Just a quick hello to say that I’ll be pretty busy with family and friends for the next couple weeks; you know, real life. So posting will be less frequent. As usual though, I’ve had several topics brewing that I would have liked to write about if time had permitted last week or over the weekend.
But first, a video that reminded me of what it’s all about:
I send out my gratitude to all of the hands, seen and unseen, that have been there for me along the way. I find that the further along I get in life, the more I see how much I owe to others.
While I’m “away” – or at least until I can write something more substantial, here are a couple of those topics that have been swirling ’round my head:
Alvin Plantinga, Epistemologist superstar, was featured in the NY Times last week. I happened to study Epistemology with one of Plantinga’s recent graduates in Montana a few years back. He too was a theist, which led to plenty of gritting of teach and scratching of heads during our seminars. It’s true in my experience that philosophy departments are mostly populated by atheists, and those who have faith keep it relatively quiet. Their arguments tend to have some emotional or moral appeal, but rarely much beyond that. What caught my eye most in the Plantinga interview, then, was his own uniquely epistemological spin on theistic faith:
He argues that atheism and even agnosticism themselves are irrational.
“I think there is such a thing as a sensus divinitatis, and in some people it doesn’t work properly,” he said, referring to the innate sense of the divine that Calvin believed all human beings possess. “So if you think of rationality as normal cognitive function, yes, there is something irrational about that kind of stance.”
Of course the emotional appeal for theists might work: “yes, we have fully functioning senses, whereas the world’s atheists don’t. (too bad for them?)” But for atheists it hardly amounts to an ‘argument’. It is strikingly similar to Kant’s sensus communis, generally translated as common sense, which he thinks indicates a common moral sense amongst humanity. Interestingly, Kant’s theory is, to some extent at least, accepted. People without a moral sense as he described it tend to be destructive to both themselves and society. But there the analogy with the sensus divinitatis seems to break down, as so far as I know, there is no evidence that theists are any better, kinder, wiser, etc than atheists or pantheists or whatnot.
Also of interest is that Kant did give his own moral argument for belief in God. It was an admittedly feeble argument, and because it was so thin he was accused of atheism and had his works on theology censored. But for Kant, God was little more than an assurance that those who act morally in this life could reasonably expect just deserts in the next. Of course his moral system is not based on getting rewards, as he felt this would amount to a sort of consequentialist pandering toward one’s own desires. But he did feel that for goodness to make reasonable sense, it must result in greater well-being.
This Kantian, rational sense of the divine, I believe, could also be covered by similar Buddhist discourses on karma. You should act in meritorious ways (as variously discussed in Buddhist traditions – giving freely, maintaining the precepts, and so on), even when there doesn’t seem to be any clear benefit to you. And indeed perhaps there won’t be (in this life). Often enough the good guys suffer and the bad guys appear to live and die quite happily. But both Kant and Buddhism, as I know them, extend the moral realm beyond this life for that very reason.
But, if the Buddhism/Kant analogy is accepted, it can show that morality can be robustly defended by what is widely held to be an atheistic or nontheistic religion (keeping in mind the enormous complexities of the various Buddhisms over time and place). So Plantinga’s argument falls flat – it’s a mere assertion. I could say that there is a sensus karmis that just doesn’t seem to work in Christians and, well, anyone else that doesn’t believe in karma. One could say that there is a sensus spaghetti monstrous which has only just developed in a select group of recent humans, “and in some people it doesn’t work properly.”
And in other highly interesting Buddhisty-theological news, it seems that Buddhist monks around the world might be picking up veganism. Movements for vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are nothing new in Buddhism, like other Indian religions. But this news features a documentary on the dairy industry well worth checking out. It’s unclear where and by whom this new vegan lifestyle might come about, but here is one promising highlight:
After the screening, Monk and teacher Ven. Ajahn Guna, led the audience in chanting, including, “Milk Does a Body Bad”. This was followed by a Q&A with Director Shira Lane. Guna stressed the importance of awareness in connection to the food we consume and its wide-ranging spiritual and physical effects.
‘Got the Facts on Milk?’ is a feature documentary that has attracted considerable underground attention, as it goes behind the scenes of the ‘Got Milk’ campaigns and highlights shocking facts about milk that the dairy industry seems to sweep under the rug.
Currently the film can only be found on the film’s website milkdocumentary.com. Ven. Ajahn Guna, refers to the film as ‘an outstanding contribution to humanity’.