Archive for July, 2011

The Philosophizing of Emily Rose …

July 28, 2011

If you’ve looked at my Moviefest list, you’ll see that one of the movies on it is “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”. I rented the movie when it first came out because I like a good ghost story and it seemed like it might be a decent one. But when I watched it, I discovered that it wasn’t really a ghost/horror story at all. Sure, it had some odd things going on and some disturbing scenes, but at its heart it was a courtroom drama, and in that courtroom drama was an incredibly interesting philosophical argument that touched on issues of science versus faith, with the prosecution representing science and naturalism, the defense representing faith, and the lawyer representing the middle ground, and perhaps representing what could be called accommodationists under the “science and faith are compatible” line as opposed to the “stop being so nasty” line.

The movie is fairly even-handed, I think. The two doctors representing the scientific “Epileptic Psychosis” theory do come across as fairly arrogant and a bit heartless, while the priest comes across as caring and humble, which isn’t that great. But every single thing that is brought up as proof of the supernatural is countered by the prosecutor as having at least a potential natural explanation. The prosecutor starts out reasonable and becomes more bombastic as it goes along, but his final summary loses the ranting and makes a poignant statement about how facts must be what matters. The defense attorney starts out callous and bombastic and becomes more uncertain and less concerned with winning as it goes along. Overall, I think that if this was a real case in full people might start doubting just a bit on both sides of the doctrinal divide.

I plan to make a post on issues with drugs in the near future, and might do a post detailing the testimony of a philosophical therapist — they did exist, at one point, really [grin] — outlining another theory that fits between the neuroscientists’ and the anthropologist’s theories. But I just wanted to highlight the movie and how good it is at bringing out the philosophical issues around this.

Interestingly, my next movie is “I, Robot” — suggested to me by a professor of mine as an examination of what might go wrong with a purely rational stance without emotion, which is what I favour.

Final Thoughts on “The Case for God” …

July 27, 2011

So, I finished reading “The Case for God” by Karen Armstrong. And what I really want to say about it is: it’s not really a case for God. Not because it represents a vision of God that’s different from how most people see God — because she traces it back through the ages and both admits that the conception is different from the modern view but that the modern view has only been in vogue for a comparatively short amount of time — or because her conception is ridiculous or not a God, but because there isn’t really a case here. She provides a wealth of historical information but it isn’t clear how that applies to her thesis, or what her thesis really is.

If I had to guess at her thesis, it would be that God fills a transcendent or mythos component for humans, and so the modern conception of God that treats like something to be logically or empirically studied basically takes away from God exactly what it was that made people want to believe in God in the first place. This is probably not a theory that would cause much consternation for anyone. And there is a point to be made that if we try to subsume everything under logos we’ll have to invent something to be a mythos to fill that need. From that, we can take the interesting conclusion that while it wasn’t a good idea to turn our mythos into logos, it’s not a good idea to turn our logos into mythos. And so perhaps we need something that we can use as this grasping for the transcendent to fill that need. Then again, the arts also seem to grasp for that, if done well, and so maybe we can indeed replace it already. Although conceptual art might cause art to become more logos than we’d like.

She also raises an interesting point that fundamentalists arise in reaction to attack, and that that’s how the latest fundamentalism has come to be, and that attacks might be causing less accommodating strands of fundamentalism to exist, like how Muslims didn’t have much of a problem with evolution but now do. Although, some might argue that that opposition comes into play only because they didn’t pay attention to the inconsistencies before, but with the attacks paid more attention to potential conflicts. So it’s hard to say if that’s a solid argument.

Ultimately, the book is a nice history but as a work of philosophy or theology spends too much time presenting evidence and not enough time saying what conclusion that evidence is supposed to support. It’s nowhere near as objectionable as some say it is but isn’t an example of particularly good theology/philosophy either.

The Solution to the Suikoden V Dilemma …

July 26, 2011

Okay, I was mistaken. You get another post today. Also about video games.

I solved my Suikoden V dilemma: I’m going to play it and get characters as I see fit, and not try to get all 108. If I manage to, great, but since I won’t be obsessive about it I probably won’t. However, since I know the good ending at the end I’ll pretend it all worked out and that the bad thing that happens to Lyon never happens.

So, I might finally finish that game, which I did like. Expect to hear more about it in about a month or so, one way or another.

Adding a little character …

July 26, 2011

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

I’m busy chasing comments in places, and so don’t know if I’ll get another post up today, so enjoy this one!

Oh, great, now HR’s involved …

July 25, 2011

So, the Rebecca Watson thing is still going on. I won’t try to bring you fully up to date on the latest details, since I don’t really care that much, but let’s just say that ERV has gone off on her usual tear on this and isn’t on Watson’s side, and those who are on Watson’s side aren’t reacting well to that.

But what I want to address is this post by Greg Laden on it.

Basically, here he’s taking the insults and asking how HR for a major corporation would react to it. And, not surprisingly, they’d react badly to it. So, we agree on that. But there’s one thing that he doesn’t get:  A lot of typical atheist argumentation would get the person in just as much trouble.

Here’s why:

  • First off, while one is protected by law from sexual harassment, one is also protected by law from harassment based on their religious background.  So you can’t insult people’s religions either.  Calling someone who was religious a “thetard”, “irrational”, “immoral for their religious beliefs”, or even “delusional” would not go over well.  In theory, you can’t even criticize them publically or argue over them with co-workers.  It’s best to just not mention them.
  • If you’re preferred way of disagreeing with co-workers is to insult them, even if those insults are just insults and not about any protected group (sexual, religious, racial, etc, etc) you’ll be gone in a hurry.  Anyone who continually called those who disagreed with them idiots, morons, irrational, stupid, delusional or any other similar comment would be shown the door.  I’ve had heated discussions with people and it always crosses the line when you get into insults (which mine almost never do).  And you can argue — even heatedly — without resorting to insults.  Anyone who can’t won’t be working anywhere for very long.

And so, Laden’s attempt to bring it down to HR policies basically proves the stance of accommodationists; if this is the level the discussion is supposed to be at then ERV and many of the so-called “Dick” atheists really are outside of the bounds of proper discussion. The problem with ERV is not what she calls Watson, but is instead that she feels the need to resort to clever and not-so-clever insults in making her case. So maybe he should work on that in general before commenting that this case is somehow specifically bad; I don’t see ERV as being any worse than she is against religion or on any other topic.

But there’s a comment from Laden that I need to address:

bladerunner, no, I base this on common practice in the English Language. There are many ways to demonstrate and measure this. There are lists. There are examples. Everyone knows this. Your denial of it is weak and of no consequence. Nice try. No, actually, it wasn’t even close to a nice try.

If sexism is objectively wrong, then it is simply wrong. Not only wrong if it’s against one group.

Here we go. Since this post is about a hypothetical HR perspective, I’d like you to consider what an HR department representative might ask you to think about after you made this claim in a Diversity Sensitivity Training Session.

The italics is a quote from bladerunner, and Laden thinks that if you said that to an HR representative they’d somehow find it wrong. This is utterly false, since that statement is, in fact, actually the law in almost all areas that have anti-discrimination laws. The most you’d possibly get is one of two responses (beyond “You’re right”):

  1. In this case, the term you’re using doesn’t have the reasonable connotation of sexism, while the other does, and the reasonable expectation of how the term is being used may change based on group.  But you’re right that if they have the same connotation it’s sexism no matter what.
  2. You can’t use that as an excuse for your own behaviour.

The fact that this “talk to HR” line has been used by multiple people who it seems to me have never talked to their HR rep saddens me.

Reading Theology: Armstrong’s “The Case for God”

July 23, 2011

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I’m reading Karen Armstrong’s “The Case for God”. It’s been going slowly for various reasons, but I’m making an effort to finish it off and get through my reading list. I’m about half-way through it now, and here are my initial comments:

So far, there’s no reason to atheists to dislike it as much as they do.

So far, though, there’s not much of a theological or philosophical case for God at all.

Most of the book is simply a walkthrough of the history of the concept of God, including how certain that concept is to be and its relation to science and society. It’s really good, and there’s nothing there for atheists to harp on, since they’ve made the same arguments and could use the same history to support their case. But since she’s also an author of the book “A History for God”, you’d suspect that she’d done most of this there, and didn’t need to repeat it here. So more time dedicated to actual arguments would be nice in a book claiming to be a case for God itself. I think I have an idea where she’s going, but it looks like I’ll have to wait for the very end to really get it. And that’s a bit disappointing.

Once I finish it, I’ll comment on her case directly and give those who hate theology the chance to come here and comment on my take.

The Ghost Behind her Eyes …

July 21, 2011

I should make a serious post today, but I’m too tired. So you’ll get this instead. Think of this being Caprica Six in the Battlestar Galactica series singing it, because I wrote it in the context of the board game:

There is a person living in my head
He comes to visit every night in bed
We fought the humans, but they just won’t fall
The voices in our councils starting to brawl

The fighters dancing on the hull
Suicide and love we could have had it all
And it is you, you are the ghost behind my eyes
I can’t see through you, you are the ghost behind my eyes
The ghost that says their lies

The doctor of the dark has made my mind home
My haunted head and he won’t leave me alone
He dances on my heart puts fire in my soul
I love that feeling when I’m losing control

The fighters dancing on the hull
Suicide and love we could have had it all
And it is you, you are the ghost behind my eyes
I can’t see through you,The ghost that says their lies

I wish to god that I could sleep
again, on peace again
And wake up from this nightmare
Free again
Free again, oh me again

There is a person living in my head
He comes to visit every night in bed

The fighters dancing on the hull
Suicide and love we could have had it all
And it is you, you are the ghost behind my eyes
You, you are the ghost behind my eyes
You, you are the ghost behind my eyes
Behind my eyes
The ghost behind my eyes

What does being moral do for me?

July 20, 2011

I was reading the comment section of a post on Ed Feser’s blog — someone who is, interestingly enough, even more verbose than me [grin] — and a comment from a person known only as t — take it from him, Mr. t — drew my interest:

Well OK, but what I find lacking here is the subjective motivation. Let me try to explain. Let’s suppose that I’m a rapist. Raping brings me pleasure. Now, I could accept everything you say about human nature; I could accept that rape is contrary to my human nature, etc, but for me there is still an open question: why would I care? In particular, why would I care that some things are consistent with my human nature, while others are not, even if I accept that they are really so (and there is a compelling case to accept that, as Ed presents in his texts)? I could perfectly accept the theoretical truth: yes, raping makes me a bad instance of human person. But so what? Why shouldn’t I say: I can live with that? What is my subjective motivation to care about that? Raping brings me a pleasure, so I’ll go for it.

This strikes me as one of the big problems with moral analysis, and Russell Blackford’s position is an example of it as well: the idea that we could establish what is moral and someone could go ahead and say “But what’s in it for me to be moral?” and have that be an objection to objective morality. Why should we care if someone says that their main concern is only their own welfare and so they won’t act morally because it would force them to sacrifice their own welfare? We can at that point clearly say that they just don’t want to be moral, and at that point we can actually take the move that Harris takes and say that there’s just no point in discussing it with them anymore. We shouldn’t need some kind of additional benefit argument to justify an objective moral code; whether someone wants to be moral or not shouldn’t invalidate the morality we’re discussing.

Note that this is different from cases like Harris describes. In cases like Harris describes, people are actually disagreeing over what is moral. So a case like an Ethical Egoist would be completely different. I could have a discussion with the Ethical Egoist because the Ethical Egoist is arguing that what is moral just is what benefits them specifically. We are, therefore, disagreeing over what counts as moral, and that’s something that we’d need to and probably can resolve.

But the case in the comment is different. Even if we both agree about what the right moral code is, that person will still not act morally and will demand that it benefit them before they do. They are, therefore, making an explicit decision to not act morally despite agreeing about what it would mean to act morally. At that point, I really can’t see what more we can say to each other … and don’t see why I’d need to.

In the end, I’d just declare them either immoral or amoral and move on. And there’s nothing they could do to challenge those classifications.

The End of the Galaxy …

July 19, 2011

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

And it’s also a short one.

Litmus Test for Moral Arguments …

July 19, 2011

If anyone comes up to you and wants to talk about morality, here’s one question that I’ve just thought of that you can use as a rough guide to determine if they know anything about modern moral philosophy:

Do you know what a trolley case is?

If they pass this and go on to claim anything about empathy, ask them this:

How does that relate to the morality of psychopaths and autistics?

If they don’t have any idea how to answer either of these questions, then they don’t know anything about modern moral thought.

(BTW, sorry for the lack of verbosity over the past couple of posts; I’ve been busy lately and don’t have the time to make posts with my normal level of excessive depth and analysis.)