Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Theism and Philosophy

To read the first part of this paper by Quentin Smith one might not guess that professor Smith is an atheist. Smith calls upon his fellow atheists to recognize that Christian philosophers have, over the past thirty five years, done brilliant work in the field of philosophy and have become a significant minority of the practitioners of the discipline and have virtually taken over the sub-discipline of philosophy of religion. Here are a few highlights:

This is not to say that none of the scholars in the various academic fields were...theists in their "private lives"; but theists, for the most part, excluded their theism from their publications and teaching, in large part because theism was mainly considered to have such a low epistemic status that it did not meet the standards of an "academically respectable" position to hold.

The secularization of mainstream academia began to quickly unravel upon the publication of Plantinga's influential book on realist theism, God and Other Minds, in 1967. It became apparent to the philosophical profession that this book displayed that theists were not outmatched by naturalists in terms of the most valued standards of analytic philosophy: conceptual precision, rigor of argumentation, technical erudition, and an in-depth defense of an original world-view. This book, followed seven years later by Plantinga's even more impressive book, The Nature of Necessity, made it manifest that a theist was writing at the highest qualitative level of analytic philosophy, on the same playing field as Carnap, Russell, Moore, Gr�nbaum, and other naturalists.

Theists, whom hitherto had segregated their academic lives from their private lives, increasingly came to believe (and came to be increasingly accepted or respected for believing) that arguing for realist theism in scholarly publications could no longer be justifiably regarded as engaging in an "academically unrespectable" scholarly pursuit.

Naturalists passively watched as realist versions of theism, most influenced by Plantinga's writings, began to sweep through the philosophical community, until today perhaps one-quarter or one-third of philosophy professors are theists, with most being orthodox Christians. Although many theists do not work in the area of the philosophy of religion, so many of them do work in this area that there are now over five philosophy journals devoted to theism or the philosophy of religion....Of course, some professors in these other, non-philosophical, fields are theists; for example, a recent study indicated that seven percent of the top scientists are theists. However, theists in other fields tend to compartmentalize their theistic beliefs from their scholarly work; they rarely assume and never argue for theism in their scholarly work.

If they did, they would be committing academic suicide or, more exactly, their articles would quickly be rejected, requiring them to write secular articles if they wanted to be published. If a scientist did argue for theism in professional academic journals, such as Michael Behe in biology, the arguments are not published in scholarly journals in his field (e.g., biology), but in philosophy journals (e.g., Philosophy of Science and Philo, in Behe's case). But in philosophy, it became, almost overnight, "academically respectable" to argue for theism, making philosophy a favored field of entry for the most intelligent and talented theists entering academia today.

The great majority of naturalist philosophers react by publicly ignoring the increasing desecularizing of philosophy (while privately disparaging theism, without really knowing anything about contemporary analytic philosophy of religion) and proceeding to work in their own area of specialization as if theism, the view of approximately one-quarter or one-third of their field, did not exist.

Quickly, naturalists found themselves a mere bare majority, with many of the leading thinkers in the various disciplines of philosophy, ranging from philosophy of science ... to epistemology ... being theists. The predicament of naturalist philosophers is not just due to the influx of talented theists, but is due to the lack of counter-activity of naturalist philosophers themselves. God is not "dead" in academia; he returned to life in the late 1960s and is now alive and well in his last academic stronghold, philosophy departments.

A hand waving dismissal of theism, such as is manifested in the following passage from Searle's The Rediscovery of the Mind, has been like trying to halt a tidal wave with a hand-held sieve. Searle responds to about one-third of contemporary philosophers with this brush-off: Talking about the scientific and naturalist world-view, he writes: "this world view is not an option. It is not simply up for grabs along with a lot of competing world views. Our problem is not that somehow we have failed to come up with a convincing proof of the existence of God or that the hypothesis of an afterlife remains in serious doubt, it is rather than in our deepest reflections we cannot take such opinions seriously. When we encounter people who claim to believe such things, we may envy them the comfort and security they claim to derive from these beliefs, but at bottom we remained convinced that either they have not heard the news or they are in the grip of faith."

Due to the typical attitude of the contemporary naturalist, which is similar to the attitude expressed by Searle in the previous quote, the vast majority of naturalist philosophers have come to hold (since the late 1960s) an unjustified belief in naturalism. Their justifications have been defeated by arguments developed by theistic philosophers, and now naturalist philosophers, for the most part, live in darkness about the justification for naturalism. They may have a true belief in naturalism, but they have no knowledge that naturalism is true since they do not have an undefeated justification for their belief. If naturalism is true, then their belief in naturalism is accidentally true. This philosophical failure (ignoring theism and thereby allowing themselves to become unjustified naturalists) has led to a cultural failure since theists, witnessing this failure, have increasingly become motivated to assume or argue for supernaturalism in their academic work, to an extent that academia has now lost its mainstream secularization.

If each naturalist who does not specialize in the philosophy of religion (i.e., over ninety-nine percent of naturalists) were locked in a room with theists who do specialize in the philosophy of religion, and if the ensuing debates were refereed by a naturalist who had a specialization in the philosophy of religion, the naturalist referee could at most hope the outcome would be that "no definite conclusion can be drawn regarding the rationality of faith," although I expect the most probable outcome is that the naturalist, wanting to be a fair and objective referee, would have to conclude that the theists definitely had the upper hand in every single argument or debate.

These are remarkable admissions. Smith goes on in the rest of the article, which grows rather technical, to describe what he thinks needs to be done in order to take philosophy back from the theist interlopers.

A Moderate Muslim Perspective

We came across the following remarkable article by Mustafa Akyol from the December issue of The American Enterprise at the The Road to Emmaus. Akyol says so many important things that we've decided to post his entire essay. We're sure our readers will find it well worth reading:

A moderate Muslim's prayer for American faith and family values.

"Why do you hate us?" Since the horrendous events of 9/11, Americans have been posing that question to Muslims across the globe. The first answer from someone like me, who is repulsed by terrorists who kill in the name of Islam, is that most of us do not hate you. Yet it must be acknowledged that radical Muslim rage is real in many countries.

This rage is often irrational and ill founded. However, there is one crucial source of anti-Americanism that is built on a genuine threat. Many Muslims detest the moral decline that seems to have pervaded American culture during the second half of the twentieth century. They worry that it will be exported to their own children and societies.

Many Americans would agree that such a moral decline does exist, and would trace it to a view asserting that material life is all there is to existence. Philosophical materialism denies the existence of higher beings, such as God, and higher principles than self-maximization. When applied to human societies, it encourages pleasure-seeking, selfishness, and hedonism, and the consequences are horrifying to many devout Muslims around the world. Through American popular culture such as Hollywood movies, MTV, or pornography, they encounter a culture in which God and religious principles seem to be disrespected, neglected, even attacked or ridiculed.

In his recent book, Why the Rest Hates the West, historian Meic Pearse notes that many people around the globe see Western societies as being ones that "derogate religion, exalt triviality (sports, entertainment, fashion), endorse sexual shamelessness, deprecate family, and discard honor." Pearse argues that these tendencies do indeed have bad results: "social atomization; personal irresponsibility; dehumanizing impersonality; and other wounds to traditional families, communities, and conceptions of the person."

"The al-Qaeda hijackers did not target the Vatican, the capital of Western Christianity," notes writer David Kelley, but rather the World Trade Center, "a temple of modernity." He points out that "Hamas's suicide bombers usually attack Israeli pizza parlors, hotels, and nightclubs, not synagogues." Kelley (who is himself an atheist) concludes that "Islamist hatred of the West is not directed at Christianity as a rival religion but at modernism as an alternative to religion as such."

But of course, the West is not monolithic. Materialism is just one side of the West-on the other side, Judeo-Christianity stands firm. This state of affairs is evident only vaguely in Europe, but crystal clear in America. Americans possess one of the most religious societies in the world, and in fact the world's most determined battle against materialism-on cultural, philosophical, and scientific grounds-is going on right now in America.

Muslims who recognize this fact make a distinction between "righteous Westerners" and other ones. For example, take a look at these lines from an article titled "The Final Jihad," published on a popular Muslim Web site:

Western secular materialism takes us from our prayers, takes us from our Islamic us a society of crime, violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, exploitation of people and resources, and reduces life to a meaningless exercise in futility. [But] we must know who and what is the enemy. It is important to realize that...many good people in Western nations trying to live right lives.... These people are not our enemy; they also are victims of Western secular materialism.

Most Muslims, however, fail to appreciate the distinction drawn above, and don't know anything about the "culture war" going on in American society. They see America only through its materialist pop culture. Distaste for materialism thus translates into a distaste for America.

This distaste derives not only from culture but also from ideas. When "Western ideas" are mentioned, many Muslims think not of Jefferson, C. S. Lewis, Lincoln, or Burke, but rather of Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, and Carl Sagan. The behavior of some Westernized local elites in Muslim countries make the situation even worse. In my country of Turkey, one popular stereotype of the Westernized Turk is of the soulless, skirt- and money-chasing man drinking whiskey while swearing at Islam. Although a caricature, it carries enough truth to further a bad image of the West.

These negative images, however, can be reversed. Many Muslims are inclined to appreciate the tradition of "family values" in America. During my childhood, in the early 1980s, the most popular TV series among conservative Turkish Muslim families was Little House on the Prairie, which portrayed the life of a very devout American family. People were saying that such ethics were what made America strong. Today, Turks complain about the "corrupt American culture" streaming into their houses through the TV and Internet. They would love to see the America of Little House again.

It would provide an antidote to Islamic radicalism and its inherent anti-Americanism if more Muslims realized that today's Hollywood portrayals don't accurately reflect the moral lives of most Americans. The masterminds of Islamic radicalism work hard to mask the religiosity and decency of average Americans. They insist that America is totally materialistic and that even its religious practices are superficial and insincere.

Sayyid Qutb, the godfather of Islamic radicalism, alleged that even churches in America were tools for profitmaking and publicity seeking. He insisted that America is not Christian or Jewish at all, but jahiliye-a term used to define the pre-Islamic, barbarian, pagan Arabia. Although this is a bigoted and often intentional misrepresentation, it feeds anti-American feeling.

Note that Osama bin Laden defines Americans as "crusaders" (lustful plunderers) rather than "Christians." The Koran, after all, declares that Christians are "nearest among men in love to the Muslims, because amongst them are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant." To attack the U.S., radicals have to de-Christianize it. And this is exactly what they do�-with a big assist from the entertainment and news media of the United States itself.

Obviously, that is a distortion of the truth. America stands out in the Western world as "a nation under God," particularly compared to "Old Europe." The aggressive secularism of Europe is one reason why European Muslims are especially radicalized. (Another spur is the lesser opportunities for upward mobility in Europe as compared to America.) As a Muslim, I feel at home in America when I see people saying grace at the table, praising the Lord, filling houses of worship, and handling currency inscribed "In God We Trust." When I'm in Europe, on the other hand, with its empty cathedrals, widespread atheism, and joyless cynicism, I feel alienated.

One can reasonably ask why, then, radical Islamists target the U.S. more than Europe. The answer comes from the image of a monolithic West. For the average Middle Eastern Muslim, there is no difference between Americans and Europeans in terms of secularism-he thinks they are both Godless-but America is more powerful, more effective, more omnipresent. The U.S. is viewed as the citadel of Western civilization (the civilization that has turned its back to God), and therefore the logical place to attack.

To erase this false image, America must help Muslims see that it is indeed a nation under God. The culture it exports should celebrate more than materialism, disbelief, selfishness, and hedonism. America must do a better job of portraying the principles of decency that undergird its society. Otherwise it will be despised by devout Muslims throughout the world, and radicals will channel contempt into violence.

Of course, avoiding radical Islamist rage is only one reason for Americans to resist empty materialism. A deeper reason is because materialism is a mistaken philosophy. If they will save themselves from its disappointments, America will enjoy many benefits-including a better chance to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, and avert a clash of civilizations.

There is a rich irony implied in this excellent article. The decadent, secular left, both at home and in Europe, hates America because they see us as being too Christian, and the Islamic radicals in the Arab world hate us because they see us as being too decadent and secular.

Another irony is that as much as we believe that Islamism is a curse on the world and needs to be defeated, as much as we find Shari'a a ghastly distortion of God's will, as much as we oppose Islamic irredentism, we can't help but agree with Akyol's Muslim critique that there is much in American culture to despise. Indeed, we know no one who is a Christian who wouldn't agree with almost everything Akyol writes.

Sullivan's Silliness

We respect Andrew Sullivan's political independence and often admire his opinions, but this one must have been written while still groggy from a mid-afternoon nap:

ATHEISTS NEED NOT APPLY: What was Bush thinking with this statement: "President Bush said yesterday that he doesn't 'see how you can be president without a relationship with the Lord,' but that he is always mindful to protect the right of others to worship or not worship." So, out of his beneficence, he won't trample on others' religious freedom. But the White House? That's for Christians only. No Jews? Or atheists? Notice also the evangelical notion of a personal "relationship" with the Lord. That also indicates suspicion of those Christians with different approaches to the divine. I must say this is a new level of religio-political fusion in this administration. To restrict the presidency to a particular religious faith is anathema to this country's traditions and to the task of toleration. The president surely needs to retract the statement.

The president merely said that he doesn't know how presidents can serve in such a difficult job without being able to turn to God. He didn't say that they shouldn't be allowed to so serve. The difference between the two is so obvious that one wonders what motivated Sullivan to make an issue of it, and, even more, to demand a retraction.

The End of American Patience

Victor David Hanson argues that Americans are growing world-weary. It is certainly true that we see ourselves as doing so much good, as being so essential for the peace of the world, of making so many sacrifices so that others may enjoy the fruits of freedom, and yet we're hated and despised by so many of the world's people who couldn't care less about the help and welfare we bring.

We are, moreover, growing increasingly apprehensive that the world is determined to destroy itself. It doesn't want what we offer, either materially or spiritually. Nor does it want peace. The world has gone mad and the feeling is that there isn't anything much we can do about it. Here are a few highlights from Hanson's take on the situation:

An American consensus is growing that envy and hatred of the United States, coupled with utopian and pacifistic rhetoric, disguise an even more depressing fact: Outside our shores there is a growing barbarism with no other sheriff in sight. Any cinema student of the American Western can fathom why the frightened townspeople - huddled in their churches and shuttered schools - almost hated the lone marshal as much as they did the six-shooting outlaw gang rampaging in their streets.

After all, the holed-up 'good' citizens were always angry that the lawman had shamed them, worried that he might make dangerous demands on their insular lives, confused about whether they would have to accommodate themselves either to savagery or civilization in their town's future, and, above all, assured that they could libel and slur the tin star in a way that would earn a bullet from the lawbreaker. It was precisely that paradox between impotent high-sounding rhetoric and blunt-speaking, roughshod courage that lay at the heart of the classic Western from Shane and High Noon to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Magnificent Seven.

The wealthy Gulf States pledge very little of their vast petrol-dollar reserves - swollen from last year's jacked-up gasoline prices - to aid the ravaged homelands of their Islamic nannies, drivers, and janitors. Indeed, Muslim charities advertise to their donors that their aid goes to fellow Muslims - as if a dying Buddhist or Christian is less deserving of the Muslim Street's aid. In defense, officials argue that the ostracism of "charities" that funded suicide killers to the tune of $150 million has hampered their humanitarian efforts at scraping up a fifth of that sum. But then blowing apart Americans or Jews is always a higher priority than saving innocent Muslim children.

China, flush with billions in trade surplus, first offers a few million to its immediate Asian neighbors before increasing its contributions in the wake of massive gifts from Japan and the United States. Peking's gesture was what the usually harsh New York Times magnanimously called "slightly belated." In this weird sort of global high-stakes charity poker, no one asks why tiny Taiwan out-gives one billion mainlanders or why Japan proves about the most generous of all - worried the answer might suggest that postwar democratic republics, resurrected and nourished by the United States and now deeply entrenched in the Western liberal tradition of democracy, capitalism, and humanitarianism, are more civil societies than the Islamic theocracies, socialist republics, and authoritarian autocracies of the once-romanticized third world.

All this hypocrisy has desensitized Americans, left and right, liberal and conservative. We will finish the job in Iraq, nursemaid democratic Afghanistan through its birthpangs, and continue to ensure that bandits and criminal states stay off the world's streets. But what is new is that the disenchanted American is becoming savvy and developing a long memory - and so we all fear the day is coming when he casts aside the badge, rides the buckboard out of town, and leaves such sanctimonious folk to themselves.

In an earlier post Viewpoint recalled the theme of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in which Rand imagines a world in which those who produce wealth, ideas, and benefits for all the rest of us finally weary of all the obstacles put in their way by those jealous of their greatness and resentful of their success. At length these Nietzschean supermen decide they've had enough and they all retire from the affairs of the world, leaving the paltry parasitic classes to fend for themselves. Perhaps, Hanson is correct and Americans are beginning to see themselves as the characters in Rand's novel. If so, if we do turn inward and embrace an isolationist foreign policy, the consequences for the world would be catastrophic.

In a post last June we wrote the following:

Consider, for example, what would happen in Asia if the U.S. ceased to be able [or willing] to project power into this region. North and South Korea would quickly be at each other's throats, as would the Peoples' Republic of China and Taiwan. Japan and other states in the region would be unable to remain neutral and would get sucked into a hellish vortex of war that would consume the entire Pacific rim.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel's Arab neighbors would seize an opportunity they had been denied by American might for fifty years and invade Israel, spawning a conflict that would almost certainly result in the detonation of nuclear weapons.

A similar scenario would doubtless play out on the Indian subcontinent between India and Pakistan, and would also almost certainly culminate in a nuclear exchange. Africa, too, would likely break out in renewed tribal and racial violence.

Europe would be thrown into turmoil by its Arab populations and by renewed fighting in the Balkans. These stresses would exacerbate old hatreds and open old wounds between the countries of Europe which have warred repeatedly against each other for two thousand years, and would doubtless bring at least some of them into conflict with each other again.

It's hard to imagine the carnage that would result from all of this. The world teeters on a tightrope over a hellish chasm, and it is only the balance pole of American force that has kept us from plunging into that abyss.

The only thing that's changed in the last six months, Hanson tells us, is that some Americans feel a little more like maybe we should just let nature take its course.