Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Being theologians

Personally, I've never quite known what to make of the Death of God theologians, which so far hasn't lost me any sleep. Though I share the opinion that God isn't real, I can't shake the idea that they were simply making up the rest of it as they went. Being theologians, I guess you'd say.
— Dale McGowan, Atheism for Dummies (Mississauga, ON: John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2013), p. 141.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Chomsky on the DoD

You refer to the Pentagon, as is usually done, as a defense organization. In 1947, when the National Defense Act was passed, the former War Department—the American department concerned with war which up to that time was called honestly the War Department—had its name changed to the Defense Department. I was a student then and didn't think I was very sophisticated, but I knew and everyone knew that this meant that to whatever extent the American military had been involved in defense in the past—and partially it had been so—this was now over: since it was being called the Defense Department, that meant it was going to to be a department of aggression, nothing else.
—Noam Chomsky, Chomsky on Anarchism (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005), p. 139

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A hopeful failure

I don't mean to be unkind, but I sincerely hope this book does not deliver on the promise implicit in its title.


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Pale blue dot once more

NASA has released a new photo from the Cassini spacecraft:



The pale blue dot you see midway down, three-quarters to the left, is us. Faced with an image like this, a sensible person can do naught but listen to Carl Sagan rhapsodize:


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Relativism and self-consistency

All versions of relativism have one problem in common: How are relativistic thinkers to exempt their own thought from relativistic "deconstruction"? After all, each relativist has a particular location in space and time, which location, if that individual's approach is correct, must determine his or her thought as much as anyone else's. Put differently, the relativist's thought is but one "narrative" among many others that are just as valid. 
— Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld, In Praise of Doubt (New York: HarperOne, 2009), p. 57.

This puts me in mind of a conversation I once had with a humanities professor who was just flummoxed that any philosophy instructor would try to abstract the views of great philosophers away from their historical context and assess them simply on the basis of their logical worth and evidential support. According to her, there was no way to examine a thesis on its own merits: once one understood the social and economic forces that led to a thesis being posed by someone, there was nothing left to say about it. I'm not very confrontational, especially with probable lost causes, so I did not ask her whether there was actual reason to believe the thesis she just presented, or whether, once one understood the social and economic forces that led her to pose it, there was nothing left to say about it.

It also puts me in mind of my very first philosophy of science professor talking to my class about one of his own encounters with a social constructivist. Social constructivism comes in many forms, but one common form contends (i) that scientific "facts" are merely whatever scientists happen to agree on, and (ii) that what scientists happen to agree on has nothing to do with evidence and everything to do with social forces in the scientific community. Needless to say, social constructivists tend to be sociologists. My professor related his wide-eyed response: "Do you mean to tell me that there are no objective facts about physics, or about chemistry, or about biology, but that there are objective facts about sociology?"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Robert Ingersoll on the design argument

A man finds a watch and it is so wonderful that he concludes that it must have had a maker. He finds the maker and he is so much more wonderful than the watch that he says he must have had a maker. Then he finds God, the maker of the man, and he is so much more wonderful than the man that he could not have had a maker. This is what the lawyers call a departure in pleading. 
— Robert G. Ingersoll, The Works of Robert Ingersoll (New York, 1900), vol. 4, p. 27. As quoted in Susan Jacoby, The Great Agnostic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), pp. 37.