van Inwagen on the Origins of Human Rationality

From the fifth of his lectures on the problem of evil:
"It is not a discovery of evolutionary biology that there are no miraculous events in our evolutionary history. It could not be, any more than it could be a discovery of meteorology that the weather at Dunkirk during those fateful days in 1940 was not due to a specific and local divine action. Anyone who believes either that the coming-to-be of human rationality or the weather at Dunkirk had purely natural causes must believe this on philosophical, not scientific, grounds. In fact, the case for this is rather stronger in the matter of the genesis of rationality, for we know a lot about how the weather works, and we know that the rain clouds at Dunkirk are the sort of thing that could have had purely natural causes. We most assuredly do not know that rationality could have arisen through natural causes - or, at any rate, we do not know this unless we somehow know that everything in fact has purely natural causes. This is because everyone who believes that human rationality could have arisen from purely natural causes believes this solely on the basis of the following argument: Everything has purely natural causes; human beings are rational; hence, the rationality of human beings could have arisen from purely natural causes because it did so arise in fact."


Liberal vs. Conservative Values

So Experimental Theology posted about a thesis on morality that explains the moral differences between liberals and conservatives.

The blogger, Richard Beck, summarizes Jonathan Haidt's five moral foundations:
Harm/Care: Harming others, failures of care/nurturance, or failures of protection are often cited as reasons for an act being “wrong.” Some virtues from this domain are kindness, caretaking, and compassion.

Fairness/Reciprocity: Inequalities or failures to reciprocate are often cited as evidence for something being “wrong.” Some virtues here are sharing, egalitarianism, and justice.

Ingroup/Loyalty: Failure to support, defend, and aid the group is often cited as evidence for “wrongness.” Virtues include loyalty, patriotism, and cooperation.

Authority/Respect: Failure to grant respect to culturally significant groups, institutions, or authority figures is often cause for sanction. Virtues include respect, duty, and obedience.

Purity/Sanctity: Anything that demeans, debases, or profanes human or religious dignity or sacredness is also a cause for sanction. Virtues include purity, dignity, and holiness.

Research has shown that liberals and conservatives differ in the degree to which they deploy these moral grammars. Specifically, liberals tend to emphasize the first two: Harm and Fairness. Conservatives, by contrast, often appeal to the last two: Authority and Purity. This is not to say that liberals or conservatives restrict themselves to these warrants, but they do display moral tendencies with some warrants being used more than others or some warrants held as more vital than others.
I think there is definitely some truth to this thesis. (After all, isn't there a little bit of truth to almost all ideas?)

I think of the difference between one of my best friends and myself. As a conservative, I am much more disturbed by premarital sex than my liberal friend is. In fact, she barely understands my disgust with it, while I cannot comprehend how she is so at ease with it. This seems to confirm the hypothesis.

Yet I still doubt if this hypothesis is accurate. I think conservatives value stay-at-home mothers much more than their liberal counterparts. After all, children need to be cared for, and it is unfair for them to not have a proper upbringing. Yet conservatives also feel that mothers have a “duty” to care for their children, whereas liberals seem to apply this concept of “duty” more... liberally. Even if the conservative mentality is that of Authority/Respect and not Harm/Care or Fairness/Reciprocity, I would say that the categories are not as easily classifiable as is suggested. A mother's duty comes from conservatives' sense of justice and obligation to take care of children.

For a firmer counterexample, I think of race relations. When looking at the issue of affirmative action, conservatives talk about equality and fairness for all people, including whites. It often seems that liberals today demand “respect” for what they deem culturally significant groups – minorities.

Liberal human rights campaigns are often couched in terms of human “dignity.” Conservatives are the ones who demand “justice” for the victims of violence. Compassionate Conservatism seems to defy this system of classification. Democratic soldiers appear to negate this hypothesis.

After taking the test, it revealed some more insight: Republicans are ranked almost evenly on all five categories, while Democrats rank much more highly on the first two. Essentially, Democrats care little for Authority or Purity, whereas Republicans care about all moral factors.

The more interesting component of what Beck discusses is the “disgust-factor” which is addressed in this recent New York Times article. The article essential states that Republicans tend to feel more disgust than Democrats, and thus are psychologically different. This appears easy to link to the fact that conservatives value purity more than liberals.

Yet I wonder if the difference in values system might stem from other, more relevant differences. The Democratic Party is much more secular than the Republican Party, and I can easily understand why religious people would be more affected by moral situations involving purity. Christians are also called to fulfill their duties and act with respect for authority, whereas secular humanists feel more of an obligation to help other human beings. I think that these religious differences may be more key to understanding morality than simple political affiliation.

Needless to say, much more research needs to be done on the subject before I will grant it any weight.


Lewis on Prayer

From Lewis' essay "The Efficacy of Prayer":
"Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of man? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to cooperate in the execution of His will. "God," says Pascal, "instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality." But it is not only prayer; whenever we act at all, He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so."


Calvin on Certainty

I think there's an idea floating around that faith used to mean "complete lack of doubt," and that recent Christian attempts to "reconcile" faith with doubt are just products of modern or existentialist thinking. It makes sense that Kierkegaard would write about the leap of faith (or, in his own terms, the leap to faith) - but would Paul think in the same way?

I'm not going to analyze Paul's writings for existential angst, but I will point out a relatively modern-sounding quotation from John Calvin I recently saw:
"When we inculcate that faith ought to be certain and secure, we conceive not of a certainty attended with no doubt, or of a security interrupted by no anxiety; but we rather affirm, that believers have a perpetual conflict with their own diffidence, and are far from placing their consciences in a placid calm never disturbed by any storms. Yet, on the other hand, we deny, however they may be afflicted, that they ever fall and depart from that certain confidence which they have conceived in the divine mercy."


Runia on the Hellenization of Christianity

From David T. Runia's Philo and the Church Fathers:
"[I]n retrospect the process of [the Hellenization of Christianity] was inevitable. By this I do not wish to say that it could not have gone differently. This is a matter of pure speculation. What I want to emphasize is that Christianity could not have become the Christianity that we know, if it had not accepted the challenge posed by Greek philosophy with its trust in a world-view based on rational thought. ... The process of Hellenization took place, but it did not penetrate to Christianity's heart. This heart is to be located in the Gospel, and within it, at the cross of Jesus Christ. This nucleus stays out of the reach of both Philonism and Platonism."



I always find it disconcerting when people ask me what my cafeteria is like. If you've ever seen Annenberg, you'll understand why the term cafeteria doesn't quite do it justice. The only sad thing about having such an incredible eating facility is that after eating there three meals a day, seven days a week, you begin to take it for granted. You forget how beautiful the building is, how much time went into producing the stained glass, how much effort was expended on its construction.

I feel that my developed indifference to the beauty of Annenberg and the skill of those who created it is similar to our acquired apathy to to the beauty of the world and the incredible nature of the God who created it.

Imagine what the world must appear like to a newborn: a strange set of colors, movements, and objects appearing randomly and without reason. It is only as the years begin to wear on us that we begin to treat the world as though it could not be any other way. As we begin to see the same beauty year after year, we begin to take sunrises and sunsets for granted. After a couple decades, we forget our love for first winter snowfalls and sunny summer days, crisp spring air and autumn's vibrant hues. We lose our sense of wonder at the world. We seek visible miracles while overlooking the fact that our very existence is a miracle in and of itself.

I love the random moments when I look at my dining hall and realize what I have been taking for granted because they remind me to thank God not only for the material things He gives us: food, shelter, and money, but for the fact that anything material even exists.

As Oscar Wilde said, "The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."


We are now featuring a new blogger: Sword Reforged.


Valedictory Address

This is the speech I gave at my high school graduation.
Before I begin, I'd like to thank Dr. Laurie, Mr. Laurie, Ms. Butts, Mrs. Shienvold, Mrs. Cvammen, Mr. Gulotta, the administration, deans, faculty, guidance, my peers and my family. Also, thank you to all the friends and family of the graduates for joining us.

It is now my honor to give a final valedictory address before we all blindly plunge into adulthood, following Life's ever-winding road. I have only a few words of advice to give, and though they might seem trite or corny now, I think they are very important.

Life can at once seem extremely beautiful, profound, and terrifying; our understanding of it is only imperfect and flawed. But among all doubts and uncertainties, among all the travails and absurdities of existence, I have always been sure of one thing: love. In my mind, there's nothing else really worth talking about.

Love is, unfortunately, a tired word, one reiterated unceasingly in our songs, farewells, and text messages. We "heart" nearly anything, from new bands to New York, from McDonald's to McSteamy. We constantly tell people we love them, and almost exclusively devote our literature, music, and cinema to the subject of love.

And yet, despite all our professions of love, despite all our emphasis, we still live in a desperate, crying world, a world that is beautiful but fragile, in which "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." We live in a world that all too often is lonely, cruel, and empty – a world, in short, that lacks love.

I have often wondered why a world that so obviously desires love would be so lacking in it, why a world that so idolizes love so desperately needs it. Although no one can be sure, I think our error often lies in not understanding love.

Love is not just a passion or a feeling, not just an attraction or an emotion. Love is nothing more or less than a willingness to sacrifice oneself for others, to value the well-being of others above our own.

Virtually since birth, we have been deluged with messages of individuality and self-discovery. We have placed a primacy on what we want to do, on what we want to be, and I fear we have forgotten that a life lived for oneself is no life at all.

I was asked to speak about the future, about the paths we all will pursue, about where the Road will lead us. I could have spoken about careers, crossroads, or choices, but I believe now and always that where we go and what we do will mean nothing if we do not love the people around us. Health, knowledge, and comfort are all stale and meaningless without this sincere love. "One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love."

Every day, we are blessed with the irreplaceable opportunity to brighten the lives of those around us, to make this world beautiful with our kindness and concern for others. We can love with our actions, love with our thoughts, and love with our words. We can't all be rich or famous or pretty or smart – but we can all love, even when it is difficult.

About two years ago, five Amish schoolchildren were murdered in a small Pennsylvania town. The response of the Amish community to such a tragedy was beautiful and powerful: love. The Amish, whom we often mock, loved and forgave in a way we rarely would, inviting the murderer's family to the funeral. As one grandfather watched his granddaughter's burial, he told the young Amish boys, "We must not think evil of this man."

I have been given the opportunity to speak today because of my academic performance. But the honest truth is that grades aren't what really matter. What matters is the people around us. Today, I am truly honored to share this moment with people who aren't just classmates, but friends. Many of you have sacrificed time, energy, and sanity for me and for each other, and that sacrifice is beautiful. I am proud beyond words that my three co-speakers and I never competed for accolades, but supported each other every step of the way, and I know all of us had friends like that during these past few years. Class of 2008, you are beautiful, intelligent, and talented people, but I respect you most for your kindness and compassion.

I can't tell you which college you should have chosen, which field you should major in, or which career you should enter. But I can make you one promise: if you love, if you are truly willing to dedicate yourself to friends, to family, to acquaintances, and even to strangers, it'll all be worth it. It won't be easy, it won't be safe or cautious – but it will be beautiful. "Love is strong as Death..." As we embark anew upon the Road, I hope we all can remember what the Beatles said: “All You Need Is Love.” Congratulations, Class of 2008.