Author Archives: jbernal

Q&A on God and Suffering, a correspondence

Juan Bernal

A friend who corresponds on philosophical issues remarked on some things I had said about the problem of evil. The problem of evil, in nutshell, is the problem of explaining why a world monitored by God can have so much evil and suffering.

My correspondent can be called John.  John wrote:

You seem to say that the amount of suffering entails disbelief in God. A classic rejoinder is that in a world without suffering there would be no compassion, but would such conditions be better than the world we experience? Leibniz said no. As we know, he thought that this is the best of all possible worlds (for God’s purposes). If we want to produce “character” then challenges are needed, so danger is necessary to produce courage, etc.  This world is a spiritual boot camp to promote growth. Stretching our spatial limits beyond this planet, what evidence can you offer that there is more suffering than happiness? In temporal terms, how do you know the balance between joy and sorrow in the long term?

My reply to John went as follows:

I’ll take each of your statements and comment in turn.

First, I never asserted that suffering entailed disbelief in God as a general truth.  (I try to avoid such categorical declarations.)   It is true that the arbitrary suffering and injustice that some people experience would make it difficult for a logical thinker to continue believing in an omnipotent, perfectly good God, and some would assuredly reject belief in such a God.  But some people do not do so; they find some way of reconciling their suffering with their faith.  I did not state a logical entailment between suffering in the world and disbelief in God.

Second, your rejoinder is a puzzler, since those who indict God on the excessive, arbitrary suffering that afflict some people are not calling for a world absolutely devoid of suffering. (Such a world is just the dream of some romantic idealist.)   I surely never suggested that that this fantasy of a world (one devoid of suffering) is the only thing that would exonerate God.  Maybe, we (the critics) just call for a world in which suffering is significantly reduced, for example, one in which genocides don’t happen and children don’t suffer fatal cancer.  Yes, in such a world, conditions would be better.  Leibniz nutty claim about this being the best of all possible worlds is one that we can take seriously only if we pretend to assess the condition of the world from God’s perspective.  But that is just a pretense.  We can honestly assess the condition of the world only from a human perspective.

I don’t doubt that challenges are important and maybe even necessary in our lives, and true also that  challenges involve frustration and suffering, in some cases.  And I suppose you can say that meeting challenges helps to build character. (They surely are conditions for some of our greatest art!)  But tell me, what character is built for the millions whose lives were cut short by the holocaust, by total war, by early deaths due to preventable disease?   Is this the only way your God can “build character”?    That the world is a “spiritual boot camp to promote growth” is a nice sentiment for those who believe such things.  But it hardly answers the questions of suffering Job, or of Ivan in the Dostoevsky novel, or the Jewish prisoners awaiting execution at the hands of the Nazi.  In fact it sounds like an insult to those people.

It seems that “stretching our limits beyond this planet” is just an expression of some people’s aspiration.  Or it might be an attempt to see things from a supernatural perspective. But this perspective would surely result in very strange view of things, probably beyond any human understanding contrary to all your religious doctrines, stories, and ‘philosophies’ which pretend to tell us what things look like from that fantastic perspective.  But the main point is that such “stretching” is irrelevant to the problem of evil.  You’re simply asking me to provide evidence against some highly, speculative  -  even mystical – claim.

According to this highly speculative picture there is much more happiness than evil in the universe despite all appearances to the contrary in our real, earthly life.  This is just another statement of the “ultimate harmony” story, which many of us find incredible and not very relevant.

In order to raise the problem of evil (why does God allows so much?), I don’t have to know “the balance between joy and sorrow in the long term,” when the long term takes us to some imagined supernatural realm which some people dream up.  I only need some assessment of the balance between joy and sorrow for people here on earth, and some assessment of the great a disparity in this nonexistent ‘balance.’  Those conditions that hold in our earthly life are enough to raise the problem of evil.

———————————————————————————————————————

John then responded by focusing attention on my comment that “we can honestly assess the condition of the world only from a human perspective.”

 Do you agree that our human perspective is limited, and therefore incomplete and possibly (probably?) mistaken in many ways? If so, then it is rash for you to leap to atheism. Your skepticism or agnosticism is appropriate for you at this level of understanding, but don’t you think that atheism is a bit too strong a claim for one who admits human limitations? Does not atheism entail that there is a correct point of view, namely the way matters actually stand independent of human limitations? It would seem that you are certain that there are correct points of view about some issues, such as the non-existence of God, but how does that cohere with your claim about our limited human perspective?

To which I replied:

I did not even know that the issue up front was between atheism or theism.   Do you think I have leaped to atheism?  I have not, but that’s another story for another time.

When I claim that we’re all limited to our human perspective on the world,  I argue that all of us, including you, all theists, theologians, mystics, great philosophers, etc. are limited in the sense that none of us can jump out of  our human perspective and really view and assess things from a different (non-human) perspective;  although many people like to pretend otherwise.  Yes, our human perspective is limited and can be mistaken in many ways (who would ever think otherwise?).   But, really now, do you seriously think anyone can really assess things and make judgments as to such things as good and evil, the prospects for a supernatural being overseeing human affairs, and other such issues from anything but a human perspective?   Yes, many people claim a transcendent perspective, some based on religious doctrine, or religious scripture, or even religious experience (e.g., a mystical experience).  But tell me which of these many contending claims to a transcendent perspective can legitimately claim to be a real perspective  -  relevant to the rest of us -  to the nature of reality?   Do you have a candidate?   Why is that one special?

Given that human claims to something other than a human perspective are suspicious, to say the least,  and given that a human perspective on things (by means of common experience, judicious use of reason, and the empirical sciences) do not yield a clear indication of a supernatural overseer, it does not seem fair or accurate to describe the non-theistic view as a “leap to atheism.”  If anything is a leap, it is the avowal in belief in such a Being, as Kierkegaard and other religious figures surely recognized.

Maybe agnosticism is a more comforting view for those of us who emphasize the limitations of the human perspective.  But some aspects of the agnostic view imply a suspension of judgment, a waiting to see how the evidence bears out.   This assumes that there’s more to reality than our human inquiries can ever discover,  and that more might justify belief in some supernatural being.  This simply assumes some realm beyond the natural, physical realm accessible to human inquiry which might make all the difference in the world.   Why should I grant you this assumption?   It is as much a shot in the dark as the belief in that supernatural being that theists simply cannot relinquish.

If I call myself an atheist, the atheism I have in mind is that which imply a view of reality without God.  It does not confidently states that there is no God, as the very concept of God is very much in question. (It is a vague concept on which there is far from general agreement).   I would not even have clear understanding of the proposition that there is a God (since there are so many different variations of this); I don’t have a clear understanding the confident assertion that there is no God.

But I hold that the traditional, Biblically-based notion of a God, cannot stand up to critical scrutiny.  I don’t find that anyone has ever made a compelling claim for this favored notion of God as really being characteristic of reality.  Now, if you have an example to the contrary, I would be curious enough to listen to you.

Respectfully and in good will,

I remain a philosophical friend.

JB

A Zany Explanation of the Basis for Atheism

I am acquainted with a retired philosophy professor (“RPP”) who frequently makes some surprising (and very doubtful) philosophical claims, among them is his explanation of why people become atheists.   

The RPP has stated the following:

 “ In my opinion, the problem of gratuitous suffering is the main reason why we have atheists in the world today. Though there are many defenses for the benevolence of a God, none of them seem convincing to a neutral student of the issue. This particular incoherence in the God-belief –I have found — has convinced nearly every atheist with whom I have discussed the issue as foremost in the reasons they are atheists (or, at least, agnostics). The philosophical incoherence in the problem of gratuitous suffering is the bottom line and if they cannot be answered, then one should be an atheist.”

——————————————————

In short, our RPP argues that the problem of evil is the main reason for a person to become an atheist.  The problem is one of reconciling the reality of a benevolent God with the fact of evil and suffering in the world.

Notice the assumption behind these contentions: Atheists originally considered that a God was real, but became skeptical because that God’s reality could not be reconciled with gratuitous suffering in the world.  This in turn assumes that not many atheists started out as non-believers.

Both assumptions are false. Many (if not most) atheists come from a secular background (family of non-believers) and have never had to contend with the theological problem of evil in their personal thinking.

Furthermore, the RPP  has also denied the direct claims by non-theists concerning the history and basis for their own philosophy of non-belief.  In reply to a couple of science teachers (Charles and Sam), who stated that they came to atheism by way of their work in the sciences, the RPP replied as follows:

 “ I think you are mistaken about yourself.  I still suspect that the majority of well-trained scientists disbelieve mostly because of the problem of evil and suffering in the world.  Their disbelief can’t be for scientific reasons, since God is beyond scientific investigation.”

————————————————————-

Surprisingly, the RPP assumes that he knows better than the other person what that other person is thinking.  “You’re mistaken about yourself”:  but I know what motivated your move to atheism.  This pretense hardly is worth criticizing.   Surely individual scientists can arrive at their disbelieve by a variety of routes;  and when they support their disbelief, surely some reasons they give could arise from their scientific work.  Why claim that Charles and Sam are mistaken about this?  Does the RPP know more about their history then they know themselves?  Does he know how exactly they would justify their non-theistic view?

No, of course he doesn’t. He only pretends to know.

But something else also stands out as confused thinking on the part of the RPP.   He states,

“scientists’ disbelief cannot be based on scientific reasons, because God is beyond scientific investigation”.

————————————————————-

At the very least, the statement that  ’God is beyond scientific investigation’ needs to be clarified.  It suggests a reality, namely God, who is beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.  But this begs the question by suggesting that there really is such an entity.  Does the RPP mean to imply this?

An alternative reading  is that you mean that the issue of the reality of a deity is beyond scientific investigation. Here the RPP is right in the sense that ‘ God’ is not the subject of any of the sciences, although belief in God can be (e.g. anthropology).

But this fact does not give him  grounds for you categorical claim regarding  scientists’ recounting of how they arrived at an atheistic or agnostic view.   Moreover, the RPP cannot justify his categorical claim that “God is beyond scientific investigation” if we understand by “God” the “belief in God.”  The latter is what is relevant to a person’s perspective on reality and the belief in a deity is surely subject to scientific investigation.

***************************************************************

Another related  point is  that our RPP does not sufficiently distinguish between justification of a belief and origin of a belief.  These are two different things:  One answers the question: How would you justify your conclusion that God does not exist?   The other answers a different question:  How did you come to disbelief in a God?

One is a question concerns the way you would justify and argue for your disbelief in God.   Sometimes this is referred to as the logical problem; what argument can you give in support of your belief (in our case, for your disbelief).

The other question concerns the process or history by which you came to believe or disbelieve as you do.  What events, experiences, interactions, lessons brought you to where you stand today?

If I believe in God, the way that I might rationally defend this belief differs from the story I would tell when relating how I came to believe.   These two need not be related at all, although in some cases they can be related.

If I try to rationally justify my disbelief in any deity, I might offer premises from a variety of sources, including the relevant sciences, history, philosophy, and observations of how the human world works.  In short, I would offer an extended argument, maybe in essay form.

If I try to recount the path that led me to my position of disbelief, I will offer something like a narrative history experiences and events that brought me to disbelieving in any deity.   But in doing this I would not be advancing an argument.  I would merely be telling a story, an his-story, if you like.

Regardless of which sense we apply the question of the basis for non-belief in a deity, the RPP has no grounds for his view that only the theological problem of evil stands behind the atheist’s denial of the reality of a deity.

Mad Men, Philosophers, and the Unreality of Time

Juan Bernal

The Philosophical Pilgrim’s Education :

Early stage: A philosopher said it.  It cannot be nonsense.

Later stage:  A philosopher said it.  It might be sophistry and nonsense.

——————————

Wittgenstein in his early interaction with philosophy and philosophers (Russell, Moore, Frege) probably thought that they had important truths to teach.  Later, in his second phase, Wittgenstein recognized that much of traditional philosophy was an exercise in nonsense.

————————————–

Just when you thought it might be safe to come into the water, our common sense of reality is threatened again.  Now some philosophical colleagues have again brought up the old philosophical declaration that time is not real, but only an illusion of our experience of things.   Just when I was starting to think that my friends in the field of philosophy were reasonable in their declarations on reality and knowledge, they dust off this old bit of philosophical sophistry and nonsense!

“Time is unreal,” they declare.   “Really?” I respond. ” Do we have time to deal with that proposition?  No, not if the proposition is true.”

But maybe I cannot get off this easily.

“Time is unreal.”  Wouldn’t this be the ravings of mad man, similar to his screaming that everyone around him is an alien from outer space?

Maybe so,  but consider the philosophical record (as a prosecutor might say).

———————————————

Some of this ‘timelessness’ stuff comes from the ancient Greeks, starting with such ancients as Parmenides and Zeno, who held that the appearance of temporal change was an illusion.  According to Parmenides, the One (primary reality) neither was in time nor will be, but is now all at once a single whole.  In other words, absolute reality is a timeless realm in which there is no such thing as temporal succession.  Later Plato follows with his philosophy of the forms (his version of primary reality), according to which the realm of the forms is a timeless realm.  In the Christian era,  theologians, such as Augustine, pick up on this Platonic notion: Augustine wrote of God’s ever-present eternity and wrote that “for God all years stand at once.  Later the Christian philosopher, Boethius, adopted this idea of timelessness.

He states the elements of this philosophy in more detail:

Eternity is the complete possession of eternal life all at once – a notion that becomes clearer from comparison with things temporal. For whatever lives in time moves as something from the past to the future, and there is nothing placed in time that can embrace the whole extent of its life at once. It does not yet grasp tomorrow, and it has already lost yesterday. And even in the life of today you do not live longer than in the transitory moment. That then which is subject to the condition of time, even if .. it has no beginning or end and its life extends through endless time, is still not such as may be right judged eternal. For though its life be endless, it does not grasps and embrace the extent of it all at once but has some parts still to come. . . And so if, following Plato, we wish to give things their right names, let us say that God is eternal, but the world everlasting.*

(from Boethius,  De Consolatione Philosophiae)

* Notice the distinction between everlastingness (sempiternal) and eternal (outside of time, or timeless). For God, time is not real, hence, primary reality is timeless.

Other statements on this notion of eternity:  W.L. Reese says in his Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion  under the topic time,  ”For Spinoza eternity was more basic than time. The latter is an inadequate perception of a limited reality. Reality seen, or conceived, fully, is eternal. Thus, the temporal dimension is in some sense illusory, or partially so.”

Reese also points out that a surprising number of philosophers have argued for the unreality of time. He lists Parmenides and Zeno, as well as F. H. Bradley and  J. E. McTaggart.

——————————————————–

According to this philosophy (the unreality of time), it follows that the temporally conditioned world — in which events can be seen as in the past, or currently happening, or might happen in the future —  is supposedly not reality (not absolute reality, as a colleague has told me).   With this summary dismissal of temporal succession as mere illusion, we would have to say also that natural processes in a dynamic world, evolution of life and the histories of cultures and societies are also not real.

Who can accept such nonsense?   Is it even coherent?

—————————————————————-

The facts of natural processes in a dynamic world, the evolution of life on earth, and the facts of history

…. all speak against such philosophical nonsense, as do the facts of

  • Biology, chemistry, paleo-archaeology, anthropology
  • Common-sense realism, psychology, linguistics,
  • History, including religious history and history of thought
  • The very possibility of linear thought, language, social interaction
  • The sciences of quantum mechanics, probability, chance, chaos.

Surely these are not mere phenomena or illusion, but would be meaningless outside the passage of time.

In his book, A Brief History of Time,  Stephen Hawking, states a few things  about time which imply rejection of the idea that cosmic time is unreal.  In chapter nine, “The Arrow of Time,” he states:

“…the laws of science do not distinguish between the forward and backward direction of time. However, there are at least three arrows of time that do distinguish the past from the future. They are the thermodynamic arrow, the direction of time in which disorder increases; the psychological arrow, the direction of time in which we remember the past and not the future; and the cosmological arrow of time, the direction of time in which the universe expands rather than contrasts. . . “

So, even a great representative of cosmological science states explicitly that time is real: that past really differs from present, which in turn really differs from the future.

———————————————————————

Moreover, the notion of a timeless realm (eternity) may not even be a coherent notion.

RG Swinburne, in the Oxford Guide to Philosophy(2005), says the following:

“Most Christian thinkers since the fourth century .. held that God exists outside of time, but in his timeless realm simultaneously acts at and knows about every moment of time. It is .. doubtful that this is a coherent claim.  If God sees some event in 500 BC as it happens and sees some other event in 2000 AD, and all divine seeings are simultaneous with each other, then 500 BC must the same year as 2000 AD, which is absurd.”

The same absurdity can be stated without reference to any divine knowing.  On the view that real reality is timeless, historical events become incoherent. For example, in baseball history, Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1927.  Ruth’s record was broken in 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61 home runs, which was itself broken by Mark McGuire’s 62nd home run in 1998.   The latter claims that Ruth’s previous record was broken by Maris, then by McGuire are incoherent if according to our perspective of the eternal present, McGuire’s feat is identical with Maris’s feat which is identical to Ruth’s feat.

Or more simply: You cannot even say coherently that the smaller child cried because a older child took his toy away.  The two acts  — older child taking the toy and smaller child crying — are simultaneous, thus, identical.  So the explanation as to why the small child cried makes no sense at all!

———————————————————————

Of course, the proposition that time is unreal can be understood as just part of another mental exercise, often found in philosophy.  It surely cannot be considered a serious attempt to describe reality.   But don’t underestimate the tendency of some philosopher to promote one or another form of nonsense, among them, the unreality of time.

 

Twentieth Century Tragedy and a Philosopher’s Blind Spot

Juan Bernal

Commentators have noted  that whereas Heidegger was silent concerning the Holocaust,  he was notably critical of the alienation brought about by modern technologies:  He made statements about the six million unemployed at the beginning of the Nazi regime, but did  not say any word about the six million who were dead at the end of it. (Source: Wikipedia)

Why talk about things that happened over 60-70 years ago?  Why dredge up ugly things from the past?

Some people prefer to leave the past alone for different reasons.  Some prefer to concentrate on problems and issues of the present and those that we shall face in the future; and such people don’t see how the past is relevant to current issues.  But some prefer to ignore the past because they prefer to cover up the past insofar as events of the past do not present humans and human society in a good light.  But generally those who prefer to ignore past history are those for who do not apply the lessons of history; and history surely has lessons to teach us.

In this context, consider the lessons to be learned from the events of the 1930-40s in Germany and Europe, namely, the German Third Reich and the Nazi Holocaust that accompanied it.  Set aside for now the fact that Hitler and his Nazi order in Germany threw the world into the deadly, World War II, caused millions of deaths, injury, and untold destruction.  Instead, consider briefly the systematic Nazi persecution and eventual extermination of human beings deemed sub-humans and enemies of the Nazi order.  These human beings were primarily the Jews, but also included Slavs, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, and socialists of various nationalities.  To the extent that the Nazi program to murder millions of people had a racial motivation, the targets were countless people classified as non-Aryan, not just who were Jewish.

What are the lessons to be learned from all that barbarism and systematic murder of millions?  Well, surely one lesson is that even a modern state of fairly well-educated, culturally advanced people can allow itself to be dominated by an inhuman, murderous ideology.

Not only were Germany and other nations that accepted the Nazi ideology nations of a long and respectable Christian tradition (both Protestant and Catholic), nations in which many religious leaders and most good Christian citizens held to long-standing anti-Semitic beliefs, making easier to Hitler and the Nazis to advance their programs.  First, they discriminated against and persecuted Jews,  removed them from society, including those classified as non-Aryans, and eventually murdered and exterminated all those people at various death camps.  The social fact to keep in mind is that Germany and countries like Austria were also leaders in the sciences, philosophy, culture and the arts.  Neither good religious faith, nor advanced sciences and systems of philosophy prevented the leaders of those nations from embracing Hitler and the murderous Nazi ideology.

In this context Martin Heidegger, a leading German philosopher, is representative of that part of German intellectual culture that embraced Hitler and the Nazi ideology, and apparently did not simply “go along” with the Nazis as a prudent move. It is generally agreed that Heidegger enthusiastically endorsed Hitler and the Nation Socialist Movement (Nazi), even if the tenure of his Nazism is a subject of much debate.

In the Spring of 1933 at a conference with some churchmen,  Adolph Hitler stated his view of how the Jews should be treated.

“He saw in the Jews nothing but pernicious enemies of the State and Church, and therefore he wanted to drive the Jews out more and more, especially from academic life and the public professions.”

 (1. See below.)

In the Fall of 1933,  in an address to university students, Martin Heidegger offered the following advice to the students:

“Doctrine and “ideas” will no longer rule your existence. The Fuhrer himself, and only he, is the current and future reality of Germany. His word is your law.”

(2. See Below.)

Clearly, then, Heidegger advised students that Hitler’s words, including those regarding the Jews, was to be their law, along with the ridiculous claim that only Hitler was the reality of Germany.  (Did Heidegger believe this rubbish?)

Although he later modified his adherence to Nazism, Heidegger surely gives us reason for thinking that early in the 1930s he also accepted as “law” the virulent anti-Semitism, which led eventually to the “Final Solution” of the Nazis.   Although there never was a clear retraction from Heidegger, we can hope that this thinking did not reflect his considered views on the subject.

—————————————————————————–

1.  From the essay, “The Jewish Question,” by Guenter Lewy

Hitler, upon engaging in his first measures against the Jews, was well aware of the Church’s long anti-Jewish record.  In his talk with Bishop Berning and Monsignor Steinmann on April 26, 1933, he reminded his visitors that the Church for 1,500 years had regarded the Jews as parasites, had banished them into ghettos, and had forbidden Christians to work for them. “He saw in the Jews nothing but  pernicious enemies of the State and Church, and therefore he wanted to drive the Jews out more and more, especially from academic life and the public professions.”  He, Hitler said, merely intended to do more effectively what the Church had attempted to accomplish for so long. This service to a common cause, and not elevation of race above religion, motivated his hostility toward the Jews.” (page, 336)

Source:  Readings in Western Intellectual Tradition, ed. by Jame L. Catanzaro  (1968, McCutchan Publishing Co.)

2.  Advice to Students *        by Martin Heidegger   (Nov. 3, 1933)

The National Socialist Revolution brings total revolution in our German existence. Given the circumstances of the revolution, it  is up to you to remain tough and energetic, developing yourselves to be ready for anything.

Your will to knowledge demands the experience of what is essential, what is simple, what is great. It is incumbent on you to become the ones who drive farthest and are most deeply committed.

Be hard and righteous in your demands.

Remain clear and secure in your disavowal of what is false.

The knowledge that you struggle for does not lead to conceited self-possession. It reveals itself as the primary quality of the leader who answers the call of the State.  You cannot just be listeners any longer. You are pledged to know, to act, cooperating in the shaping of the new school of the German Geist.  Each of you must now prove his talents and abilities, and use them in the correct place. That occurs when the power of aggressive action within the circle of the whole people surrounds you.

May your loyalty and willingness to follow grow stronger every day and every hour! May your courage to make sacrifices grow constantly greater. This is necessary for the survival of our people, and for the increase of our power.

Doctrine and “ideas” will no longer rule your existence. The Fuhrer himself, and only he, is the current and future reality of Germany. His word is your law. Learn this truth deep with you: “From now on every matter demands determination, and every action requires responsibility.” (page 330)

*From Die Freiberg Studentzeitung (Nov. 3, 1933), translated by James L. Catanzaro

Source:  Readings in Western Intellectual Tradition, ed. by Jame L. Catanzaro  (1968, McCutchan Publishing Co.)

Are We Gullible and Susceptible to Lies and Propaganda?

Juan Bernal

 

Do people sometimes confuse fiction for fact?   Yes.

Do they sometimes confuse fantasy or myth for fact?   Yes (see ‘religion’)

Do governments lie to their citizens and others?   Yes,  of course.

Does all this lead to undesirable consequences?   Yes.

Would a healthy does of skepticism and critical thought help to remedy the situations?   Probably.

 

Gullibility, Fiction and Reality:

In a 1938 radio program, Orson Wells dramatized a fictional Martian invasion of earth, based on the fictional literature, “War of the Worlds.”   Surprisingly, he fooled thousands of the radio audience into thinking the alien invasion was really happening.  In a recent PBS documentary on this episode we learn part of the explanation for this mass confusion.  Many people had tuned in late to the Wells program and missed the introduction which informed the audience of the fictional drama.  They tuned in to hear the authentic-sounding, fictional news bulletins – which were convincingly done by the production staff –  and thought they were hearing some real news bulletins.  Thousands of people were sucked into a state of great fear and even panic, which was relieved only when authorities required that Wells interrupt his program to inform people that the “invasion” was a fictional drama, not the real thing.

Even Wells was surprised with the degree to which people in his radio audience brought his piece of fiction for fact.

What does this say about the general gullibility of people?

Does it also say something about the power of propaganda?

Surely it seems that a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking on the part of ordinary people could have averted this social embarrassment, one in which so many people came out looking so stupid and gullible?

Since the time of Wells’ radio dramatization, the technology by which people can be induced to believe falsehoods has increased and grown in sophistication.  First, we saw the development of film entertainment, followed by television news, entertainment, and documentaries.  And in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the revolution brought by the internet, and computer-generated virtual reality.  It has become such that the ‘world’ of entertainment and celebrities (whom we never see in the flesh) becomes just as real as the world we really inhabit. In extreme cases, that fictional world seems more real than the real relations of a person’s life.

————————————————————

Sometimes it would be a healthy exercise to step back and reassess our situation.  Just what in our world is real and what is make-belief?   And how much of that which is make-belief is just harmless entertainment?  How much is potentially harmful?

Tragedies Caused by Official Deception and Mind control:

The well engineered lies and propaganda perpetrated by European governments in the early decades of the twentieth century persuaded most citizens of those nations that war was necessary for national honor, leading to the tragedy of the first World War.  Here we have an unnecessary war which resulted in death, suffering, and disruption for millions of people.  Only after the suffering and deaths of entire generations of young men did people ask themselves what was the point of the war and mostly regretted getting sucked into the war fever generated by their own governments.

But in a few decades, in the 1930s, people’s memories of the tragedy of WWI had faded enough so that fascist governments in Europe could convince their citizens that, not only total war was necessary, but in the case of Germany and Central Europe, that the extermination of many humans living in their midst, was an acceptable national priority.  Hence, we had the tragedy of World War II on a global scale, with the additional features of the Nazi Holocaust, various genocides, and the start of the age of atomic bombs and nuclear warheads.  What lies, deception, and propaganda did Hitler and his Nazi order perpetrate on ordinary, decent-minded people to induce them to accept the barbarism and atrocities carried out in the name of national security and purification of the race!

————————————————————————

Dare we say that maybe, just maybe, a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking on the part of ordinary people could have averted these tragedies?

In the United States …

 we did not carry out a systematic extermination of undesirable minorities in the twentieth century.  But long-held, false social and religious beliefs concerning Jews, Blacks and other minorities clouded much of the thinking of the majority of citizens and resulted in great social injustice for the victimized minorities.  These included the blight of anti-Semitism in many areas of society, the continuing segregation of Negroes in the South and the stamp of inferior status for various other minorities (e.g. Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Asians).

In the 1940s, our government sent tens of thousands of Japanese-American citizens to relocation camps where they were incarcerated as criminals and subversives.  Again, the official propaganda and false beliefs of the majority of citizens resulted in great injustice for innocent victims.

In the 1950s we turned our attention to the communists:

The anti-communist scare and witch hunts of the early 1950s led by Senator McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities led  most people in the US into the false belief that subversive communists were active in many of our institutions.  This resulted in the persecution of many people of liberal and socialistic sympathies.  This happened as the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union was developing.  Mostly everyone, including our governmental officials, educational, and religious leaders, believed that the only thing that mattered in our foreign policy was the defense of the free world against communistic aggression.  This pattern of group thought,  resulting mostly from official propaganda,  had detrimental effect for both our domestic well being and international relations.

—————————————————–

Maybe, just maybe, a healthy dose of skepticism and critical thinking on the part of ordinary citizens, instead of the usual embrace of fantasies and myths, could have averted these national pathologies?  Can we conclude at least this much?

 

 

 

 

Exchange of Views on Process and Real Reality

Juan Bernal

A philosophical correspondents wrote:

I can’t remember whether I already commented on the relationship (as I perceive it, of course) between process philosophy and Buddhism. If not I should, because it helps to show how metaphysics is truly a variable. Otherwise we tend to identify our native metaphysics with reality itself.

Suppose that we wish to meditate on the really real. Following Whitehead, we would avoid the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. We would not meditate on the mind as such or the world as such. We would not meditate on any of the objects (people, places, things) we find in the world. We would meditate on the present occasion of experience. We would try to “be here now.”

If we took the present occasion of experience to be the fundamental reality, then we would realize that the world is in some sense an illusion. We would realize that there is no enduring world and no enduring self. We would realize that the ideas of world and self are abstractions, and we would not be tempted to think of them as independently existing, enduring realities.

“By mistaking what disintegrates moment by moment for something constant, I bring pain upon myself as well as others. From the depths of my heart I should seek to get beyond this round of suffering induced by mistaking the impermanent for the permanent.”

(Dalai Lama. How To See Yourself as You Really Are, p. 264)

————————————————-

My Reply to these provocative Remarks:

I don’t know what “our native metaphysics” might be; but I know that it is madness to deny that the world which we inhabit and in which we interact is real.  I’m not even sure that one can make sense — when we analyze things carefully — of a subject reflecting on reality without assuming that he himself and the world which he inhabits are real.  Since their reality is what makes any reflection on those questions possible.   But that is another argument, meanwhile I’ll attend to some of what you wrote.

I don’t understand why any mediation on what may or may not be real requires that we follow Whitehead and focus on the “present occasion of experience.”  If you want to elaborate on Whitehead’s views and do a thought experiment based on those metaphysical views, then we can understand that you might try to meditate on the “present occasion of experience.”  But that would be nothing more than doing a particular thought experiment based on Whitehead’s metaphysical theories.  Nothing says that anyone interested in honest reflection on reality has to go that route.

You think that anyone engaging in that thought experiment would realize that what we take to be real is an illusion; that there is neither an enduring world or enduring self.  Well maybe, but also, maybe not.  If this is philosophical proposition, then I would like to see the argument that implies those surprising conclusions.  Otherwise, I’ll take it as a mood that comes over the subject, a poetic mood; or maybe something presaging a mystical experience or other.

That the ideas of world and self are abstractions is not at all clear.  Is the idea of the State of Virginia just an abstraction?  But you just visited that State.  Did you not find it to be real?  And the idea of your relatives (son? daughter?)  in Virginia as enduring individuals?  Was the idea just an abstraction?  But they were there before you visited them and remain there after you leave (or left)?  Doesn’t that imply endurance?  Or is all that just an illusion or a dream, and not at all reality?   Are you really prepared to embrace such implications of your metaphysical speculations?  These speculations are what we should identify as abstractions (and not real) in my view,  not the world and individuals with which you interact.

In short, I take what the Buddhist offers as expressions of poetic, maybe religious, mood.  It may work to enable a person to deal with the realities of a hard, bewildering life.  But it hardly establishes the “real reality” as you imagine. And, to the extent that process philosophy takes you in this direction (and I doubt that it does), that style of process philosophy equally serves as just an expression of someone’s mood or attitude.  It surely does not quality as anything like a scientific or rationally grounded theory of reality.

Doesn’t it strike you as revealing that some one like the Dalai Lama, — who apparently denies that the airliner that transports him and his entourage to different parts of the world has any permanence (it is an illusion like everything else)  — nevertheless he hops on that airliner to do this traveling.   Apparently the airliner and the airline personnel have enough endurance to get the Dalai Lama to his destination?  Or does he admit that he himself and his teachings are illusions also?  But how does an illusion teach us what is really real?

Can you imagine Dalai Lama saying to himself:  “I know this airplane does not endure and just an illusion, yet I will board it anyway and pretend that it is real”?

 

Dawkins, Delusion, and God – Revisited

Juan Bernal

 

Occasionally someone brings up the challenge to theism brought by the well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins and proceeds to show that it is a weak challenge.  Recently, an email correspondent, Spanos the man, brought up Dawkins’ denial of God as an example of a weak atheistic argument.  It is an interesting exercise to show that this downgrading of Dawkins does not succeed.

First, let’s take a quick glance at Dawkin’s position on God.

In The God Delusion, the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence.

Dawkins distinguishes what he calls “Einsteinian religion” from supernatural religion, arguing that the former should not be confused with the latter. Einstein wrote that he was religious in the sense being aware of things beyond the mind’s grasp, “whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection”. But, Dawkins argues, this god “is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wrecking, thought-reading, sin-punishing, prayer-answering God of the Bible . . .  The proposed existence of this interventionist God, which Dawkins calls the “God Hypothesis”, is an important theme in his book. Dawkins maintains that the alleged existence of the interventionist God would be a scientific fact about the universe, which  is discoverable in principle if not in practice.  He argues that there is no evidence supporting belief in such a God.  (from Wikipedia)

Correspondent Spanos made reference to Eric Reitan’s book Is God a Delusion?   Reitan recommends that people read what Dawkins has to say:

 ”In fact, insofar as The God Delusion nicely summarizes the main objections of contemporary atheists to religious faith, it seems to me it should be required reading for all who have yet to seriously confront a forceful statement of these objections.”

Spanos took up Reitan’s suggestion and quickly found (by the end of Chapter 2) that “although Dawkins’ argument might be forceful in a rhetorical sense, his arguments were pretty weak in a logical sense.”  When he elaborated why he saw Dawkins as presenting a weak case against God, Spanos noted that Dawkins completely ignored an obvious feature of the theist’s case for God, namely the theological doctrine of analogical predication.

Spanos made his case this way:

….. The Church endorsed a doctrine of “analogical predication.” In other words, to say that God exists is not like saying that flowers, animals, and people exist. One of the Einstein quotations that Dawkins uses in Chapter 1 suggests the kind of experience underlying the doctrine of analogical predication.

To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. (p. 40)

In the way that this “something” exists we sense a different meaning of the word “exists.”

Admittedly most ordinary theists have probably never learned of the distinction between univocal and analogical predication. They don’t have a sophisticated understanding of theism, but the one they have doesn’t have to be sophisticated to be useful. Dawkins‘ attack on theism is only an attack on an unsophisticated form of theism. However, it could be useful in motivating theists to acquire a more sophisticated understanding of their faith.

Conclusion:  Dawkins undermines only the simple, undeveloped views of God’s reality; nothing that he offers challenges the deeper, sophisticated concept of God.

————————-

Off course, I could not resist and had to reply to Spanos:

The concept ‘God’ is not obviously a coherent one.  It is ambiguous, even a vague, abstract concept (especially in the hands of theologians).  It is never clear that when two or more people bring up the subject of God, that there even talking about the same idea. Historically and in current discussions,  usage of the term ‘god’ both by religious and non-religious people features an impressive varieties of meaning.  The ambiguity is so marked that when anyone claims either that God exists (or alternative the He does not exist), it is not even clear how the assertion could be verified or falsified.

Now, Spanos and Reitan, in choosing to go after Dawkins’ claim that God is a delusion and that any statement of his existence has to be understood as a scientific hypothesis, have chosen an easy target.  Yes, Dawkins assumes one version of the God claim:  God exists as something that should be detectable by scientific means, i.e., as a scientific hypothesis that should be amenable to scientific verification or falsification.   In this respect, many have charged Dawkins with oversimplification and even misunderstanding the issue.

You chose an easy target because Dawkins is surely not the most able atheist or non-theist that has argued that God likely is not real. (After all, he is a zoologist!)  But his arguments are not as ill conceived as theists like to think.  Dawkins is surely on target by focusing attention on an interventionist god.  When we set aside the sophistry and double-talk of our favorite tribe of theologians (with their mysterious, abstract — and ultimately incoherent notions — of the reality of God), we find that many believers – if not most of them –  have held the idea that God is out there somewhere detectable in some way by humans, capable of ‘human-like’ relations with humans, and intervening in human events.  This is surely an idea of God that has been and still is a common (maybe even primary) idea of God.  So Dawkins is surely not wide of the mark with his assumption that God’s reality can be taken as a scientific hypothesis, i.e., as a matter of fact that can verified or falsified by scientific means.

The fact that theologians and philosophers defending theism can come up with more sophisticated notions of the god-claim does nothing to nullify what most people understand by God, and does little to rationally justify the claim that God is real.  The tactic of theologians (with their talk of analogical prediction) only serves to transfer the issue from the arena in which things make some sense to one in which little or nothing makes sense.  This defensive tactic of theologians hardly amounts to an impressive feat nor does it do much to show that the God of scripture was or is a reality.

Yes, from Aquinas (if not from an earlier apologist) we get the notion of analogical predication, which amounts to just a fancy way of denying that by the existence of God we mean that God exists as ordinary things exist.  According to the theologian, we can only state an analogy with ordinary existence.  God is not someone you might invite to have a cup of coffee or join your bowling league; but he is a reality; so he must exist on a different order.  We can only refer to him by analogical prediction.

Having presented this very questionable account of religious experience, the theologian infers that the existence of God is on a completely different order, one which is not affected by the meaning and logic we attach to the ordinary sense of existence.  He concludes that nothing the sciences or critical inquiry have to say about grounds or lack of grounds for the existence of deity applies to the real Deity, properly understood.

Pardon me if I am not impressed by such maneuvers, which are more typical of lawyer’s tactics, than they are the moves of critical philosophers!  Dawkins’ critique of god belief might have its weaknesses, but it is not dismissed by bringing up the defensive tactics of classical theologians like Aquinas.

 

 

On “The Book of Revelations” – Robert Richert

THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS

By Robert A. Richert

 

Does the Book of Revelations predict that we are living in the last days before an impending and inevitable Apocalypse, or that this event will occur sometime in the future?  No on both counts!

According to the college textbook, Understanding the Bible; a Student’s Introduction, Harris, 1985, page 280, the Book of Revelations was written at the end of the first century during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian; 95 – 96 CE.  There is very little dispute about this date amongst respected Hebrew and Christian scholars.  The author was neither the apostle John nor the author of the Gospel John.  No one knows for certainty who authored this famous book.  Revelation is substantially about events occurring at the time of the destruction of the Hebrew Temple by the Romans around 68 CE and up until the time the book was written.  During the middle to late first century, the Hebrews and early Christians were experiencing rigorous and intense persecution by the Romans and for all they knew, their cultures might soon be destroyed forever.  From their point of view the Apocalypse was imminent!  The belief that “The end is near” is reflected many times—at least 30—in the New Testament, including by the words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 16:28, 23:36, 24:29, and Mark 9:1, 13:30.

According to Understanding the Bible, Harris, 1985, page 359, “John borrows many of his characteristic symbols, images, phrases, and theological assumptions from numerous Old Testament books, particularly Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, and Jeremiah”.  Despite the obscure language of Revelations, scholars have unraveled the probable meanings of many of its passages.  For example, the beast with ten horns and seven heads likely symbolizes Rome.  The famous number of the beast, 666 is widely accepted by scholars as a reference to Nero Caesar, whose name in Hebrew has the numerical value of—you guessed it; 666!  The language of Revelations is allegorical and symbolic because of the intense Roman persecution during those times.  You better watch what you say or write because impugning the empire was punishable by death.  If this book were about events destined to occur far in the future from the first century, there would be no need to mire the text in the ambiguous language of symbolism and allegory.  In addition, people under extreme duress and imminent destruction are not likely to write about events that are not going to occur until more than 2,000 years after they are gone!  Biblical apologists often trot out a quote from Mark 13:32, “…about that day or hour, no one knows”.  However, this is no help to their cause because the text does not infer that the hour and day are way off in the distant future; ‘the end’ could still be imminent.  Again, the belief that the Apocalypse was ‘near’ is prominent throughout the New Testament, and considering the dire circumstances inflicted upon first century Hebrews and Christians by the Roman Empire; understandably so!  Within the pages of most university level textbooks one can discover a great deal of information about this turbulent time.  Those who are really interested in becoming enlightened about the Bible should feel obligated to inform themselves with this material.

The evidence is crystal clear —The Book of Revelation has NOTHING whatsoever to do with present or future events!  It is about events occurring just before and during the time in which the book was written.  Fundamentalist efforts to twist and turn these texts (including the above mentioned quotes attributed to Jesus) in order to make them appear relevant to contemporary times or the future simply do not understand the context in which Revelations—and indeed the New Testament—was written.  They display ignorance of and contempt for modern Biblical scholarship.  In my opinion, they do a ‘grave’ disservice to history and to the Bible itself!

 

MY VIEWS ON GLOBAL WARMING by Robert Richert

MY VIEWS ON GLOBAL WARMING

By Robert A. Richert

 

Let me be clear; I don’t want global warming to be real!  I don’t like the gloomy prospects that some scientists forecast for the future of our planet.  I am unhappy that current conditions—more severe heat, fires, droughts, intense storms, floods, etc. — are exceeding predictions from sophisticated computer models.  All of this doom and gloom is not what I want to hear.  However, I respect science and this issue is important.  I am unwilling to bury my head in the sand and ignore reality because it might make me feel better.  I am also motivated by concern about the eroding public confidence in science and sad state of scientific literacy in our country.

In the spring of 2013 the press announced that the earth’s level of atmospheric carbon dioxide—measured by an infrared analyzer located at the summit of the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii—reached 400 parts per million; that is the highest level in several million years!  Increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2 is the primary cause of our current (last 150 years) episode of global warming.  In what is commonly called the ‘greenhouse effect’, it traps heat radiating from the earth from escaping into space.  The gradual build up of CO2 and its effect, trapping heat, causes warming.  The planet Venus, which is permanently shrouded in massive clouds of CO2, is an example of the greenhouse effect gone amok.  The surface temperature of Venus averages about 900 degrees Fahrenheit.  No, the earth is not Venus, but most scientific institutions are alarmed by the rapid increase in CO2 in our atmosphere, the resultant warming, and its real and potential effects upon agriculture, wildlife, gulf stream patterns, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, melting glaciers, fires, floods, world economies, and more.  Scientists worldwide have investigated every conceivable natural cause—for example, solar activity such as flares, various natural cycles such as the earth’s orbit around the sun, and historic cyclical weather patterns—and they have all been ruled out as the primary culprit.  Today, there is no doubt in the scientific community that the burning of fossil fuels, which release CO2 into the atmosphere, is the principal cause of global warming.  Here is a link to Wikipedia for more on this subject

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_dioxide_in_Earth%27s_atmosphere.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is our government agency responsible for monitoring and reporting global climate.  This is a vital endeavor because our military, commerce, and other agencies and businesses are dependent upon the best and most reliable information about weather available.  Here is a link that summarizes the evidence for global warming – http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cmb-faq/globalwarming.html.  Once you read the NOAA article, “Frequently Asked Questions” you can press the back button for links to further information.  You can also obtain similar information from NASA and other reliable sources; emphasis on reliable because many bogus anti-global warming websites pollute the internet!  Here is a partial list of scientific institutions and organizations that agree that the earth is warming and human activity is the primary cause: NOAA, NASA, National Academy of Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, World Meteorological Organization, American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, Geological Society of America, American Chemical Society—the scientific journals Science, Nature, Scientific American, and Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.

The media loves controversy.  As a result, many in the media present the global warming issue, which is a public controversy, as though it were also a scientific controversy.  However, human caused global warming is NOT controversial in the scientific community; not anymore.  Thus, a need exists for a counter force to the propaganda campaign created by global warming deniers.  If you agree, please pass my article along.  Here is a link to an article written by Donald Prothero answering the most commonly circulated myths about global warming – http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/12-02-08/#feature.  Professor Prothero is a highly respected paleontologist (who has done research on paleo-climate) and geologist; a real, working scientist with impeccable credentials.  In May of 2013, I heard Dr. Prothero give a speech comparing the tactics of the Creationists, global warming and Holocaust deniers.  These are the subjects of his book, Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten our Future.  Prothero documents the quite similar shady tactics used by these three groups to deceive the public and promote their own social, religious, political, or economic agendas.

Deniers claim that global warming is a ‘hoax’ and is funded by ‘trillions’ of dollars.  That’s laughable!  Understand that most scientific research not conducted by industry is funded by our government.  In recent years, government funding has been shrinking in many areas of scientific research.  Also, research on climate is conducted by scientists throughout the world.  To imply that a vast international conspiracy exists to perpetrate a massive hoax strikes of paranoid lunacy!  In fact, the deniers complaint is a classic case of ‘misdirection’ – direct your audience toward what you want them to see so you can conceal what you don’t want them to see.  The truth is that millions are being spent by big oil, the Koch brothers, and other economic and politically conservative groups and individuals to undermine the solid science behind global warming.  This fact has been documented.  The following paragraph from Wikipedia stands as an example:

In one of the first attempts by industry to influence public opinion on climate change, a 1998 proposal (later posted online by Greenpeace) was circulated among U.S. opponents of a treaty to fight global warming, including both industry and conservative political groups, in an effort to influence public perception of the extent of the problem. Written by a public relations specialist for the American Petroleum Institute and then leaked to The New York Times, the memo described, in the article’s words, a plan “to recruit a cadre of scientists who share the industry’s views of climate science and to train them in public relations so they can help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases.” Cushman quoted the document as proposing a US $ 5,000,000 multi-point strategy to “maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences,” with a goal of “raising questions about and undercutting the ‘prevailing scientific wisdom’.”

As a group, the global warming deniers have not earned any respect or credibility in the scientific community; especially by the people that actually do the relevant research.  Deniers are not part of mainstream science; not by a mile!  Many of the scientists denying global warming are funded by the special interests mentioned above.  Yes, a few credible scientists not connected to special interest groups still deny human caused global warming, but their numbers have continued to shrink.  The current situation is eerily similar to the tobacco industry’s 1970’s campaign to counter the growing body of evidence that cigarette smoking causes cancer.  They funded scientists willing to compromise their scientific integrity to do ‘research’ to undermine the real science confirming that smoking causes or contributes to lung and other cancers.

It cannot be repeated enough that over 97% scientists working in various disciplines related to the earth’s climate agree that global warming is real and human caused http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024024/article.  Deniers tout the few dissenters as if this somehow adds credibility to their argument and means that a real controversy exists.  This is called confirmation bias.  Cherry pick only the bits of data or experts that are in agreement with one’s point of view and ignore the majority that is not in agreement.  It is nearly impossible to get universal agreement on almost any issue, inside and outside of science.  This only demonstrates human fallibility.  The fact that human caused global warming is supported by such a high number of scientists throughout the world should be seen as impressive and as a clear signal!  Most of the industrialized world accepts the scientific consensus on global warming; including Japan, China, Russia, most of Central and South America, and almost all countries in Europe.  Unfortunately, a large and financially powerful right wing coalition in America is behind the denier movement.  However, there is reason for optimism.  The latest public opinion polls show increasing public acceptance of the science on climate change.  About 60% of Americans agree that global warming is real and human caused.

America can no longer afford to ignore the strong body of evidence that our planet is warming and that humans are the primary cause!

 

GLOBAL WARMING AND CALIFORNIA

 

A recent 250 page document compiled by 51 scientists from the University of California, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, US Geological Survey, NOAA, and other agencies and institutions states firmly that climate change is “an immediate and growing threat”.  The report goes on to say that global warming threatens our state’s water supplies, farm industry, forests, wildlife, and public health.  Although California is a leader in reduction of greenhouse gasses, because of our large size and if we were a country, we would rank as the 13th largest contributor of greenhouse gasses in the world!  Here some alarming figures:

  • Since 1950, our three worst fire years occurred in the past decade – 2003, 2007, and 2008.
  • Since 1895, annual average temperatures in California increased about 1.5 degrees and they continue to rise.
  • The sea level at the Golden Gate has risen 8 inches over the past century.
  • At Lake Tahoe there are 30 fewer days a year when temperatures average below freezing than a century ago.
  • In 1910, 52 percent of Lake Tahoe’s precipitation fell as snow.  Today it is 34 percent.
  • Depending upon their location, California’s glaciers have shrunk 22 percent to 69 percent over the last century.
  • Over the last 100 years spring runoff from the Sierras to the Sacramento River has decreased by 9 percent.

Any one of the above statistics viewed as an isolated event might not be significant.  However, climatologists look at combined data and patterns.  It is the convergence of many bits of data and evidence that demonstrate a clear trend of escalating warming.

 

Remarks on a few philosophers’ misconceptions

Juan Bernal  -  November, 2012

What we mean by truth is just the recognition that someone (or some group) has correctly affirmed some fact or other.  In this sense “truth” is nothing more than a term in the vocabulary of an intelligent, language-using culture.

The contrary to this – that truth stands apart from the truth seekers – seems plausible only because people tend to equate the term ‘truth’ with reality or with some actual event.  Thus, we get such metaphorical phrases as “seeking the truth” and “look to the truth,” which misleads insofar as they suggest that truth lays ‘out there somewhere’ waiting to be discovered.

So is truth a fiction then?  Is it not real?

Truth like happiness and moral good is real only in relation to a society of intelligent beings who seek to learn the truth about their world.  ‘Truth’ is real only in relation to human thought, language, the sciences, culture, history, and the society of active, striving human beings. Such ‘realities’ — as truth, happiness, and moral good — evolve or emerge in the context of a human culture. When we notice and articulate them, we might say that we discover them.  But such ‘discovery’ only happens with regard to something that we created in the first place. The apparent discovery is very different from that associated with the sciences, historical inquiry, or exploration of the planet.

Normally by the term truth we mean “what things are really like.”  Use of the term “truth” is just a preferred way of talking or a short-hand way of talking.  “We learn the truth” is short for “we learn what things are really like.”   (or learn “the nature of things out there” or “learn what events actually occurred.”)

Truth, happiness, and moral good are all human-based notions, sometimes associated with the actual nature of things, but often dis-connected with the ways that the universe works.

We build a large portion of our reality (social, cultural reality), and then forget that we originally built it.  So we come to see that social, cultural construct as objective reality that we discovered, a reality that was there separate from and independent of our human work.

There is much that we discover (by the sciences and other rational inquiries) and much that we construct.  We should not confuse the two.

———————————

The world is of a specific sort.  Scientists investigate, discover things, propose and test hypotheses, analyze, and ultimately issue descriptions and reports.  A subset of philosophical tribe takes what the scientists issue and work to sort and clarify things for the rest of us.

———————————

Contrary to what much of Western epistemological thought has assumed, human’s primary activity is not simply that of perceiving the world (surely not just visually perceiving the world), and the primary philosophical problem is not to certify those perceptions as valid.  Humans act and interact in the world; we effect changes in our environment and in turn are changed by our environment.   And philosophical problems of pragmatics are just as vital as those of epistemology.

The world is real, and our being-in-the-world is a fundamental reality.  It is not something that has to be proved!    Hence, statements like the following are very misleading:

 “The world we perceive is an artificially constructed environment whose character and properties are as much a result of unconscious mental processing as they are the product of real data. Nature helps us overcome gaps in information by supplying a brain that smooths over the imperfections, at an unconscious level, before we’re even aware of any perceptions.”

(Leonard Mlodinow, Subliminal, How your Unconscious Mind Rules your Behavior, Pantheon Books, 2012)

Why is this misleading?  Because it rests on a bad assumption, namely, that analysis of the process by which we experience the world undermines, instead of explains, our experience of the world.

—————————–

One can issue explanations (scientific, neurological, psychological, quasi-psychological) of the processes (neural processes, workings of the sensory faculties) which under lie sense perception.  These result in analyses or breakdowns (e.g., reducing things to neural processings) of the processes that underlie a person’s perception of the world.  It could be called an “examination of the machinery the makes perception possible.”

But nothing about this work refutes the common-sense proposition that we perceive (see, hear, touch, taste, smell) aspects and objects of the real world.  Nothing precludes the idea that we see things as actual existents in the objective world, although these things perceived can be described and analyzed in different ways.

Mathematical physics breaks down the objects of ordinary perception to a level far removed (and unknown by) ordinary experience.  This scientific analysis amounts to a “deep probe” of physical reality.  It does not amount to a replacement with a separate, inaccessible world.  Nor does it show that we never perceptually experience the real world.

When scientists analyze (explain) the processes that underlie perception and behavior they do not negate the fact that the subjects who perceive things and act/interact in the world are persons existing in an environment and interacting with other persons. The work of scientists in this respect does not give any reason for thinking that the perceiving subject is the brain itself or a little homunculous within the brain.

The brain (or something within the brain) does not perceive the world; rather the brain enables the perceiving subject (an animal existing in a natural and social environment) to perceive aspects of his environment.