In his latest book for the non-scientific layman, Leonard Mlodinow (See* below) recounts a joke in his discussion of the stereo-typing and categorization of people. As Mlodinow tells it, three gentlemen (a white Catholic, a white Jew, and a poor black man) die and head for the gate of heaven where the Lord will question them to determine their qualifications for entry.
I was struck by the similarity between such Dualist campaign to downgrade physical views of human beings and the story of aliens who snatched the bodies of human victims and replaced them with strange facsimiles. Of course, it may not appear that dualists and spiritualists are out to snatch away one’s body and replace it with an alien likeness….But they do seem intent on reducing the human body-brain to mere matter-in-motion, a primitive form of material existence that cannot support the complex and high level of activity that we justifiably credit to our corporeal nature.
Some people are incurable classifiers; they’re inclined to divide people into classes; and some people are not. I try to avoid the temptation to classify people and refuse to join those are always ready to stereo-type people into derogatory. But this implies that would I list myself outside the class of those who put people into different classes.
Contrary to the “hunger for perfection,” I agree with the many biologists, historians, and political scientists who deny that the idea of perfection as an absolute by which we evaluate human knowledge has any place in our natural, social world and can at best serve only as a limiting concept.
Whenever I hear this point raised by some theologian, or a theistic philosopher, or any apologist for the theistic line I’m reminded of an episode from “The Simpsons” in which young Bart is confronted with some mischief that points to him as the perpetrator. He makes a series of exclamations of diminishing innocence.
Pascal’s Wager: “How could I give up eternal salvation by choosing not to believe in God?” I’ve been asked. “By accepting God you have everything to gain and nothing to lose. It’s a no-brainer.” Here’s my response: Which god? There are a great many different gods and religions worshiped today, each with different dogmas and beliefs regarding just about everything. Obviously they can’t all be right. But since there’s no rational way to determine which ones are wrong, if not all of them, how can I choose?
Walter Kaufmann, who was an effective ‘atheist’ and heretic long before our current crop of outspoken atheists, was also bothered by the general attitude among some secular-minded people that the worst aspects of religion characterized religion in general and the attitude that religious tradition offered little of value to modern thought. Kaufmann included a humorous dialogue between Satan and the Atheist in his 1960 book, Critique of Religion and Philosophy.
A man, call him Brad, has been convicted of murder and sentenced to hanging. The hanging must take place on the final week of the year, sometime during the final five-day work week. The judge who imposed the penalty also dictates that the convicted man will not know beforehand which day of the week he will be hanged, in short, he requires that the specific day of execution will come as a very bad surprise. But the logic of the judge’s sentence implies that it cannot happen on the five-day week.
Contrary to political and religious topics which are important and controversial, there are some which, although somewhat trivial, provoke much dispute. One of this was the question that some of us posed before the turn of the century: When does the new millennium really begin? As most of you recall, the world in general celebrated the start of the new millennium on January 1, 2000. But this bothered a few of us. We took on the role of spoil sports and pointed out that the world was premature in their celebration by one year.
Who really is the mad person? Is it the person who has come to think that a four-wheeled machine is essential to his existence or is it the person who has begun to think that this machine, useful though it might be, should not dominate our actions and thinking?