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At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Richard Dawkins and the Amateur Philosopher Syndrome (APS)

posted by Jack Kerwick

Richard Dawkins is a scientist who is apparently either extraordinarily bored with his discipline, or hopelessly oblivious to its limits.

From his tireless defenses of atheism to his recent tweet on abortion, Dawkins, you see, spends very little time, it seems, sticking to what he knows.  Instead, he is busy away treating his background in science as the supreme credential for making pronouncements on all matters religious and moral.  

Dawkins’ is a textbook case of Amateur Philosopher Syndrome (APS)—the delusion that because one is an expert on the physical, one is an expert on the metaphysical—the stuff that scientists have traditionally left to the philosophers and theologians to study. 

Just this past weekend, he got people talking about him after he fired off a tweet regarding abortion in which he said that “any fetus is less human than an adult pig.” 

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When a biologist, as a biologist, uses the term “human,” we expect for it to refer to that which is, well, biologically human.  A human fetus, then, is obviously more human than a pig, for the latter isn’t human at all.  Dawkins, however, uses “human” here in a moral sense, for he is interested in showing that abortion is permissible. “‘Human’ features relevant to the morality of abortion,” he tweets, “include [the] ability to feel pain, fear etc & to be mourned by others.”

To be clear, there is nothing in the least bit scientific or descriptive about Dawkins’ comments on this score.  His training in science no more qualifies him to speak to the moral standing of abortion than does a person’s experience as a janitor or a dishwasher endow him with any special authority to do the same.      

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And his handling of the abortion issue shows this in spades.

Dawkins reasons here as if what he’s said hasn’t been said thousands of times over by abortion apologists.  Worse, he proceeds as if he was utterly ignorant of the fact that even those philosophers who have used his argument have conceded that it is fraught with pitfalls.  This ignorance, though, is a common symptom of APS.

 If Dawkins is correct and an entity is human only if it is sentient (able “to feel pain, fear etc.) and “be mourned by others,” then our duties to pigs, rats, bats, and all sorts of other animals are no different than those that we owe to one another, for all of these are sentient and, in the right contexts, capable of being enjoyed and mourned by others. Furthermore, those members of the human race who are less sensitive to pain than others must thereby be deemed less human than others, and those humans whose sufferings or death fail to elicit the sympathies of their fellows must then be relegated to the ranks of the non-human.   

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This is where Dawkins’ logic leads.  But afflicted as he is with APS, Dawkins apparently hasn’t thought it through. 

Dawkins’ position on abortion is just as amateurish as his stance on the question of theism, belief in God’s existence.  Not unlike most people, Dawkins thinks that science has it within itself to undermine belief in God’s existence. This is probably the one big blunder of which both theist and atheist alike are guilty.  The reality is that science can no more disprove or prove God’s existence than can a painting of the ocean establish the number of gallons that the ocean contains.

In short, in theory science has no bearing on religion, for each speaks to a world separate from the other.  

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The world of the scientist is an abstraction.  It consists of causes and effects, bodies, structures, processes, material forces, objects and categories of various sorts—e.g. genera and species, etc.  By definition, this is a “natural”—a purely natural—world, a universe that doesn’t allow for any intelligence or mind that isn’t ultimately reducible to matter in motion.  The methods of science insure this.

In contrast, the world of religion (and morality) is comprised of, not causes, but reasons; not matter, but mind; not objects, but subjects; not forces and processes, but intentions and purposes.  It is a world of believers and unbelievers, moral agents and moral patients, virtues, vices, duties, rights, good and evil.

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In conflating these two worlds into one, Dawkins destroys them both.  In bringing morality and religion before the tribunal of science, Dawkins betrays an astonishing ignorance of the characters of morality, religion, and science.              

 

This, though, is exactly what we should expect from one ravaged by Amateur Philosopher Syndrome.

 

 

 

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You Might Be A Neocon If…

posted by Jack Kerwick

The bulk of what passes for “the right” these days consists of, not conservatives, and certainly not libertarians, but neoconservatives.  In varying degrees, virtually every mainstream politician, journalist, and commentator deemed to be on the right is a neoconservative.  In fact, the same can be said for many Republican voters.

So, how do you know if you are a neocon?

You just might be a neocon if:

You take offense at the very mention of the word “neoconservatism,” perhaps even going so far as to treat it as an anti-Jewish epithet.

The term “Judeo-Christian” figures much more prominently in your vocabulary than that of “Christian.”

You think that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest president of all time.

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You routinely lavish praise upon yesteryear’s Democratic Party, especially upon such Democrats as John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, FDR.

You speak incessantly of a war on “terror” or a war against “Islamists,” “radical Muslims,” “Islamic extremists,” “Islamofascists,” or “Islamonazis.”

You spare no occasion to invoke images of “the good war,” World War II, in connection with this war on “terror” over which you obsess.

You accuse anyone who proposes to cut the military’s budget by a single penny of being “naïve,” an “appeaser,” or otherwise weak on national security.

You accuse anyone who refuses to affirm that there really is a war on terror of being “naïve,” an “appeaser,” or otherwise weak on national security.

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You obsess over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and accuse anyone who doesn’t as being “naïve,” an “appeaser,” or otherwise weak on national security.

You brand as “anti-Semitic” anyone who talks about cutting all foreign aid, for Israel receives American foreign aid, and this would mean that Israel would no longer be a beneficiary of it.

You advocate on behalf of “comprehensive immigration reform”—i.e. amnesty—for the millions upon millions of illegal immigrants living within our borders.

If you don’t argue for amnesty, you fail to resist those who do.

You treat Ronald Wilson Reagan as a conservative hero who ignited a “revolution” (while failing to mention that the Gipper raised taxes more often than he cut them, and eliminated not a single government program, much less an agency).

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You talk as if there was no conservative movement in America before William F. Buckley.  Put another way, you never mention such pivotal post-WWII conservative giants as Russell Kirk, if not for whose influence there would never have even arisen a conservative movement, as even Buckley acknowledged.

You castigate as “single issue voters” those Republicans who refuse to vote for candidates whose records on, say, abortion, have been shaky.  Yet at the same time, you prefer to vote for a Barack Obama, a John Kerry, or a Hillary Clinton over your own party’s candidate as long as the latter urges for a more humble foreign policy.  That is, “single issue” voting is bad as long as it is any issue other than the single issue of foreign policy upon which you always cast your vote.

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You talk tirelessly of individual responsibility even as you affirm political determinism when it comes to black Americans and Middle Eastern Muslims.  All of the ills that plague black Americans you chalk up to the poisonous policies of the Democratic Party while all of the problems of which the Muslim world is ridden you attribute to its lack of “democracy.”

Even though Hispanics voted for Barack Obama by over 70 percent in November, and blacks voted for him by over 90 percent, you insist that the only reason for this is that Republicans have failed to “reach out” to these groups.  If only their members knew what the Republican Party could do for them (more political determinism), you imply, they would flock to the GOP, for blacks, and particularly Hispanics, are “natural conservatives.” 

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You make claims regarding the “natural conservatism” of Hispanics and Hispanic immigrants that you would never think to make about Muslims—even though, by many measures, Muslims are far more “conservative” than Hispanics and white Americans alike.

You believe that National Review remains the premiere conservative publication, with The Weekly Standard not far behind.

You believe that Fox News is a conservative network and that talk radio is dominated by conservative hosts.

If one or more of the foregoing descriptions apply to you, then you just might be a neoconservative.

 

 

 

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Amateur Philosopher Syndrome (APS): A Look at Richard Dawkins’ Tweet on Abortion

posted by Jack Kerwick

Over the weekend, biologist Richard Dawkins made news when he tweeted that “any fetus is less human than an adult pig.”

Dawkins’ latest remark on the abortion issue nicely illustrates what I will call the Amateur Philosopher Syndrome (APS).  Though anyone can suffer from APS, scientists are especially vulnerable to it, for they think that their expertise in their craft renders them experts on all things, great and small. 

The truth be told, though, a biologist like Dawkins is no more an expert on abortion or any other moral or theological question than is a janitor, a construction worker, or a school bus driver. 

Scientists study bodies or material entities—inert, passive, objects whose behavior is determined by laws of cause and effect.  Obviously, matters are entirely otherwise in the realms of morality and/or religion.  Here there are persons or agents, purposes, reasons, virtues and vices, good and evil, rights and duties, and so forth.

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Inasmuch as abortion is an issue, it is a moral, not a scientific, issue.

Note, when Dawkins says that a fetus is less human than an adult pig, he is not using the word “human” in a biological sense at all.  If this was the sense in which he intended to employ the term, then it would become at once painfully obvious that not only is he unqualified, as a scientist, to comment on issues of morality, he is unqualified as well to speak as a scientist!  Any fool knows that a human fetus has got to be, well, human. However sophisticated a pig may be, a pig is never more than a pig.

No, within the context of Dawkins’ tweet, “human” is a moral concept.  It has the same moral import here as it does when we say of a particularly cruel person that he is “inhuman.”  There is nothing in the least bit scientific about this.

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Presumably, Dawkins thinks that a fetus is less human than an adult pig because he thinks that the latter is more sentient than the former.  Or maybe it is because, unlike fetuses, adult pigs are visible, capable of communicating their wants and needs, and able to elicit sentiments from humans.  Whatever his reasons, and however good or bad these reasons may be, the main point bears repeating: There is nothing scientific about Dawkins’ tweet. 

Instead, what we find in his remark about fetuses and pigs is a classic instance of but another rather pitiful attempt of a scientist aspiring to speak as a philosopher.

If Dawkins was a philosopher, then he would know that even those philosophers who support abortion would recognize his tweet for the poor substitute for an argument that it is.  Even if we concede that adult pigs are more capable of experiencing pleasure and pain (sentience), more communicative, more visible, etc. than young human fetuses, we are still left asking: And…?

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If sentience, visibility, and the capacity to communicate endow beings with moral standing comparable to that of humans, then our duties to rats should be no different from those we have towards other humans.  After all, rats are sentient, visible, and, in their own way, capable of communicating their wants and needs.  And if these are the criteria that define a “real” human being, then this means that those humans that fail to meet, or barely meet, these criteria are inferior humans, or maybe not human at all.

The bottom line in the abortion debate lies elsewhere.  Whether one is for or against abortion, everyone must come to terms with the blunt fact that a civilization that recognizes “a woman’s right to choose” is a civilization that recognizes the right of parents to kill their posterity. And it allows mothers to exercise this right to kill their offspring either directly or by way of a specialist who is trained in this particular art of killing those human beings who have not yet made it out of their mothers’ wombs.

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Then we need to ask ourselves a question: Can any civilization that permits this practice maintain its professed respect for human dignity or “the sanctity of human life?”

Contrary to what Dawkins and other scientists suffering from APS might have us believe, no amount of science will answer this one for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Logic of Marriage ( Or The Illogic of “Gay Marriage”)

posted by Jack Kerwick

In response to Ohio Senator Rob Portman’s recent reversal on “gay marriage,” House Speaker John Boehner said that, unlike his fellow partisan, he could never envision himself changing his mind on this topic.  “Listen,” he told Martha Raddatz on ABC’s This Week, “I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman” (emphasis added).

Boehner’s reasoning represents that of the opponents of “gay marriage.”

The opponents of “gay marriage” invariably claim, along with Boehner, that they do not “believe in ‘gay marriage,’” or that they do not “support” it.  Rather, they favor “traditional marriage.”  We should most definitely not “redefine” marriage so as to accommodate gays, they insist.

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In doing so, however, the opponents of “gay marriage” actually reinforce their rivals’ assumption that what is real and true is determined by what human beings happen to want. 

The point that they should be making, though, is that if there really are such things as truth and reality, then we can no more believe or disbelieve in, support or condemn, “gay marriage.”  There is no “traditional marriage.” There is only marriage—and it is beyond our capacity to either define or redefine it.

Words are human inventions, but the most elementary principles of logic are not.  For example, if you hear that a man is a bachelor, then without seeing or knowing him, you know that he can’t possibly be married at the same time.  Similarly, if you are told that something is a green Martian, then without knowing a thing about whether Martians really exist, or what color they are if they do, you nevertheless know that this thing can’t be colorless.

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Words signify concepts, and concepts have their own logic independently of human whims and desires.  I can no more believe in or support a married person’s “right” to enter into bachelorhood while remaining married than I can believe in or support a person’s “right” to enter into a state of celibacy while living a life of sexual promiscuity.  Nor does it make any sense for me to claim that I favor “traditional” bachelorhood or “traditional” celibacy, for this implies that there are other, non-traditional forms. And I most certainly cannot weigh in on “redefining” the terms “bachelorhood” and “celibacy,” for this countenances the idea that it is within our power to define or redefine them. 

Note, in rejecting as illogical the idea that the married and the sexually active have a “right” to bachelorhood and celibacy, respectively, I make no appeals to God or religion.  For that matter, I don’t even appeal to morality: ultimately, this is a question of logic, not morality.  This, in turn, means that in denying their “right” to bachelorhood and celibacy, I in no way mean to insinuate that the married and the sexually active are immoral. 

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What is true for bachelorhood and celibacy is true for marriage.  Homosexuality could be a blessing to humanity and every gay person the planet over could be a saint, but no matter: marriage remains an intrinsically heterosexual concept. There isn’t much upon which human beings everywhere and forever could be said to have agreed, but this is one of them.  Repeat: conflicts over monogamy and polygamy and whether the members of different races should be permitted to marry one another, etc. are irrelevant.  These considerations no more belong to the essence of marriage than “six feet tall” belongs to the essence of a human being.

Marriage is essentially, intrinsically a heterosexual union.  The world’s peoples from the beginning of time have agreed upon this up until the last ten to 15 years or so when some Americans and Europeans began telling us that the human species had it wrong all along. But it isn’t that marriage was heterosexual because there was a timeless consensus on the matter.  Rather, there was a timeless consensus that marriage was inherently heterosexual because marriage is inherently heterosexual.

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Whether our government decides to permit homosexuals to enter into legal unions with one another that it will then call “marriage” is neither here nor there.  My point here is something else. 

To paraphrase the old saying, you can put lipstick on a pig and say it is something else, but a pig is still a pig.

Similarly, call anything you want “marriage,” but real marriage has always been and will always be a heterosexual institution. 

 

 

 

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