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Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to deal with temptation

How to deal with temptation? Here are a few thoughts on that subject.

What is temptation? I checked a few definitions, and didn't find them very helpful. (They were circular - temptation is being tempted.) So, I stipulate that temptation is a process or event that attracts you toward sin. I further stipulate that a sin is a deliberate disobedience of God.

So, how should we deal with temptation?
1) Avoid it. Stay away from situations, people, or things that you know are likely to cause you to be tempted. This requires that you can envision a temptation coming, and avoid it. There are temptations that you can't foresee, and temptations that you can't avoid. An example of a situation you couldn't avoid would be if you were in jail, or a hospital room, and the source of temptation was within the jail cell, or the room. It is often difficult to avoid temptations coming from within your family, on the job, or in a school class, or in your neighborhood.

2) Remember that God has promised deliverance: "No temptation has taken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will with the temptation also make the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." (I Corinthians 10:13, WEB)

This requires, of course, that you want to be delivered.

3) Remember that temptation is not sin, and don't be defeated spiritually by temptation. James 1:12 says "Blessed is the man who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him." (WEB) James indicates that enduring temptation, far from being a sign of God's punishment, may be a source of blessing. He also says, in the same chapter, "1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you fall into various temptations, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance."

4) Do good things. If you are likely to be tempted because you don't have anything positive to do, find something good, or at least not bad, to do, housework, for example.

5) Trust in Christ. Hebrews 2:18 says "For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted."

6) And, of course, prayer should be part of each step listed! 

Thanks for reading. Avoid temptation!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Affirmation can be misdirected

In a previous post, I argued that modern society does not affirm people and things as much as it should. I also quoted from the Bible, two verses which indicated that we should affirm -- praise, try to imitate, think about -- what is good.

But there's another side to this. Affirmation can be misdirected.

One type of misdirected affirmation was (and probably still is) a movement to try to increase the self-esteem of elementary school students. (Surely you have been in towns where half the automobile bumpers seem to proclaim some child or other as an honor student?) As the Wikipedia article that the previous link points to indicates, there is no solid evidence that acting so as to increase a child's self-esteem makes for better academic achievement.

It is a terrible mistake to act and speak so as to attack a person's self-esteem, particularly that of a child. But it is also a terrible mistake to lead a child to believe that he or she is a budding genius, athlete, or artist of some sort, when they are not, and show no evidence of ability and ambition toward such a goal. Telling a child who can't read at their grade level, and who does not seem to have any desire to, that she is going to become a lawyer or a doctor is a mistake. Telling a college Junior who barely gets Cs that he should expect to become a dentist is an error.

What should be put up for admiration and esteem is excellence. If the child shows evidence of working hard toward some sort of excellence, then that, too, should be affirmed, but misbehavior and laziness should not.

The same thing is true of adults. In Matthew 22:34-39, Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, tells us that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We should have proper self-esteem -- a realistic view of our failings, and also of our likeness to Christ, which latter should be affirmed. Not publicly, not boastfully, but recognized and encouraged. Our goal should be to have an ambition to become more like Christ. All Christians have such ability. Would that I acted on it more.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thanks to my wife

My wife and I have been married for a good many years -- long enough that both our children are employed at least a full day's travel from our home, and we have two grandchildren. Today is our anniversary.

I am thankful to her for her love, her patience, and her godliness.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Affirmation is important!

Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. (WEB)

I found this verse in my daily Bible reading, a few days ago. I think it relates to current popular culture, which often seems to find nothing pure, nothing good, nothing worth emulating.

The biggest problem with many current TV programs, movies, books, radio, and much popular music, is not fornication and adultery, or violence, or misuse of God's name (all of which occur, unfortunately). It is that they don't affirm anything.

For example, I sometimes watch "The Daily Show" and/or "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central. (The early evening re-runs are before my bedtime!) These programs are funny. They feature good writing, and skilled actors, plus various celebrities, mostly politicians, who are often not so skilled. But there's a big problem. They make fun of things, often things that should have fun poked at them. But they don't generally affirm anything, or anybody. They just tear down.

Another example is the comic strips. Doonesbury and Dilbert are among the most popular of these. Doonesbury often makes fun of current events, up to and including the President. (It has not made much fun of the President now that the office is held by Mr. Obama, much less than it did when George W. Bush was President.) Dilbert makes fun of the pointy-haired boss. Again, they are well written efforts, and usually really funny. But they only tear down. They don't affirm anything.

Many movies -- not all -- and much "reality" TV -- I make no claim to be expert on either of these categories -- seem to be based on watching someone make a fool of him or herself. Reality TV does sometimes reward genuine talent, or achievement, I guess, but not often.

And then there are the TV political ads . . .

There's something wrong with a society where no one is honored, nothing is respected, where virtue is considered to be fake, or unimportant, or both. Either there's something wrong with the institutions that are being mocked, instead of honored, or there's something wrong with the mockers, or both.

The Bible also says: Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8, WEB)

I don't mean to say that some things, maybe even some people, should not be opposed. The Apostle Paul, who wrote both of the scripture sections, was opposed to gossip, for example. But that's not our problem. We oppose too much, and don't affirm enough.

God help us concentrate on the good, the pure, the noble, and to be good, pure and noble.

In a subsequent post, I muse on misplaced affirmation.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sunspots 285

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: (or something) NPR reports that drug companies have often used doctors who have done unethical things, or administered treatments outside of accepted medical norms, as their spokespersons.
Computing: Information Week has an article on fixing laptop (and other portable computer types) over-heating.

Christianity: Todd Wood (See here for his blog) has begun contributing to something called the Center for Faith and Science International. His first contribution is a summary of the beliefs of what he calls Young-Age Creationism. (I usually use Young-Earth Creationism, and I think most others in the field do, but never mind.) It's a short, well-written summary.

Anne attempts to consider all sides of the issue of homosexual behavior. (She recognizes that not everyone thinks that more than one side -- the one they are on -- should be considered.)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Super-nerds and Halloween

Forget whether celebrating Halloween is giving credence to various kinds of superstition, or not. Forget whether kiddies should be encouraged to take in massive amounts of sugar. Forget the expense of finding the perfect adult costume.

So what to think about then? Think how Halloween can be used to illustrate cutting-edge technology. And how super-nerds may spend as much as a month fixing up their own Halloween devices. Some of that preparation may be cutting edge. Read about it, or listen to it, in a report on National Public Radio.

Disclaimer -- I may hand out some candy to kiddies. I'll dress up as a retired college professor. That's about as far as I go.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq

Wired reports that the recent leak of documents related to the war in Iraq shows that the Iraqi capacity to use weapons of mass destruction was probably somewhere between "none" and the massive threat that the Bush administration claimed. There were, apparently, stocks of chemical weapons.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

James 1:5-6 poster: doubt and instability

James 1:5,6 - like a wave

An attempt to illustrate James 1:5-6. That was an actual wave, but not a very large one.

If you want to see a larger size, the photo is a link to my Flickr stream, which has larger sizes available.

Friday, October 22, 2010

William Dembski, Young-Earth Creationist?

The Panda's Thumb Blog is no friend to the Intelligent Design (ID) movement, but it seems to usually get its facts right, quoting original sources, with links, wherever possible. On October 20, 2010, it reported that William Dembski, one of the most important figures in ID, now says that he is a Young-Earth Creationist. This seems to be a recent development. The same post quotes Dembski as believing that the scientific evidence ruled out YEC, as recently as 2009. I have posted on the difference between ID and YEC, and also quoted Dembski as not being a YEC.

The article indicates that it is possible that Dembski changed his mind on the subject to retain his position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. It doesn't strongly put that forth, and offers no evidence for that possibility.

There doesn't have to be any shame in changing one's mind. I've done it myself, on origins, and a lot of other things. It is possible that Dembski has changed his simply because he now believes that the Biblical evidence for YEC is overwhelming. He evidently believes that Biblical evidence is more important than scientific evidence. My own belief, and that of many others, is that God reveals Himself to us both through nature and through the Bible (and in other ways, especially through Jesus Christ) and that, if we understood both correctly, there would be no conflict between them. I further believe that the scientific evidence for an old earth, and an old universe, is overwhelming, and that the Bible can be interpreted as not being opposed to that idea without doing violence to the Scripture. I may be wrong.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip

Grof hit in the eye

(The graphic above serves as a live link to the original, at a larger size, in my Flickr photostream. No password is necessary to view a larger size there. The words in Grof's brain are a listing of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins, with their associated colors.)

I have suddenly realized that I have never blogged about one of my all-time favorite books, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia A. McKillip. This is a gap that I wish to fill as soon as I possibly can. (I have blogged about several of her other works. If interested, click on the Patricia A. McKillip tag at the end of this post. Perhaps the most important of these posts is an analysis of Christian themes in a trilogy by McKillip.) I am not alone in thinking that this is a good book. It won the first World Fantasy Award ever given.

I will not try to set forth a summary of the book. The Wikipedia article on it does a good job of that. I will discuss one aspect of the book, which, I have argued elsewhere, is a frequent theme in McKillip's novels. That aspect is the rejection of vengeance. Several of McKillip's characters, although grievously wronged, decide not to take vengeance on those who have harmed them.

The quotation from the book, in the graphic, is found in two places, in both cases spoken by Cyrin, the magic boar. In the first instance, it is spoken to Coren, who is in the process of falling in love with Sybel, the sorceress (and she with him). Coren is full of desire for revenge for a brother who has fallen in battle to the enemy of his family. In the second place, it is spoken to Sybel, herself. She was captured, and her mind examined deeply, by a magician in the pay of King Drede, who is also Coren's family's chief opponent. Sybel comes to see that, in her desire for vengeance, she has been using Coren, her husband, and his family, and that if she continues to be driven by that desire, she will lose everything that is important to her. She withdraws from pursuing vengeance. The statement made by Cyrin is on pages 106 and 249 of the 2006 edition of the book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Bible has something to say about this matter:
Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat.
    If he is thirsty, give him water to drink:
22 for you will heap coals of fire on his head,
    and Yahweh will reward you.

and, quoting and expanding on this:

Romans 12:19 Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him.
    If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
    for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.” (Both quotations from the World English Bible.)

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sunspots 284

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: Wired reports that bonobo females are better with tools than males are. (The same is true of chimpanzees, which are similar to bonobos.)

Earthlink News has a story from the Associated Press, which reports that a doctor is being seriously criticized, and in legal troubles, because he attempted to implant too many early embryos into a woman who eventually gave birth to octuplets.

From something called Guiding Tech: security tips for your laptop.

CNN reports that Apple has patented technology that, it claims, could be used to stop "sexting."

Jamie has some outside the box thoughts on the Bible verses we are most likely to know and love.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Marriage ceremonies not religious in Bible times: musings

In a recent post, I concluded that marriage ceremonies, in Bible times, were not religious in nature, but were civil, social, and secular. (I also indicated that God is interested, deeply interested, in marriage!)

So what? What might happen if we went back to the way they did things in the Bible? Should we? Let me muse about this matter.

1) One disturbing trend is the number of young people who are living together, having children, but not marrying. I believe that one reason for an increase in such couples is economic. Weddings cost too much. They don't have to, of course, but they often do. So the couple decides to live together without marriage. Years ago, in the church I attend, a couple got married after the morning service. The pastor just said, to the congregation, something like, "You are dismissed. However, if you wish, you can stay for the wedding of X and Y, who will be undergoing their marriage ceremony right after the service." Most of us stayed. Some people were there for the ceremony, who wouldn't have been there otherwise. The pastor performed a simple marriage ceremony, and that was it. No big reception. No invitations. No florist. No photographer. The couple are now grandparents, and are still married. I don't know if they are part of a church now. The last I knew, they were. (My wife and I eloped, also getting married without any of the expensive trappings.)

(However, it seems that marriage ceremonies in Israel were also expensive, or at least often were, perhaps lasting several days, and requiring an abundance of food, and other preparations. See here for an article on marriage ceremonies in Bible times.)

I suggest that church wedding ceremonies should be short and simple. That way, people who want to marry and live together could do so, with the blessing of a church, without burdensome expense for the parents and themselves. Anyone who wants to could have a big party, with catered food, flowers, music, and photographer, but let that be separate from the church ceremony.

2) Consider how little time is spent on the religious part of getting married, compared to all the rest of it, in a "church wedding." The actual ceremony, conducted by a minister, is often considerably shorter than the time the guests have to wait for the family photographs to be taken. Throw in the showers, the rehearsal party, the reception, and other events, and the formal wedding ceremony, itself, becomes insignificant -- a minor appendage on a big event.

3) Churches, or pastors, or parents, often seem to hope that, if an unchurched couple is married in church, they will decide to become part of that church body. Perhaps that happens once in a while. I don't think it happens very often. In some respects, having an explicitly Christian ceremony for non-Christians seems like hypocrisy. On balance, wouldn't it better for churches and pastors to not encourage non-churched couples to get married in church, but rather to discourage it?

C. S. Lewis (who had never been married at the time) said this:
If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

and this:
A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognise that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not. both quotes from "Christian Marriage," pp. 96-103, in Mere Christianity. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Orig. published by Macmillan, apparently in 1952) Quotes are from p. 98

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Once Brothers": Vlade Divac and Dražen Petrović

I was privileged to see most of the documentary, "Once Brothers," on ESPN on October 12th. (I was channel surfing -- I haven't watched ESPN during prime time for months.)

This is a great documentary, combining basketball, international politics, and forgiveness and reconciliation. See here for a review. The film is available here, and probably in other places. It concentrates on Vlade Divac, a Serbian, and Dražen Petrović, a Croatian. Both were basketball players. They came to the US, drafted by NBA teams. At that time, they were both citizens of Yugoslavia, and great friends. They played together on the Yugoslavian National Basketball team, which beat a good US team in an international tournament. They would talk to each other for hours. (They were on two different NBA teams, so didn't see each other much.)

Unfortunately, Yugoslavia fell apart, and so did their relationship. They barely spoke. Then Petrović was killed in an auto accident, just as he was coming into NBA stardom.

The film has footage of NBA and other basketball, and discusses the careers of the two men. It features interviews with Magic Johnson, who was a teammate of Divac, and with some US-born teammates of Petrović. More importantly, it shows interviews with Toni Kucoč and Dino Radja, both Croatians who were former Yugoslavians, and former NBA players, as they give their views of what happened to the relationship between the two principals.

Divac, although seldom mentioned now, had one of the great careers of NBA players, being "one of six players in NBA history to record 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocked shots, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon," according to the Wikipedia article on him. Petrović might have had an equally lustrous career, had he lived. (I did a little research on the NBA site, and discovered that the organization didn't always keep track of blocked shots. Bill Russell almost certainly would have been included in this small group, if they had. Perhaps other players would have, too.)

It was a pleasure to hear from players I used to watch on TV. It was a pain to hear how the two principals fell out over geography, ethnicity, and international politics. The falling out was probably the fault of neither, or perhaps both. Divac, at least, apparently tried to mend the breach, but never was able to.

The film includes footage of Divac traveling to Croatia, where he had not been in many years, and visiting the parents of his old friend. It seems clear that he reconciled with them, and they with him, at least. Original friendship, and reconciliation, are important to us. They are even more important to God. (The film is not overtly religious, but indicates that Petrović read his Bible more during a time when he was disappointed because he didn't get much playing time, and Divac uses God's name a time or two, in a grateful way.)

Paul mentions Christ's ministry of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:11-18 and Romans 5:11.

Thanks for reading. If you need to reconcile with someone, or with God, do so.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sunspots 283

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: Wired reports that a survey of part of New Guinea, in 2009, resulted in the discovery of many new species of animals. There are photos.

Wired also reports on research that indicates that fetuses acted to increase contact with other fetuses in the womb. (The research used pre-birth twins.)

Christianity: Jan presents a scriptural argument for gender equality in the church.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Female headship - musings

In May of this year, I posted on the topic of Biblical examples of female spiritual heads of families.

I got no comments, which may be what the post deserved, but I draw your attention to it again, just in case anyone wants to read it and/or submit a comment.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Is a designer for genetic information necessary or proved?

In a recent post to the Biologos Forum, Randy Isaac, who is currently Executive Director of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization about science, with members who are Christians, argues against a common claim of the Intelligent Design movement. That claim, particularly made by Stephen Meyer, is that genetic information is similar to computer instructions, and, therefore, that there must be a designer of genetic information, just as there is a designer for a set of computer instructions.

Isaac argues, I think persuasively, that the two types of information are fundamentally different. He writes:
The significance and meaning of computer code depends on the abstract, or symbolic, significance attributed to physical states of the computer by an intelligent agent. In sharp contrast, the significant functionality of the information of a living cell depends on physical survival and not on abstract significance. Hence, the information in a living cell can be selected for functionality by physical processes without an intelligent agent whereas computer code cannot.

Note that Isaac does not say that there is no such thing as a Designer. His claim is that Meyer has not demonstrated a proof of His existence.

Hebrews 11:3 says: By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible. (WEB) This verse may be saying -- I'm not sure -- that scientific proof of God's existence is impossible.

Thanks for reading. Read Isaac.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Alive when the sun has cease to provide energy

The fires of the sun shall be quenched at last,
And the steadfast stars be gone;
But souls of the ransomed shall live in strength,
And they still shall be going on.

Going on, going on,
They still shall be going on;
Forever and aye, through eternal day,
They still shall be going on.

As souls that remember and feel and thrill,
We shall live when seas are dry;
As separate beings, to love and will,
We shall live, nevermore to die.

From glory to glory our path shall be,
And from grace to perfect grace;
Through all the wide years of eternity,
We shall look on our dear Lord’s face.

Refrain revised: Going on, going on,
We still shall be going on;
Forever and aye, through eternal day,
We still shall be going on.

- "Going On," by Jessie Brown Pounds, public domain, written about 1900.

At this time, of course, it was impossible for Ms. Pounds to know about the nuclear reactions that provide the energy that we rely on so much. But no matter -- that first verse is a remarkable thought!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Second Law of Thermodynamics: Visual Representation

Order and disorder

An attempt to show order and disorder. Order, above, means that entities are not randomly distributed, but that they are concentrated. That makes them easier to use -- to hunt for, or mine for, for example.

Any closed system tends to have disorder increase. Eventually, everything will be distributed randomly throughout. We say, also, that entropy has increased, in such a situation. The only way to restore order is to do work on the system, that is, to use external energy.

Thanks for looking!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Sunspots 282

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Science: Wired reports on a fossil penguin, which stood about 5 feet (1.6 meters) in height. I was surprised to find out that there is evidence of the color of the feathers, and at least some of the bird's feathers were red.

Wired also reports on experiments in group behavior. Groups that did better on the tests administered did not have the most intelligent individuals, but the most socially aware individuals -- and women are more socially aware than men.

National Public Radio has a conversation with a behavioral scientist who has studied how we interact with dentists. It turns out that, the more we trust our dentists, the more they are likely to administer expensive, or unnecessary, treatments.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Was marriage religious in New Testament times?

Most churches treat the marriage ceremony as a sacrament. That is, the marriage ceremony should be religious, as well as secular, and can be specially blessed by God.* Many persons desire to be married in a church ceremony. I have read, somewhere, that even in Japan, where most people never attend a Christian church of any type, many of them are choosing to be married in a church. I suppose that there is a fair proportion of homosexual couples who wish to be married in a church.

*disclaimer - my wife and I eloped, and were married in a civil ceremony. That's not why I'm writing this. Both of our daughters were married in a church setting, and we were happy that that was true.

The marriage ceremony, in the Bible, was not an especially religious event. I'm not good enough at church history, or at the history of the Israelite people, to know answers to some questions that I'd like to have answers for. So I'll stick with what I think Bible says.

Well, not really. I'll start with what it doesn't say. There are detailed instructions to the priests, in Leviticus and elsewhere, as to how to prepare and offer sacrifices, how to deal with mold in houses, how to decide if a woman has committed adultery or not, what to do if someone claims to be healed from leprosy, and other matters. But there's not a single instruction about how to perform a marriage ceremony. Jesus attended a marriage ceremony, but there is no suggestion that he attended in any other capacity than as a guest, presumably a friend of the family. Nor is there any suggestion that a priest or rabbi performed that, or any other marriage ceremony, in the New Testament. Paul has some instructions as to how to act toward a spouse, and suggestions as to whether or not to get married, but no instructions as to how to perform a marriage ceremony.

In New Testament times, there is no biblical evidence that marriage ceremonies were specially integrated with the worship of the congregation, and there is no such evidence in the Old Testament, either. Marriage ceremonies were a secular, social, civil event. So how did the marriage ceremony become a sacrament? I'm not sure. But my point remains. If God wanted it to be part of worshiping Him, the Israelites, and the early Christians, didn't know it, and apparently didn't expect it. It's a later development.

Does this mean that God is not interested in marriage? By no means. The Bible, from one end to the other, has a great deal about the marriage relationship. God spoke to Adam and Eve about this, early in Genesis, and Christ is presented as the groom of the church in Revelation. Christ reiterated what Adam and Eve were told. As mentioned above, Paul wrote about the marriage relationship, and how it ought to work. There is a whole book of the Bible which seems to be about matrimonial love.

In a later post, I'll try to consider some possible implications of the idea that maybe the marriage ceremony shouldn't, or at least shouldn't always, be connected with a congregational act of worship.

Thanks for reading.

See here for a related post, at a later date.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Science as a basis for morality

Sam Harris is, according to a review of his latest book in The New York Times, an important New Atheist. I had never heard of him until reading the review. (I have the NYT's book reviews e-mailed to me every week. I ignore most of the books reviewed, of course. The book is The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.)

According to the reviewer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Harris's book makes the claim of his subtitle, that is, that science, and, apparently, only science, preferably neuroscience, can give us coherent values. I have not read the book, but suppose, judging from the subtitle, that Appiah has characterized Harris fairly. Appiah also has an important criticism:
But wait: how do we know that the morally right act is, as Harris posits, the one that does the most to increase well-being, defined in terms of our conscious states of mind? Has science really revealed that? If it hasn’t, then the premise of Harris’s all-we-need-is-science argument must have nonscientific origins.

Appiah goes on to say that, in fact, Harris is proposing a sort of utilitarianism, which is a venerable sort of ethics, but, as the history of ethical philosophy has shown, is not without some serious problems.

I think it's fair to say that science hasn't yet offered a scientific basis for a system of values -- what is right and wrong, and what should be be striving for (and against). It is also fair to say that other non-scientific attempts have not met with universal acclaim. I'll take the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, from Matthew 7:12) as my standard. It doesn't come from neuroscience.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Science relies on objective knowledge; religion on subjective faith

There is at least a grain of truth in the title of this post, I believe. But perhaps things aren't quite that simple.

Karl Giberson, a scientist with solid credentials, as well as a writer with considerable background in philosophy and Christianity, argues that at least some of those who make such claims (among them, the so-called New Atheists) are not being fair. Some scientific truths are well known, and generally accepted, but some aren't, at least not yet. Giberson gives examples.

He also says that:
Science purchases its great success by choosing easy problems and thus will always provide a clearer model for thinking than, say theology, or literary criticism, or sociology, or aesthetics. But it does suggest that we should not be exclaiming about how much clearer our understanding of penicillin is than our understanding of the Incarnation.
In other words, no wonder science has achieved objective agreement on lots of things -- it deals with simpler questions!

Thanks for reading. Read Giberson's essay -- it's brief.