Did you watch too many blogs?
I watched too many blogs.
Did you watch too many blogs too, baby?…
Michael Dubruiel: Some pungent examples of the rot and bad conscience that was spreading in the Church long before the horrendous sexual-abuse scandals went public.
From the Middle of the Storm: The blog of Fr. Bob Carr, Parochial Vicar, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross… in Boston. Apt title. Go check it out.
Mike Hardy: Sensible post on homosexuality and scandals and stuff. I will say that I don’t really get his beef with the term “objective moral disorder.” Given that he’s not going to argue against the Church’s teaching that homosexual activity is wrong (at least, he doesn’t find a blog the best forum for that argument), I’m not sure why he objects to this particular term for it. Think of it this way: Is Humbert Humbert’s attraction to “nymphets” an “objective moral disorder”? Is foot fetishism? Is there a point in differentiating some sexual attractions from others in this way? If so, why not homosexuality? (He may well have a very good answer to this–I’m just throwing it out because I don’t understand his militancy about this term, when he’s not militant about the underlying judgment of homosexual acts as immoral.)
Charles Murtaugh: Very interesting post critiquing a NYT Mag article on scientists who want proof (based on probability theory) of Christ’s Resurrection. Result: “‘Given e and k, h is true if and only if c is true,’ he said. ‘The probability of h given e and k is .97.’ In plain English, this means that, by Mr. Swinburne’s calculations, the probability of the Resurrection comes out to be a whopping 97 percent.”
Look, what I know about probability theory could fit comfortably between four angels on a pinhead, but this sets off every bull-detector I’ve got. And the clash of theologies on display is disheartening. I’m going on third-hand information here (what Murtaugh said about what the NYTM said about what these dudes said), but the big fight seems to be between “evidentialists,” who “accept the Enlightenment doctrine that a belief is justified only when evidence can be found for it outside the believer’s own mind,” and the “reformed epistemologists,” who mistrust our ability to reason and fall back on, essentially, “I just believe in God, so there.”
Argh. Both of these beliefs strike me as wildly wrong, and destined to produce only head-on collisions rather than philosophical exchange. First the evidentialists: There are “easy” questions like what constitutes relevant or sufficient evidence, which I imagine these guys have already hammered out (at least I hope so!). There are tougher questions like, Should a methodology that was designed for experimental science actually be applied to historical questions like the Resurrection (or, for that matter, the reign of Charlemagne, say, or the Battle of Actium)? Then we get into really choppy philosophical waters if these guys are actually making their claims not about experimental science but about all truth-claims, since I’m very confused as to where we’d get “evidence outside the believer’s mind” that we should only accept beliefs based on evidence outside the believer’s mind. Basically this strikes me as descending into meshuginer territory at lightspeed.
Now the reformed epistemologists. It surprises me not at all to learn that these guys are Calvinists, since I’ve always wondered about the Calvinist doctrine of “total depravity.” This doctrine basically states that the Fall left humans so completely smashed up that we lack any connection to our pre-Fallen nature (I think–please correct me if I’m wrong about this). Thus we can’t trust our reason, not one little bit, since it’s been unsalvageably corrupted. Add to this the doctrine that not everyone is given grace sufficient for salvation. That leaves some folks, the elect, walking around with an OK rational function, and others, the damned, walking around without one. How do they communicate? (Cf., again, Davidson’s “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme.”) If we can’t trust our reason, first, how on earth do we construct arguments? Second, why can we trust our feelings? Aren’t those fairly obviously corrupt also? A lot of people think God speaks to them. A lot of people take their religion, or lack thereof, as a “basic belief” that needs no justification or explanation. What differentiates “reformed epistemology” from sheer hardheadedness?
My own position is, perhaps, similar to Murtaugh’s. I think he may be selling himself short, making his own acceptance of Christianity appear more irrational than it is. (Uh, I could be wrong, of course.) He writes, “If pressed, the best I can fall back on right now is this quote from G.K. Chesterton, on how to recognize the rightness of Christian faith: ‘If the key fits the lock, you know it is the right key.’” That “lock,” I think, is our entire experience of the world–including both our rationality and our understanding of which conditions must be met in order for there to be an objective standard of “rational.” (For so much more on that, as always, click here.) The “lock” includes our everyday experience of beauty; it includes our knowledge of the tragedies and intense suffering that fill the world; it includes our attempts to make sense of all these things. Chesterton also compared the Catholic Church to an encyclopedia: People come to her with all kinds of widely divergent questions and concerns, but she can address each person starting from what he already knows. She leads from what each of us knows, to what each of us does not know. For some people, like me, that journey will be a very philosophical one, heavy on the reason. For others not. But the basic question is, What makes the most sense of my life? It’s only once that question has been answered, I think, that investigations of contested, outlandish (by which I mean “radically strange,” by the way, not “false”) historical events like the Resurrection can really get started. In other words, possibly you can disprove the Resurrection (not sure how, but maybe…), but you definitely can’t prove it starting from scratch–a lot of very very weird things have happened in history, and even if you accept that other explanations for the historical record are strained or unusual, until you’ve accepted the philosophical position that the Resurrection could really have happened, it simply can’t be the most “likely” explanation.
Amy Welborn: “Imagine there’s no heaven…” and other stuff sung at Mass. A vast and infuriating post.
YalePundits: Good post on French anti-Israel/anti-Jew rallies and their (lack of) connection to the French past.
The Chinatown Controversy continues to rage. Unqualified Offerings calls my attention to this essay by a lefty law prof. The LLP argues that “Chinatown” is exactly as Marxist as I’d initially believed. Let me clarify my position (she hedged): The movie is definitely and unavoidably lefty. The question is whether that’s all it is–whether all human relationships in the movie are simply subordinated to, or “parables of” as the LLP would have it, economics. I probably shouldn’t take a stand on that until I’ve seen the thing again, since this judgment can only be made on the basis of whether the other elements of the story “feel” shallow or allegorical. (Those aren’t synonyms.) I note that the LLP confirms my distaste for the evil capitalist character: “a rich, powerful incarnation of the ruthlessness of capitalism, crazy in his determination to control the future for no better reason than to show he can do it.” Profound analysis of human character that ain’t. Anyway, go read the essay, decide for yourself, etc. And if you want a noir that really gets at tough questions about law and order–without the easy cynicism that reduces all human motivation to either economic necessity or greed–try the original, Robert Mitchum “Cape Fear.”
And finally, this Roger Kimball article is silly. Beyond his snide tone, the big problem is his refusal to acknowledge that there’s a viewpoint inherent in every class at a university. That viewpoint is expressed in the texts chosen, the presentation of the material, the questions the professor considers most relevant, and so forth. Moreover, there are good reasons to restrict the degree of dissent in any class. If you’re trying to work on advanced concepts, but you have a kid in the class who’s constantly forcing debate on more basic issues, no progress can be made. The class becomes stuck. In college, I took a course on the history of Christian doctrine that illustrated this point pretty well. I think I was the only non-Christian in my section. (That was then.) One of the invigorating things about the class was the sense of a common project–we all knew that the topics we were discussing mattered. We all believed (including me) that this work was crucial to our lives after college. If there had been a student who insisted on bringing up arguments against, say, the existence of God, or the Resurrection, we would never have gotten around to the explorations of repentance, the Eucharist, and so forth. Now, this pro-Palestinian prof tried to limit participation in his class only to people who agreed with him, whereas my professor never said her class was only for Christians, or only for Anglicans (which I think is what she was), or whatever. Your assumptions should be that people who sharply disagree with your position will respect the work you want the class to do, and that if they disrupt class you’ll be able to deal with them on an individual basis. We can also talk about which beliefs the university should consider open to debate and which it needn’t. (How upset would we be if a professor of 20th-century history said he wouldn’t accept any students who denied the Holocaust?) But Kimball’s approach skips all the hard questions, and ends up in a nuance-free call for education without “politicization.” Look, every viewpoint has political implications. Philosophical inquiry should be directed toward the truth, but it shouldn’t be “disinterested” in the sense Kimball seems to mean. I understand that conservatives are rightly wary of attempts to suppress opinions that are controversial but worthy of debate. I think this pro-Palestinian prof’s decision totally sucked. But I don’t think it sucked because every class must be open to every opinion, or because education can and should be utterly divorced from politics. Ideas have consequences, dude, thus philosophy implies politics. That means that arguments against the prof’s decision will have to rest on more subjective claims–for example, I get a strong whiff of “You can’t think that thought–it would Hurt the Cause!” (Philosophy implies politics; political partisanship shouldn’t close off philosophy.) Or, “Do you really think you can’t deal with disruptive students on an individual basis?” These are not as sexy, I guess, but ultimately more honest arguments.