Tuesday, November 21, 2006


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Dyed-in-the-Wool Materialism

Here's Daniel Engber at Slate.com in an article on neuroscience and the brain:

Let me be clear: I'm a dyed-in-the-wool materialist. I believe that each and every aspect of our minds derives from the firing patterns of neurons in our brains.

Here's a question for Mr. Engber. How do chemical reactions, such as constitute a firing neuron, produce things like self-awareness, memories, intentions, desires, regrets, disappointments, guilt, thankfulness, appreciation of beauty, forgiveness, desire for peace, enjoying a good book, deciding, doubting, worrying, or believing?

Even more, how do chemical reactions generate the content of our decisions or our beliefs? How is what I believe about who should be ranked in college football's top five teams produced by a series of molecules shuffling about among the cells of my brain?

Perhaps there's a purely dyed-in-the-wool material explanation for such things, but, if so, I hope Mr. Engber shares it with the rest of us. A lot of people would love to have an answer to these questions. Or perhaps there is no purely physicalist answer, and Mr. Engber's Kierkegaardian committment to materialism is just a blind leap of religious faith in inanimate matter.


There's a radio show coming out of England called Unbelievable whose host, a man named Justin Brierly, invites guests on to debate matters of interest to Christians and atheists. Go here and scroll down for a menu of the topics they've discussed on their show. Some of them look like they'd be very much worth listening to.

Banning the Burqa

This is an odd story:

The Dutch cabinet has backed a proposal by the country's immigration minister to ban Muslim women from wearing the burqa in public places.

The burqa, a full body covering that also obscures the face, would be banned by law in the street, and in trains, schools, buses and the law courts. The cabinet said burqas disturb public order, citizens and safety.

The decision comes days ahead of elections which the ruling centre-right coalition is expected to win. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, who is known for her tough policies, said it was important that all people in the Netherlands were able to see and identify each other clearly to promote integration and tolerance.

Last year a majority of MPs in the Dutch parliament said they were in favour of a ban. An estimated 6% of 16 million people living in the Netherlands are Muslims. But there are thought to be fewer than 100 women who choose to wear the burqa, a traditional Islamic form of dress.

Unless they have good security reasons for this ban it really does seem to be a gratuitous gesture. The Netherlands is a sexually freewheeling country in which all manner of sexual expression is permitted. No doubt a woman could walk down the street in a string bikini, exposing just about every square inch of her body, and few would object, but actually covering one's body is going to be made illegal. Why?

Apparently, a number of other countries in Europe are taking similar measures:

The issue of the type of clothing worn by Muslim women has become a hotly-debated subject in a range of European countries. France has passed a law banning religious symbols, including Muslim headscarves, from schools. Some German states ban teachers in public schools from wearing headscarves, but there is no blanket rule against burqas.

Italy has banned face-coverings, resurrecting old laws passed to combat domestic terrorism, while citing new security fears. The issue of Muslim women's dress also surfaced in the UK, where former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said women should not wear the veil.

I'd like to know whether there has been an example of criminals exploiting the burqa to commit crimes or acts of terrorism. If not, then why prohibit it?