Oct 202011

Watch on YouTube

I can write nothing on Heideggerian scholar*/(anti)Hollywood director Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life that hasn’t been better written elsewhere. Even so, the film has just come available on DVD and digital download, so I thought I’d recommend it to anyone who has been interested in PEL’s recent religion episodes. (Suggestion: try to watch the HD version of the clip.) If I had to try to connect the film’s theme to recent topics, I’d call attention to Malick’s ruminations on life’s utterly contingent nature, and whether it suggests the presence or absence of God.

While the film isn’t perfect (somebody please explain the ending!), a movie with existential dinosaurs beats a two-hour couch-warming session with another Transformers sequel. Trust me.

*I can’t find a decent link, but Malick translated Heidegger’s The Essence of Reasons for Northwestern University Press before he abandoned graduate study.

-Daniel Horne

Oct 032011
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon aka Maimonides

Maimonides image on Wikipedia

I think during the Mackie episode I mentioned that proving the existence of God through Reason seemed to me to be a decidely Western and Christian undertaking.  I speculated that it wasn’t an issue for Eastern religions (those that have a concept of God or gods) and declared that it wasn’t one for Judaism.

It  occurs to me that I should stop speaking on behalf of the religion with which I affilate and yet do not practice.  This past Thursday was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  (The Jewish calendar is lunar, so the new year comes at a different time relative to our standard calendar each year.)  Rosh Hashanah kicks off a 10-day period with Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – known as the ‘High Holy Days’.  It is the most deeply religious period for Jews for which there is, I think, not a direct correlation in Christianity (I’m not sure about Islam or other non-monotheistic religions).

Jewish tradition teaches that during the High Holy Days God decides who will live and who will die during the coming year. As a result, during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (and in the days leading up to them) Jews embark upon the serious task of examining their lives and repenting for any wrongs they have committed during the previous year. This process of repentance is called teshuvah.  Jews are encouraged to make amends with anyone they have wronged and to make plans for improving during the coming year. In this way, Rosh HaShanah is all about making peace in the community and striving to be a better person. –About.com

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Sep 152011

Discussing the arguments by Descartes, St. Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, William Paley, Kant, and others, as analyzed in J.L. Mackie’s The Miracle of Theism: Arguments For and Against the Existence of God (1983), chapters 1-3, 5-6, 8, and 11.

Are the ontological, cosmological, and teleological (argument from design) arguments for God’s existence any good? Mackie, a very sharp analytic philosopher well hooked into recent advances in philosophy of science, says no. He’s chiefly responding to his Oxford colleague, Richard Swinburne, who takes a very rationalist approach to God, taking the concept of God to be wholly simple and intelligible and providing a superior scientific explanation for, e.g. the beginning of the universe than the brute fact of an ultimately uncaused physical universe. Read more about the topic.

Buy the book.

Mark, Seth, and Wes are joined by groovy South African theist blogger Robert Scott.

End song: “I Believe,” by Mark Lint (2011). Read about it.

If you enjoy the episode, please donate at least $1:

Sep 072010

Apparently Stephen Hawking not only thinks that spontaneous creation from nothingness is somehow a scientific concept: he also claims that “philosophy is dead” (and as I point out, this is hardly surprising given the core anti-intellectualism lurking behind his amateur philosophizing).

Here’s a reaction from Burke’s Corner:

In his failure to exercise modesty in his pursuit of scientific knowledge, Hawking makes a particularly startling claim – that “philosophy is dead“. From Plato and Aristotle to Maimonides and Aquinas to Kant and Hegel, Hawking dismisses how the human mind across cultures and millenia has reflected on transcendence and humanity’s place in a vast universe. Hawking’s lack of humility before this endeavour is staggering. In her Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson rightly states that this approach to science excludes “the whole enterprise of metaphysical thought,” despite metaphysical reflection being a defining characteristic of the human experience.

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Sep 072010
Philosopher of Religion Keith Parson has had a change of heart (while he once took the arguments of theists seriously enough to argue against them, no longer):

Over the past ten years I have published, in one venue or another, about twenty things on the philosophy of religion. I have a book on the subject, God and Burden of Proof, and another criticizing Christian apologetics, Why I am not a Christian. During my academic career I have debated William Lane Craig twice and creationists twice. I have written one master’s thesis and one doctoral dissertation in the philosophy of religion, and I have taught courses on the subject numerous times. But no more. I’ve had it. I’m going back to my real interests in the history and philosophy of science and, after finishing a few current commitments, I’m writing nothing more on the subject. I could give lots of reasons. For one thing, I think a number of philosophers have made the case for atheism and naturalism about as well as it can be made…..

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Sep 072010

Stephen Hawking makes perhaps one of the dumbest forays by a scientist into philosophy that I have ever seen:

That is not the answer of modern science. As recent advances in cosmology suggest, the laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.

Well that settles it. Something spontaneously arose out of nothing. No need for an explanation of that. Move on people, nothing mysterious here, stop asking questions. The blue touch paper lit itself, and there is something called “nothingness” which contains that blue torch paper as well as laws governing it. Perhaps this is all, in some Deepak Chopra sense, true. But it is not “the answer of modern science.” It is purely speculative, and whether we want to use the word “God” to describe the mystery of spontaneous generation or leave it at a nothing containing the seed of spontaneous generation seems to be a semantic distinction, with the latter in no way naturalizing or demystifying the former.

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