Arimathea
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Philosophy
All wisdom begins in wonder, and this delight kindles a desire for truth that leads us on a quest for the really real -- the source of being itself. Hence, the philosophical impulse, albeit often manifested in atheistic and irreverent stumblings in the dark of human ignorance, begins and ultimately ends in theology -- communicating and communing with our origin and goal. We men are rational animals who seek to know. We are agents of truth who want correct answers to questions that we must ask. From the noblest objects of contemplation to the seemingly insignificant everyday trivialities of life, we attempt to unravel perplexing knots. Limited, blind, and distracted, we nevertheless struggle for wisdom. This is our lot, and it is also our glory.
Thursday, March 31, A.D. 2011
Dugin and de Carvalho Debate

The American Orthodox Institute Observer linked to an ongoing online debate between Brazilian Olavo de Carvalho and Russian Alexander Dugin regarding the role of the United States in contemporary world affairs. Both men are influential, public intellectuals, and it is interesting to see their divergent views on American influence. You may follow the debate: “The U.S.A. and the New World Order.” Some posts are in English, but others are in Portuguese. While not perfect, Google’s language tools can provide a rough translation.

I was interested to read more about Dugin. He is evidently the chief architect of the new Russian nationalism. He distinguishes the foreign policy that he champions from both the Soviet and the pro-American stances of previous decades, where Russians sought imperialist domination or suffered foreign diplomatic colonization. Instead of these ideologically based foreign policies, Dugin offers what he calls Eurasim, or Eurasianism, though I hope that the word sounds better in Russian. I do not know if it was Hegel or Marx who destroyed Russia’s facility with political terminology, but progress is surely needed in that area. Eurasist foreign policy appears to be foreign policy pragmatism that aims to serve Russian national interests and increase Russia’s regional power. One of its principal goals is to achieve a “multipolar world” where key powers hold hegemony over their respective regions and where these key powers and their alliances balance international influence. In short, it appears that Dugin offers a Congress of Vienna for the twenty-first century in order to secure peace and continued authority for the most powerful nations. You may read a more detailed account of Dugin’s proposed global order: “Main Principles of Eurasist Policy.”

For a decade, the Russians have repeatedly and incessantly pushed this multipolar model, and Dugin appears to be its foremost evangelist. Having read him, it is easier to make sense of Russia’s recent foreign policy. When the Russians take contrarian approaches to Iran, they do so to counteract American power, not because Duginian Russia sees America as an eternal ideological enemy but because America remains the biggest threat to the multipolar balance, which is Russia’s goal. Dugin wants to restrict American hegemony to North and South America. The Kremlin does not necessarily think that Tehran is a rational political player, but it does recognize that the Iranian regime is an enemy to the United States. Therefore, increasing Iran’s power weakens or complicates American influence in the Middle East, which the Russian regime sees as a good thing.

What is refreshing about Dugin’s approach is that it makes sense. It frankly recognizes national self interest and the consequences of power in the international arena—that Hobbesian state of nature where might makes right. The multipolar arrangement does not bother me, either. I would rather the United States remain a regional power that refuses to play the policeman, paramedic, and banker of the world. Let other nations deal with their own problems, while we establish cordial ties at a distance and help out every now and then when something truly catastrophic comes along. If we see the world as a neighborhood, then it is right for all households to help out a family when their house burns down. However, we should not expect every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the street to concern themselves with every home’s plumbing issues, family arguments, and dinner plans. There is a third way between isolationism and neoconservative imperialism in foreign policy, and we should pursue such an alternative.

Nonetheless, I doubt that a model of international national interest can adequately predict the behavior of states, given the missionary zeal of ideologues. In America today, we have our leftist ideologues that want to transform the world into the Castro District. We also have neoconservatives who think that every savage tribe is a potential New England town meeting waiting to be liberated. In South America, there are Marxists who still want to spread brown, proletariat revolution. Overseas, the Mohammedans have never forgotten their fourteen hundred year jihad, though the strength of Christendom had thwarted such hopes for centuries. Alas, European civilization has been emasculated by cultural rot, and the fevered masses of the Third World are on the march. When faced with such conquests, it seems as though a nation must think beyond a model of self interest to understand global affairs. For there are other forces that animate rulers—and their armies.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 31, Anno Domini 2011
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Monday, March 28, A.D. 2011
Planned Parenthood and the Black Bunny

The American Life League has produced a political video that features an adorable black bunny to advertise a petition to stop all tax funding for Planned Parenthood.

I sent the link to my sister, who raises Holland Lops, but she refused to watch it because the very thought of animal violence upsets her. I do not know what breed the little guy is, but it looks Dutch or Polish to my untrained eyes. It is obviously not a lop of any kind.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, March 28, Anno Domini 2011
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Thursday, March 24, A.D. 2011
Criterial Argument for the Existence of God

Last week, Kristor forwarded an entry from Ultimate Object: “Criterial Argument for the Existence of God.” It briefly explains that God is implied in all rational thought. I think that such an observation must be obvious to any thinker not infected with the delusion of nominalism. For a unified complex universe, one needs a principle capable of unifying that complexity without reducing everything in it. Rational, observant analysis of the world therefore inevitably leads one to monotheism, just as denials of monotheism ultimately lead fools to relativism, clever fools to solipsism, and intelligent men to nihilism.

Kristor wrote:

In this short (and therefore dense, and somewhat challenging) entry, machinephilosophy sets forth his Criterial Argument for the Existence of God. The Argument explains why Darwinists and materialists can’t help using teleological language: teleology, final causation, the whole panoply of the eternal truths of math, logic, and metaphysics, and therefore implicitly God himself are

necessarily

presupposed by thought as such, and thus also by its expression in language (I would add that if they are presupposed by being anywhere, they are presupposed by being everywhere; that’s part of what we mean when we call them necessary truths). This is the basis for the Socratic doctrine of anamnesis, set forth in the

Meno

: that when we reason about first principles (in math, logic, or metaphysics) we are expressing truths we already implicitly embody, and presuppose, by and in everything we say or do; so that, if we just think carefully about what we do indeed think, any of us can in principle discover any of the eternal truths.

Key sentence: “I don’t wake up in the morning wondering whether reason is going to be functioning, like I might wonder about my computer.” In order to live, we have

no alternative

but to presuppose that existence is rational, somehow, through and through; and that it is therefore in principle wholly intelligible, through and through. If these two presuppositions are groundless, then it is impossible in fact (whatever we might think) to explain or understand anything whatsoever, even a little bit.

Thus, as I have pointed out numerous times, if the atheists are right about God, then everybody is wrong about everything, because it is in that case not possible to be truthful. But this would mean that the atheists too are wrong about everything; and this would in turn mean that they are wrong in thinking that God does not exist. So God exists.

I wrote to Kristor:

Didn’t Lewis have a line for the general argument that the linked blog entry presents . . . that he believes that God exists as he believes the sun exists, not because he sees it, but because he sees everything else due to it?

What troubles me is how common it is for people to be blind to what seems obvious to us. The preponderance of human error often makes me question myself. I just don’t want to believe that so many people could be so wrong—perhaps I am wrong and the nihilists are right. But then I sober and realize how contradictory their position is. I call this move the “nihilistic temptation”—no matter how ridiculous and foolish it is, it continually reasserts itself to me. It must be an intellectual sin. I also think of the monstrous moral lapses in the history of man (consider abortion in America today, for example), and I remember how difficult the truth must be for our race. I wonder if such blindness affects different civilizations to different degrees. Eleventh century Frenchmen surely saw God in all things more easily than their descendents a millennium later, right?

To which Kristor responded:

Lewis did indeed say something like that, I think.

In the blindness of atheists there is I think something willful. They don’t

want

God to exist. They don’t want this to be that sort of universe. If God existed, that would entail all sorts of uncomfortable things, like chastity, or perfect honesty. If God does not exist, then their petty sins may go by the wayside, and they can go about the business of life, interested only in maximizing their profit on the deal, however they construe that profit.

Not so for Christians, or Jews. Or Muslims, for that matter. All three are totalistic religions.  But then, a religion that is not totalistic is not really a religion at all, but rather nothing more than a species of magic – a technique, and no more. This is I think why liberals so often accuse religions of being totalitarian. Liberals are afraid of religion, because true religion requires a repudiation of their worldly idols – and, so far as they can tell, of themselves.

As to the temptation of nihilism, I feel it, too. But is not this the same thing as to say simply that I feel temptation? Temptation to any sin, however trivial, is a temptation to some turn or other toward nothingness. Followed persistently, all sins lead ultimately to the outer darkness.

Nihilism is tempting because in eliminating all good it ipso facto eliminates all shame and guilt at our persistent failures to achieve the good. It gets us off the hook by insisting that there is no hook. So it is a fantastic relief.

It is the nihilists, I have long thought, who are most ripe for conversion. They have fully understood the existential stakes, and in their ignorance of the truth about the alternative – willful or not – they have consciously chosen death. Indeed, they have embraced death. So, naturally enough, they are in agony. This is why, in my apologetical responses to them, I generally take a moment to ask: given the fact that you believe nothing really matters, why are you so

angry

about theism?

Kristor’s comment about willful atheism recalls Maverick Philosopher’s post, “Nagel on Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion.” I confess that I just cannot understand it, having been raised in a theistic home and community. My loss of faith was extremely painful and troubling to me, and my years of agnosticism regarding Christianity, ever somewhat lingering, have never been desired by any part of my soul. I cannot empathize with anyone who desires the illusion of nihilistic chaos. I suspect that such folks do not want nihilism in itself, thinking instead that the world of their satisfactions and pleasures is self evident and self grounded.  Yet, these men are philosophers! It is their chief vocation to hunt down every assumption and underlying principle, to investigate the very nature that loves to hide. That such people would willfully accept facts without questioning their ground lowers them. Men like Quine and Searle cannot be dismissed as bovine; why, then, do they accept the shadows for the sun?

Update: Alan R. adds:

His position is basically what Reformed presuppositional apologists call the Transcendental Agrument for God: All thought requires as a presupposition a God who makes reality to obey laws of logic that we can know and use, therefore even if you argue against God, you presuppose Him and contradict your position.

I especially appreciate his line:

Therefore, there is some sense in which these ultimate decisive rules and ideals of thought actually communicate knowledge and even wisdom by merely thinking about them and their relationship to our belief systems and our world of objects.

In other words, comtemplating God and His Word makes one wise, especially wise unto salvation.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 24, Anno Domini 2011
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Thursday, March 17, A.D. 2011
Gratuitous Evil and Begging the Question

Maverick Philosopher has a post this week on the common atheistic case against God that asks how evil could exist in a world governed by God: “Gratuitous Evil and Begging the Question: Does LAFE Beg the Question?” As always, it is a joy to read Maverick Philosopher, who writes clearly and logically about important matters.

I have never understood why people find the “Auschwitz argument” so convincing. It just does not make sense. The problem of evil should trouble us greatly, but the problem presupposes a good God. Without a benevolent, omnipotent God, there really is no problem of evil. Evil is then just another fact of reality—a constituent and condition among others. It is only when we come to hold that the nature of being is good that we confront the problem of evil. As such, we Platonists, Jews, Christians, and other adherents of the world’s fundamental goodness must address theodicy, yet such is a very different problem from the atheistic case against God based on the presence of evil in the world.

Fr. John Zuhlsdorf recently mentioned a Latin phrase on his WDTPRS site that merits mentioning here: Qui Bene Distinguit, Bene Docet. It is a repeated lesson from the masters’ works throughout the centuries—and for good reason.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, March 17, Anno Domini 2011
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Tuesday, March 15, A.D. 2011
The Hubris of Reductionism

I occasionally read Dennis Mangan’s blog, which has a humorous subtitle—Adventures in Reaction. Like John Derbyshire, Steve Sailer, and other “human biodiversity” enthusiasts, Mangan offers many interesting ideas that are appropriately dismissive of the reigning idiotic idols of the tribe. However, like Derbyshire, Sailer, and friends, sometimes Mangan wanders into uncharted territory where his overconfidence in contemporary natural science leads him to say bizarre things. Last week, for instance, Mangan posted “The Biological Basis of Music,” which he ends thus:

Music has long been considered something of a conundrum in philosophy and psychology, but the main result of this and other studies seem obvious in retrospect. How could music not have a biological or evolutionary basis?

Schopenhauer, one of the best philosophical theorists on the arts, thought that music was the highest and greatest art, since it is “about” nothing, but at least in its higher forms is pure abstraction. However, he lived before the age of Mendel and Darwin, and though he anticipated some of their findings, for instance in assertions of the heritability of character and the clash of will in nature, all his theorizing was just that: theorizing. He had little science on which to base his ideas.

Much the same could be said about many other philosophers in the past, e.g. John Locke’s idea of the tabula rasa, which surely made a lot of sense at the time but which we know now to be completely wrong. Kant’s notions of what can be known a priori vs. a posteriori were likewise uninformed by biology.

Studies like this show that the revolution in our knowledge of the biological basis of human culture and psychology is only beginning.

Leaving aside the other comments, let us just consider “Kant’s notions of what can be known a priori vs. a posteriori were likewise uninformed by biology.” What can this mean? I am no Kantian, but it appears to me that Kant’s distinction between what can be known through examining the structure and nature of reason itself and what can be known from experience is an appropriate and fundamental distinction. Increased knowledge of human biology cannot add to or alter that distinction. As we come to understand human evolution and the development of our cognitive faculties better, we might be able to grasp why and how human beings came to be aware of such distinctions, as we might be able to learn why and how human beings became rational beings, but the distinction itself is not attributable to evolution or biology. The distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge is like the principles of mathematics. The relationships between numbers and geometric figures did not evolve. Our biological evolution did not produce them. Rather, we evolved to be able to know them. Our biology developed so that we became animals capable of mathematical reasoning. Reason itself cannot be reduced to biology; reason just is. I think that it is telling that Mangan did not write that Newton’s Principia Mathematica was uninformed by our superior biological knowledge after Darwin, Watson, and Crick. Why not?

I am a great admirer and supporter of natural philosophy, but natural philosophers—“scientists”—have appropriate objects for their work. When natural philosophers attempt to reduce larger spheres of knowledge such as underlying metaphysics or prior considerations of epistemology to the limits of their discipline, they speak folly. Husserl noted that modern intellectuals tend to reduce all other disciplines to their own. The enthusiasts of mechanistic science frequently err in this way. When postmodern literature professors reduce other disciplines to their “narrative speak,” it is idiotic but not that surprising. Consider the rigor and standards of their discipline, where truth itself has been rejected as a matter of principle. Yet, when rational natural philosophers make the same mistakes, I find it tragic. For these folks should know better.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 15, Anno Domini 2011
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Monday, March 14, A.D. 2011
Japanese Quake

We pray for succor for the admirable Japanese people as they try to survive the devastation of last week’s earthquake. It appears that the nation is dealing with the problems as best as can be imagined, though I hope that food supplies and clean water will soon reach the stranded millions. For even well bred and well socialized people may resort to brute behavior after prolonged starvation. There is still a difference between decent public morality and true virtue, and the latter will always be exceptional, even in the best regimes and among the best peoples.

Commentators on the news and on blogs are remarking on how well the Japanese seem to be handling the disaster, but such resolve in the face of catastrophe should be what we expect. Human beings have survived in hostile environments for millennia; is it so shocking? What should trouble us Americans is the rot exposed by the Katrina fiasco. An entire population that needs constant, imposed order and the institutionalized provision of their daily needs are clearly deficient in their ability to survive. Those poor blacks of New Orleans were not fully functional adults. They were the pathetic results of generations of leftwing infantilizing, in which they experienced no accountability or responsibility. When floods, tornadoes, and other natural disasters happen in the Midwest, the descendants of Germans, Scandinavians, Poles, Czechs, and Croats do not go on looting sprees. They do not sit idly around and expect F.E.M.A. and the American Red Cross to rescue them. Rather, they start working to manage the emergency as best as they can. That is what civilized human beings do. I bet that such occurs in Ghana, as well, with its clannish connections and village focus. I also suspect that such probably occurred in the old South. I wonder if Willy Du Bois had any idea of what his aspirations would truly entail. Of course not—Leftists are delusional about human nature.

We should keep the Japanese in our prayers. The northeastern region around Sendai that was most affected by the earthquake has an Orthodox and Roman Catholic presence, which is, of course, small compared to the overall population but significant to the Christian population of the islands, nonetheless. Let us remember them, all the Japanese people, and the deceased.

On a selfish level, I personally hope never to have to witness the destruction that these people have experienced. The video and photographs are like something from Hollywood’s apocalyptic action movies—Jerry Bruckheimer in real life. Auster links to the following remarkable video that shows the gradual ravaging of the tidal wave. Imagine seeing your hometown get swept away, knowing full well that many of your neighbors are perishing as you watch and that you can do nothing about it.

I saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo a few weeks ago, wherein a tsunami totally envelops Japan. I have always admired the Japanese appreciation for the forces of nature, which is quite conspicuous in their fantasy films. I think that the origin of that cultural trait is a bit more obvious to me now. Even though the loss of life and property baffle the mind and sadden the heart, I still find the unleashed forces of nature awesome—literally. For awe involves both fear and fascination. As I wrote, I never want to experience these forces, but I do find them strangely attractive. I hate loss and destruction, but I cannot deny that I detect a thrill in my soul when I witness such overwhelming displays of natural power. The financial success of the aforementioned Bruckheimer suggests that similar feelings are widespread. Perhaps, in every heart lurks the specter of Shiva who delights in destruction. Is it demonic or something else—a sort of primordial appreciation of our turbulent and violent world?

I read that there were some damage and death in Crescent City, California that resulted from the quake. I visited there seven years ago to see the redwoods. My mother asked me how an earthquake off the coast of Japan could affect California. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides a great visual aid:

The world is a frightening but interesting place.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, March 14, Anno Domini 2011
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Tuesday, March 8, A.D. 2011
Bernard Nathanson

On this Clean Tuesday, I hope that my fellow Orthodox are having a fruitful Lent, and I wish Western Christian readers a good Shrove Tuesday and, tomorrow, Ash Wednesday.

A few weeks ago, Dr. Bernard Nathanson died. He had helped to found the abortion rights movement, but then he gradually changed his views and became a champion for the prolife cause. One useful—and memorable—tool that he gave to prolifers was the movie, The Silent Scream, which depicted abortion procedures and ultrasound footage of fetal reaction. Today, with advanced imaging technology, we are able to see even more clearly the activities in utero, but the movie still made a big impression on me when I was a child. I watched The Silent Scream with my mother and aunt at a local chapter meeting of the Right to Life of Cincinnati, and I was sick—really sick—for a few days afterward. I became dehydrated and had to be hospitalized. I generally knew what abortion was beforehand, but I had not really thought about it much until that movie. Ever since, I have not forgotten the sheer moral horror of abortion and what its commonality, legality, and social acceptability indicate about our society.

Princeton professor and all around genius Robert P. George has written a lovely tribute for the late doctor: “Bernard Nathanson: A Life Transformed by Truth.” As an obituary of sorts, it is a moving testimony to the power of redemption and of making amends. Bernard Nathanson—may his memory be eternal!

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 8, Anno Domini 2011
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