Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Daniel Dennett at the NYT

In an otherwise unremarkable Q&A with Tufts atheistic philosopher Daniel Dennett in the New York Times Magazine interviewer Deborah Solomon says this:

Solomon: If we knew for sure that God existed, it would not require a leap of faith to believe in him.

Dennett: Isn't it interesting that you want to take that leap? Why do you want to take that leap? Why does our craving for God persist? It may be that we need it for something. It may be that we don't need it, and it is left over from something that we used to be. There are lots of biological possibilities.

Viewpoint: Yes, and among those possibilities is that evolution shapes us to conform our beliefs to reality. It would be odd if natural selection molded the human species to embrace with our whole beings beliefs which were radically at odds with the way the world is. It's not impossible, of course, but it's strange that Dennett doesn't seem willing to consider the possibility.

As to his question as to why anyone should want to "take that leap" - actually more of a step than a leap - the simplest answer is that unless one does take it one must admit that there's no meaning to life, no basis for moral judgment, no hope for ultimate justice, no basis for human worth, dignity, or rights, no reason to think there is an enduring self, no hope that those we love who have died are not gone forever, and indeed, no reason for thinking that love itself is anything more than body chemistry, no reason why we should trust our reason to lead us to truth, nor any reason why we should value true beliefs over false ones.

In other words, apart from taking that "leap" human existence is nothing but a depressing tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. The rational response to a universe in which there is no God is hopelessness, despair, and nihilism. That Dennett himself doesn't wind up there suggests only that he doesn't follow his beliefs to their logical conclusions, no doubt because he couldn't live with those conclusions.

Someone may wish to "take that leap," furthermore, because they find the materialist explanation for the breathtaking fine-tuning of the physical universe and the astonishing organization and complexity of living things to be little better than a fairy tale. It may be that one takes the leap because believing that accident and coincidence, purposeless chance and unguided force, are responsible for creating structures and phenomena which even materialists describe as brilliant and ingenious, is quite literally incredible.

Solomon: I take it you do not subscribe to the idea of an everlasting soul, which is part of almost every religion.

Dennett: Ugh. I certainly don't believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons, and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those, and you put them together, and you get a soul.

Viewpoint: This is one way of looking at things, I suppose - the soul, life, emotions, and consciousness are nothing but atoms which have reached a certain critical mass and give rise to certain astounding emergent phenomena - but it's not the only way. We need not accept Dennett's dehumanizing reductionistic materialism, a view which, by the way, is thoroughly unscientific because there's no way to test it in order to grant that he might be right that there's no soul, in the classic sense, residing in persons.

It could be that the soul is not some gossamer, wraith-like entity that inhabits our body like a ghost-in-a-machine, to use Gilbert Ryle's famous metaphor. Perhaps instead we can think of it as the sum total of information which describes us as a person. It is, on this view, the totality of our history, our personality, hopes, dreams, loves, and fears. It encompasses a complete description of our physical, emotional, and moral selves. It is a comprehensive account of every aspect of our being all stored like a computer file folder in the data base that is the mind of God. As such it is eternal and indestructible unless God chooses to delete it. Even at the death of the body we have the potential to exist as long as God holds us (the information which describes us) in being in His mind. God may, if He chooses, reinstantiate us when our body gives out by downloading selected files from our folder into another suitable structure in some other reality.

Thus Dennett could be correct that we (our bodies) are comprised solely of material substance (I don't think he is, though, because I have my doubts that matter alone can fully explain consciousness) but he could still be wrong in asserting that there is no soul.

In any event, materialism of the sort that Dennett espouses is an existentially sterile view of life which people hold, not because they're compelled by science to accept it, but because it enables them to avoid having to believe in God, the concept of which they find repugnant.


The Political Teen has a video clip of a recent SNL spoof of some of our favorite Democrats. It'll make you chuckle, especially the guy who does Jesse Jackson. He sounds more like Jackson than Jackson does. Go to the link and scroll down to Download.


Looking for a good movie to see with the kids? Christianity Today recommends Hoodwinked!:

Kids were laughing, and even more surprising, their parents were laughing all the way through this inventive, fast-paced caper. Hoodwinked! dismantles the traditional tale of Little Red Riding Hood, uncovering the various untold stories behind each major player-Red (voiced by Anne Hathaway), the Wolf (Patrick Warburton), the Woodsman (Jim Belushi), and Granny (Glenn Close). A host of new characters play memorable supporting roles, including the funniest mountain goat you've ever seen (Benjy Gaither, son of the gospel music legends Bill and Gloria Gaither), a grizzly policeman (Xzibit), a hyperactive squirrel (Cory Edwards), and a frog who should get his own series on PBS' "Mystery!" (David Ogden Stiers).

Box office analysts had predicted a showdown between the basketball movie Glory Road and the Queen Latifah comedy Last Holiday. But now you can call Edwards' film "The Little Red Riding Hood that Could." Edwards, already working on a sequel, is something of a pioneer, as a Christian working in the world of big screen animation-as Peter T. Chattaway notes in his review at Christianity Today Movies, Edwards is also known for his stand-up comedy and for hosting Reasons to Believe with Hugh Ross.

Edwards recently told me that Looney Tunes cartoons were a big influence on him and his co-writers, Todd Edwards and Tony Leech. "People keep asking how you write for adults and for kids, and I still haven't figured out a good answer. All we did was write what we thought was funny." He points out that Chuck Jones and Pixar's John Lasseter have claimed the same thing. "We just write for us. I don't know if that means we're a little bit childish, but we wrote what was funny for us. And I think kids are faster and more quick-witted than we sometimes think. I've written kids' 'product,' but I never write down to children. Even when there's a few jokes they can't quite grasp, they're glad to be a part of it. They're glad to be laughing with the adults."

Edwards, who said he "never thought that my first film would be animated," had also served as producer on Chillicothe, a 1999 independent, live-action film directed by his brother Todd which won favorable reviews at festivals. He also created Wobots, a computer-animated sci-fi adventure for kids released on DVD. Hoodwinked! has made him think about more animated projects, and he describes the experience as "a control freak's dream. 'Can we move the sun over there? Can we delete these trees?'" But he confesses, "I can't wait to get actors in front of cameras again, after being in a room with computers for three years."

Christian film critics are especially impressed at how the film entertains without stooping to crass humor.

Chattaway begins his review by asking readers, "Looking for something a little like VeggieTales, only a little more grown-up and a little more mainstream? Looking for something a little like Shrek, but without the innuendo and other kinds of adolescent humor? Either way, Hoodwinked! may be the movie for you."

He calls the film "a wacky, computer-animated riff on classic stories, with a few decidedly modern twists and a handful of pop-culture references. It's also safe for most kids." He points out that some of the jokes are "out of date" and that the animation is less sophisticated than what super-studios like Pixar and Dreamworks turn out. But he concludes that "there's something to be said for keeping the special effects out of the way and letting audiences enjoy the humor for what it is. Hoodwinked! isn't a classic for the ages, but it's suitable entertainment for audiences of any age."

"It is a rare movie that is truly funny for both kids and their parents," says Stephen McGarvey (Crosswalk). "Yet the comical Hoodwinked! is a surprisingly hysterical offering after a year of underwhelming computer animated films. [The movie] ... provides a clever bit of comic storytelling while steering clear of the innuendo or crudity common in even children's movies these days."

Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) says, "Hoodwinked! is clean, clever and fast-paced. ... [U]nlike Shrek's shotgun tweaking of all tales fairy, this witty CG feature deconstructs a single fable and does it without resorting to crude language, double entendres or bathroom humor. Furthermore, I didn't feel like I was doing penance sitting through it a second time with my kids. Older, more sophisticated viewers will appreciate the story for its intricate architecture, snappy dialogue, outstanding voice work ... and subtle cultural references."

Mainstream critics aren't quite as enthusiastic. Some are discrediting it for not living up to the animation standards of a Pixar or Dreamworks picture, but this was a hurriedly made, lower-budget feature from an fledgling animation studio. The fact that the film is consistently funny, clever, and entertaining in spite of its B-grade CGI makes it a worthwhile time at the movies.

It's no surprise that a children's movie that doesn't feature violence, sexual innuendo, bathroom jokes, or hint at gay romance would not be well received by mainstream critics. All the more reason, we suppose, to make it a point to go see it.

Osama is Just Alright With Him

In case there was any doubt as to where the allegiance of many on the American left lies one might note the reaction of author/historian William Blum to having his book receive a favorable endorsement from none other than Osama bin Laden himself. Blum responded with these words:

"This is almost as good as being an Oprah book....I was not turned off by such an endorsement....I'm not repulsed, and I'm not going to pretend I am."

Of course not. It's a great privilege for such as William Blum to have his book praised by a dread enemy of the United States. The man who would gleefully and deliberately incinerate every American child, if only he could, honors Mr. Blum with his endorsement, and Mr Blum is star-struck by the praise.

In fact, we hear that Mr. Blum was reported by neighbors to have been overheard singing in his shower the words to the old Byrds/Doobie Brothers song:

Osama is just alright with me, Osama is just alright, oh yeah

Osama is just alright with me, Osama is just alright

I don't care what they may say

I don't care what they may do

I don't care what they may say

Osama is just alright, oh yeah

Osama is just alright

I don't care what they may know

I don't care where they may go

I don't care what they may know

Osama is just alright, oh yeah

Sorry. We got a little carried away.