Saturday, November 8, 2008

Making a Difference

A student recently mentioned to me that as a science major he thought it a shame that philosophers study stuff that doesn't make any difference in peoples' lives. He was giving me a little dig and said it with a smile.

I returned the smile and told him that actually the questions philosophers deal with are among the most important we can imagine. Questions about God, meaning, morality, justice, human nature, mind and soul, love, etc. These are questions that bear on how we should live and how we can achieve a good life.

I then asked him what string theory, quantum mechanics, cosmology, cosmogeny, biogenesis, paleontology, exobiology, much of astronomy, and pure mathematics have to do with most peoples' lives. Not much, I suggested. So why are think the study of these to be somehow more noble or more worthwhile than the study of philosophy? More smiles.


Jolly Old St. Barack

What was the source of Barack Obama's appeal among the masses? Perhaps it was the conviction that he was really Santa Claus in a business suit:

This isn't just one woman speaking, I'm afraid. Ms Joseph is the whole country - financially troubled state governments, corporations, institutions, individuals - everyone has their hand out and expects everyone else to pay for their gas and mortgage. In American politics it has come to this: If you want to win an election just promise to give more people more goodies than does your opponent.

Ms Joseph's excitement over what she thinks Obama will do for her and the rest of us reminds me of the words attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville: "America will last until the populace discovers that it can vote for itself largesse out of the public treasury."

And then comes the eschaton.


Working for WALNUT

Hot Air's intrepid correspondent Jason Mattera goes underground yet again, this time to get signers on a petition for ACORN's sister organization WALNUT. WALNUT is petitioning for the right of oppressed peoples to be allowed to vote twice. It's pretty funny. Here's part I. Part II follows:

For more Jason Mattera go here.


Without God (X)

As we continue our series on the existential inadequacies of the atheistic worldview and its inability to conform to the way the world is we might consider this: In a Godless world the concept of soul becomes problematic and with it the notion of a self other than the physical body. If our self just is our body, as the atheistic materialist believes, since our body is constantly changing we're continuously creating a new self, moment by moment, year by year. There is nothing which perdures through time which makes me the same person I think I was ten years ago. There is no permanent "I", only a kaleidoscopic, fragmented bundle of patterns, impressions, memories, none of which has any real significance in determining who I really am.

As T.S. Eliot put it in The Cocktail Party, "What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since every meeting we are meeting a stranger." Our sense that we are a self strongly suggests that there's more to us than just our physical being. Yet, unless there is a God, transient physical flux is all there is.

Nevertheless, we seem to be convinced that there is an enduring self, an "I" which exists through time. Either this conviction is an illusion or there's more to us than just a physical body. If we do have a soul, an eternal essence, an identity that exists in the mind of God, then there is something about us which is not transient and which justifies the sense that we are a coherent, enduring self.

In other words, our belief that we have a permanent identity is more compatible with the belief that there is a God than with the belief that matter is all there is.

Finally, human beings want desperately to live and yet we know we're going to die. In a Godless universe, the fate of each of us is annihilation. There's no basis for hope that loved ones we've lost still somehow exist or that we'll ever "see" them again. There's no consolation for the bereaved, no salve for grief. Many face this bravely, of course, but, if they're reflective, they must acknowledge that their bravery serves to mask an inner despair. If death is the end then life truly is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." If death is the end then human existence is completely absurd. But, of course, death is indeed the end if the materialist is right. Only if God exists is there a realistic basis for hope of something beyond this life. Only if God exists can we have a reasonable hope that our longing for life will be fulfilled.

Karl Marx is said to have called the belief in an afterlife a narcotic which anaesthetized the suffering of people in this life and which kept them complacent and subdued so as not to rebel against their bourgeois overlords. But as Czech writer Czeslaw Milosz says in Roadside Dog it's the belief that there is no afterlife that is the real narcotic. He recalls Marx's phrase that religion is like opium that dulls the pain of life and then goes on to counter that: "And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death - the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged." (emphasis mine)

God and the promise of eternal life are necessary beliefs if our deepest existential yearnings and the nature of the world itself make any sense. Atheism may be true, but we have no reason to think it is and a great deal of reason to think, and hope, that it is not.