Evolution and the acquisition of knowledge

March 29, 2009

This is sort of a piggyback on the last post in the sense that I’m posting again on evolution; it is actually a mere coincidence that I would write some musings on evolution and cognitive shortcuts (especially after a long break), only to be confronted by the idea of evolution yet again the following day in the last place I would generally hope to hear about it: my church.

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The problem with deceit

September 11, 2008

The topic of lying and deceit (if one can separate the two) is one that has been in my mind since Alexander Pruss blogged it about it a few months ago (see this Google search). Pruss has some good things to say, but I think he has neglected some fundamental aspects of the subject.

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Blog-apathy, an exhortation, and a farewell

July 12, 2008

I was saddened to see in my RSS reader yesterday that John DePoe of Fides Quaerens Intellectum is calling it quits. John has had some excellent discussions over his way (he’s been on the blogroll here for quite some time), as well as some quick updates from the philosophical blogosphere and elsewhere (such as William Lane Craig’s recent essay in Christianity Today) that are invaluable.

His reason is one that I have sometimes struggled with: a lack of desire to blog, and John adds that “blogging has felt more like a chore than an enjoyable hobby.” I’ve been there, and it’s hard to muster through with other things happening.

I’ve been blogging off and on (although probably more off than on) for about 3 years now, and the only reason I still feel like doing it is because I still have things that pop into my head, some (relatively) original thoughts and some reflections on various mental stimuli (like reading the blogs of others), that I want to put down (in a metaphorical sense) in writing. It used to be that I felt like my voice needed to be heard because I had important things to say that other people needed to hear, but now my reasons are more selfish (and paradoxically less egotistical): I’ve realized that blogging is more about catharsis for me than relaying important facts or personal wisdom. I also deeply value the use of blogging for reflection, something that drives me (for reasons sometimes unknown to me) to keep two blogs, one specifically to reflect on my teaching/learning experiences.

For any bloggers reading this that might be suffering from similar troubles with blogging, I would make the following suggestions:

  1. Reassess your reasons for blogging. Unless you have a relatively large readership and are a proficient writer, you’re probably not going to write to appease others who want to read what you wrote. The best thing I think the average blogger can hope for is to have some small regular traffic and other sporadic hits that indicate that someone cares about what you’ve written. Comments are even better, but blogging in the hopes of receiving feedback is probably a futile effort as well unless you choose to write on only the most controversial topics (abortion and evolution are ones that have driven feedback for me).
  2. Keep your mind thinking about things you might want to write about. I started using Google Notebook to track ideas, some of which have been sitting around for months now, and it has been very useful to provide content (when I don’t spontaneously blog with my ScribeFire interface – another useful tool). Jeremy Pierce of Parableman has stated that he keeps a text file of ideas for blogging that he searches every so often for things to write about. It might even be useful at times to review past writings and follow up or amend previous statements on different topics – maybe even to find holes in them.
  3. Read, read, read – and then read some more. The best way to keep ideas moving is to take them in – ingest whatever you’re interested in to keep your mind sharp. It doesn’t even matter if you blog about what someone else has written; you may simply be inspired to investigate a certain topic or to find analogous arguments elsewhere, among other things. When you stop consuming writing – something that seems to be a common thread among writers of all types – then you will probably see your own writing flow diminishing as well.

I wish John all the best and thank him for his great site, and I hope that other bloggers will see this as an opportunity to reflect on their own habits and struggles as writers.

Mitigating circumstances

June 26, 2008

In my post yesterday, I neglected to discuss an important aspect of abortive considerations: mitigating circumstances. I cannot in good conscience leave out this subject since it plays a part in the premises of the previous argument.

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Abortion and a principle of prudence

June 25, 2008

I hate to write about abortion again – people might mistakenly think it’s a “Big Issue” for me – but this objection brought itself forward in my mind, and I have to get it out.

There are two premises that I cannot seem to find good reason to deny:

  1. Abortion deprives a distinct and biologically human organism* of a vital future right.
  2. In any scenario involving two human organisms, one of which is fundamentally dependent on the other, where there is a conflict of rights between the two, prudence demands that, ceteris paribus, the autonomous party allow her rights to be abrogated (especially when they are of lesser importance) in order that the dependent party’s rights are satisfied.

The first premise is merely a definition which I think is quite defensible. The second, on the other hand, is a matter of prudence: if we have to choose which human gets to have her rights validated when there is a conflict (given the above situation), the non-autonomous individual’s rights trump the autonomous party’s.

The evidence I have for this matter of prudence is largely that which I feel as a parent: if my children, who depend on me for their survival, require something (time, resources, etc.) that will deny me something in return (as is very common in parenthood), then I am obligated as a parent to make the sacrifice. It would take an extreme case to bring about any potential counterexamples: for instance, if one’s child is standing in front of an oncoming train, I might have a hard time saying that it is obligatory for any given parent to put herself in front of the train in order to save the child (although I am of the personal conviction that I would feel obligated given those circumstances). There are, as such, many cases where such an action would be supererogatory: it would be a great personal sacrifice that would befit a parent’s general responsibility to protect his or her child as much as is humanly possible but not necessarily immoral if not performed. (Indeed, if a parent did not make this choice, then they are likely deserving of compassion rather than condemnation.)

If I am right and this premise holds, then it is equally applicable to the type of parenthood that obtains upon conception (the genesis of a biological child). This would seem to demolish many pro-abortion arguments, especially the notion that the mother’s right to bodily autonomy supersedes any rights of the fetus since the mother’s autonomy (which the fetus lacks) is precisely the reason why the mother should make the sacrifice in the vast majority of circumstances (see here for some more circumstantial considerations). In the act of procreation, the woman assumes a responsibility as a mother to her child that demands obligation. Abortion is thus an outright violation of that responsibility – not mere negligence, but willful violation.

Thus, I come to the following syllogism (Pind = ‘independent party’; Pdep = ‘dependent party’):

  1. For any action A performed by Pind, it will be immoral if the net shift in rights from Pind to Pdep results in an outcome beneficial for Pind and detrimental to Pdep.
  2. The deprivation of a fundamental right to Pdep in order to secure another for Pind results in a positive net shift to Pind.
  3. Therefore, any such A will be immoral.

Since this class of actions seems directly relevant to abortion, it would appear to be both valid and sound.

Have I missed something? This seems a reasonable objection to abortion along grounds that are not religious.

*This is true even in the cases of identical twins and chimaeras: there is at least one biologically human organism which is genetically distinct from its parents.

A contradiction in terms?

May 24, 2008

I’ve been using the handle “Christian Cynic” for about four years now (which I did not steal from this Christian cynic, I promise), and I’ve heard plenty of things about a supposed contradiction between Christianity and cynicism. I’ve responded before (although that piece is lost in the æther of the Internet, an artifact of when I long ago had the domain thechristiancynic.com), but I happened to find something more direct (all bolding mine):

It is hardly too much to say that men believe in us as Christians only so long as they believe that we are kind: only so long as they do not know that we are bitter, and retaliative, and alert to take offense, and cruel in misjudgment. When the veil is lifted and they know the facts, they have finished with us, and our profession of religion is but the minister of bitterness in them. Kindness is a beautiful thing in any man: it is an imperative necessity in a Christian. A Christian cynic is a contradiction in terms. You know what I mean: if I add that of course a Christian man is to have his opinion of unworthy conduct like other people, and that he also has the right to entertain righteous indignation against evil—you know that in saying that I am but echoing words that rise within you as self-defense against the sword of self-accusation. For you and I in practice, brethren, know quite well the difference between indignation against evil and bitterness against persons we dislike. (“Bitterness,” sermon by G.A. Johnston Ross, pub. in The University of Chicago Press; available through JSTOR)

I almost feel that a subtle wink to the audience would have been in order after the last statement.

And this isn’t the only sermon to rail away at Christian cynicism:

Cynics live in a cold, lonely and unproductive world.

And a “Christian cynic” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

    A Christ-follower cannot remain a cynic.

I do not mean that a Christian can’t become cynical, but I do mean they should not remain that way.

Lovely image, isn’t it?

Fortunately for me (and others who self-identify this way – and there are more than a few I’ve found), these things need not apply to individuals who consider themselves cynics.

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Is ensuring someone’s salvation an intrinsic good?

May 24, 2008

In the comments of Ed Brayton’s blog, an argument was set forth regarding abortion and hell, which I will summarize as such:

  1. Most Christians believe that babies are not responsible for their salvation and so go to heaven if they die before a so-called ‘age of accountability.’ (Premise)
  2. Abortion kills unborn babies at a point where they are not morally culpable for their salvation. (Premise)
  3. Individuals going to heaven rather than hell is an intrinsic good. (Premise)
  4. Therefore, abortion results in an intrinsic good by ensuring the salvation of aborted babies. (from 1-3)

If it’s not completely apparent how tendentious and simplistic this is, let me spell it out.

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