human condition, or at least as much wisdom about the human condition as one can have while remaining essentially a man of the Left.  While there was rather too obviously something of the champagne socialist about him, I do not doubt that he had real concern for real human beings -- rather than merely for grotesque abstractions like “the working class” or “humanity” -- and that he showed real moral and even physical courage in defense of what he sincerely took to be the best interests of real human beings.  But love for one’s fellow man, however genuine, is only the second greatest commandment.  

May God comfort his family, and may God have mercy on his soul.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reading Rosenberg, Part IV

Alex Rosenberg’s dubious use of physics was the focus of the previous installment of our look at his new book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.  In this post we’ll look at his dubious biological claims.  “When physics disposed of purposes,” Rosenberg tells us, “it did so for biology as well.”  Now as I’ve noted before, in fact modern physics has not “disposed” of purposes at all, if what Rosenberg means by this is that physics has somehow established the metaphysical claim that the material world is devoid of objective teleological features.  All it has done is to make the purely methodological move of confining itself to non-teleological descriptions of the phenomena it studies.  This no more shows that teleology doesn’t exist than the fact that I am confining my comments in this post to Rosenberg’s work shows that no other philosophers exist.  Moreover, the non-teleological methodology of modern physics rules out irreducibly teleological explanations in biology only if you buy into Rosenberg’s “physics or bust” brand of scientism, which he has given us no good reason to do.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Radio Free Aquinas

I’ll be on The Frank Pastore Show on KKLA Radio on Thursday, December 8 (tomorrow) from 5 - 6 pm PST to discuss The Last Superstition and Aquinas

UPDATE: It was a great show.  The podcast is now available on Frank's site.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Dawkins vs. Dawkins (Updated)

During my Catholic Answers Live interview last Monday, I noted that Richard Dawkins refuses to debate philosopher William Lane Craig.  Dawkins’ representative Sean Faircloth, who was also on the show, did not contradict this.  On the contrary, Faircloth defended Dawkins’ refusal to debate Craig.  Still, after the interview, Patrick Coffin, the host of the show, received the following email from Dawkins:

Dear Mr Coffin

Contrary to what was repeatedly said on your show, I HAVE debated William Lane Craig, in a nationally televised debate in Mexico in 2010, and he was DEEPLY unimpressive.  I hope you will correct the record in your next show.

Richard Dawkins

Now, I certainly want the record to be correct.  But if it isn’t true that Dawkins refuses to debate Craig, where could anyone have gotten the idea that he does refuse?  Well, for starters, from the fact that Dawkins published an article in the Guardian just this past October with the title “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig” -- an article reprinted on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website and widely discussed online.  That does rather give the impression that Dawkins refuses to debate Craig, no?  So, perhaps Dawkins should send himself an email demanding a correction.  And if, in future, he doesn’t want people to get the idea that he refuses to debate with William Lane Craig, he might consider not saying -- loudly, publicly, online and in print -- things like “I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig.”