Thursday, October 8, 2009

Promise Them Anything

President Obama is rapidly proving himself to be a serial promise-breaker. What he says often seems to be at variance with what his administration does. There are a host of examples - from his promise not to hire lobbyists, to his promise to insure adequate airing of any legislation before it becomes law, to his promise to have the most transparent administration in history. Here's another example from Hot Air's Ed Morrissey to add to the list:

When Barack Obama went to Notre Dame to speak at their commencement and accept an honorary law degree from the Catholic university, he attempted to quiet the outrage from conservative Catholics and pro-life activists by claiming to respect the religious teachings of Catholics and protect freedom of conscience on abortion. He insisted that he would do the same during a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

Well, it turns out that not everyone got the memo. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is demanding that a tiny Catholic college in North Carolina has to offer health care coverage for abortion and contraception to their employees. Gateway Pundit tells us that:

Belmont Abbey College is a small, private, Catholic college located in North Carolina. For 130 years, it and the Benedictine monks who run it have been dedicated to handing on the Catholic faith.

But the Obama Administration is now trying to force them to abandon that faith or go out of business.

[T]he Administration at Belmont Abbey College removed contraception, abortion, and voluntary sterilization from its faculty's health care policy after discovering it had accidentally been a part of existing plans.

Employees of the school who objected to this change in policy brought a complaint against the school accusing them of "gender discrimination."

At first, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found no evidence of gender discrimination by Belmont Abbey College... After a few weeks, the EEOC mysteriously reversed course and announced, in effect, that the college had better toe the Administration's line, or else.

The President of the college has declared he will shut down the school rather than be forced by the government to violate Catholic teaching. It's good to know that at least one president in this sorry narrative is taking a stand on principle.


Sensus Divinitatis

Bradlaugh at Secular Right discusses an article that reports some very inconclusive evidence that somehow belief in God is linked to the evolution of the brain and vice versa. Brad then says that:

I'm curious to know how a religious person processes these news items from cognitive science.

Obviously the fact that the varieties of religious experience can be explained from brain phylogeny does not exclude the possibility that religious experiences are apprehending something that exists as other than brain events, something real in the world outside the skull. Binocular vision has an explanatory pathway from brain phylogeny, but the things we see are real (mostly).

Yet if the possibility isn't excluded, isn't it at least weakened? Do religious people feel this? Well, I'm sure they don't! - but what do they feel? Perhaps one of them could tell us.

I take Brad to be asking whether people who believe in God don't feel that their beliefs are discredited by evidence that religious belief is somehow a function of our cognitive apparatus. Brad evidently thinks that if a belief is a result of the brain's evolution then it is ipso facto less likely to be true.

But this cuts both ways. If belief in God is somehow an evolutionary adaptation then unbelief is also a product of the evolutionary process (either that or it's a degenerate mutant form of belief). If so, the skeptic has no reason to trust that his unbelief corresponds in any way to what's really true. If our beliefs, including our belief in the trustworthiness of our reason to lead us to truth, are simply adaptations that increase the survivability of the species, then we have no reason whatsoever to trust that our beliefs are actually true or that our reason will lead us to have true beliefs.

Survivability of the species may have little to do with what's true. Consider, for example, a belief in a primitive society that the more children one has the greater will be the reward in the afterlife. The belief could be completely false but having it confers a tremendous selective advantage since those who have it are likely to produce more offspring than those who don't.

Nevertheless, set all that aside. Why should it diminish the veridicality of belief in God if it turns out that we are cognitively predisposed to believe? If God exists it might be expected that He would design us to have some sense of His existence. Isn't this essentially what Paul said in the first chapter of his letter to the Roman church? Haven't Christians maintained for two thousand years that the knowledge of God is an a priori conviction inscribed in our consciousness? Why should it be troubling to learn that the predisposition to believe is located in a particular area of the brain?

Indeed, one who believes that life is the product of God's creative purpose and design would respond to Brad by asserting that the odd thing is not that our cognitive apparatus seems to predispose us to belief in God. The odd thing would be if it didn't.