AC Grayling – Humanism – Our monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This monthly meeting continued the discussion on what comes after religion or replaces religion. While some churches are seeing growth, much of that comes at the expense of other churches resulting in no net gain in the number who ascribe to old superstitions. Facing that apparent decline in faith, AC Grayling, an articulate philosopher from the UK looks at the much older and deeper tradition of humanism as a waiting resource for those willing to make the effort to lead thoughtful and compassionate lives or who worry that giving up on religion will leave them without an ethical, moral or meaningful view of life. As he notes, humanism provides for all of those and does so much better than any religion. The video below contains one of his best presentations on the topics covered in his newest book “The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism”.

While AC isn’t quite as well known and as visible in the secular community as folks like Dawkins and Harris, he is a steady source of some of the best thoughts regarding the humanistic perspective. For those still in the grip of religion and full of misunderstandings regarding atheism and the secular community, here is a elegant speaker who can help you understand where we are “coming from”.

“Godspell” musical at GRHS

Much to my surprise, I recently found myself at the Reif attending the musical “Godspell,” a production mounted by GRHS students under the direction of the GRHS choir director. Anyone else ever seen it? Even knowing the presumed-Christianity-mentality of GR, I was shocked that a public school would sponsor such a proselytizing musical. BTW, don’t fault the talented cast–they were wonderful. Thoughts?

Humanism Defined

As its title implies, AC Grayling’s book The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, is divided into two parts, the first pointing out what Grayling sees as the flaws in religion, and the second defining and advocating a humanistic perspective and approach to life.  But what is humanism?  Grayling defines it very succinctly:

“…in the sense now given to the word ‘humanism’ is a general label for ethical views about the nature of the good and well-lived life.  It concerns the fundamental question — a question that everyone has to consider — of what matters in life, and its answer is premised on the view that ethics must be based on our most generous and sympathetic understanding of human nature and the human condition.”

Another Refutation of Divine Command Theory

Divine Command Theory is not properly a theory; rather, it is the assertion that a deity is the source or ground of morality.  Divine Command Theory has been chopped to bits over the years, but as I have mentioned previously, I am working my way through Grayling’s new book, and he includes a quote from Gottfried Leibniz.  Leibniz — of “best of all possible worlds” infamy and as such a punching bag for Voltaire — is far from being my favorite philosopher, but this quote is worth at least a brief perusal:

“In saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but merely by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realising it, all the love of God and all his glory [Leibniz was, of course, a theist].  For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary?”

Speaking of Dragons…

Nice post Frost.  Since you mentioned dragons, it just so happens that I am reading AC Grayling’s new book.  Grayling includes Carl Sagan’s ‘The Dragon in My Garage’ story, which I believe is from Demon Haunted World.  Anyway, here it is, with one apparent minor edit from Grayling:

‘A fire-breathing dragon lives in my garage.’

Suppose I seriously make such an assertion to you.  Surely you’d want to check it out, see for yourself.  There have been innumerable stories of dragons over the centuries, but no real evidence.  What an opportunity!

‘Show me,’ you say.  I lead you to my garage.  You look inside and see a ladder, empty paint cans, an old tricycle — but no dragon.

‘Where’s the dragaon?’ you ask.

‘Oh, she’s right here,’ I reply, waving vaguely. ‘I neglected to mention that she’s an invisible dragon.,

You propose spreading flour on the floor of the garage to capture the dragon’s footprints.

‘Good idea,’ I say, ‘but this dragon floats in the air.’

Then you’ll use an infrared sensor to detect the invisible fire.

‘Good idea, but the invisible fire is also heatless.’

You’ll spray-paint the dragon and make her visible.

‘Good idea, but she’s an incorporeal dragon and the paint won’t stick.’

And so on.  I counter every physical test you propose with a special explanation of why it won’t work.

Now, what’s the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?  If there’s no way to disprove my contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that my dragon exists?  Your inability fo invalidate my hypothesis is not at all the same thing as proving it true.  Claims that cannot be tested, assertions immune to dispproof are veridically worthless, whatever value they may have in inspiring us or in exciting our sense of wonder.  What I’m asking you to do comes down to believing, in the absence of evidence, on my say-so…

Now another scenario: Suppose it’s not just me.  Suppose that several people of your acquaintance, including people who you’re pretty sure don’t know each other, all tell you that they have dragons in their garages — but in every case the evidence is maddeningly elusive.  All of us admit we’re disturbed at being gripped by so odd a conviction so ill-supported by the physical evidence.  None of us is a lunatic.  We speculate about what it would mean if invisible dragons were really hiding out in garages all over the world, with us humans just catching on.  I’d rather it not be true, I tell you.  But maybe all those ancient European and Chinese myths about dragons weren’t myths at all.

Gratifyingly, some dragon-size footprints in the flour are now reported.  But they’re never made when a sceptic is looking.  An alternative explanation presents itself.  On close examination it seems clear that the footprints could have been faked.  Another dragon enthusiast shows up with a burnt finger and attributes it to a rare physical manifestation of the dragon’s fiery breath.  But again, other possibilities exist.  We understand that there are other ways to burn fingers besides the breath of invisible dragons.  Such ‘evidence’ — no matter how important the dragon advocates consider it — is far from compelling.  Once again, the only sensible approach is tentatively to reject the dragon hypothesis, to be open to future physical data, and to wonder what the cause might be that so many apparently sane and sober people share the same strange delusion.

Karl Popper Quote

Cantankerous Canadian Catholic has presented herself as something of an oracle, suggesting that she has insight into future happenings resulting from the legalization of same sex marriage that the rest of us are unable to see.  The famous philosopher Karl Popper rejected claims to oracular knowledge, and considered them to be at odds with an Open Society.  Here is a sampling of Popper; expect more in the future:

“What we should do, I suggest, is to give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach. We may admit that our groping is often inspired, but we must be on our guard against the belief, however deeply felt, that our inspiration carries any authority, divine or otherwise. If we thus admit that there is no authority beyond the reach of criticism to be found within the whole province of our knowledge, however far it may have penetrated into the unknown, then we can retain, without danger, the idea that truth is beyond human authority. And we must retain it. For without this idea there can be no objective standards of inquiry; no criticism of our conjectures; no groping for the unknown; no quest for knowledge.”

5 Animals That, According To the Church, Are Fish

Because Catholicism is built around 1) feeling quilty about everything and 2) hypocracy about everything they believe, the Church has taken the stand that people don’t have to be quite as self-sacrificing during Lent as previously thought.

Incidentally, self-sacrifice is the entire point of Lent.

1) The Puffin

Claimed to be as much aquatic as terrestrial, these doofy looking birds are officially fish as far as God is concerned (despite being rather feathery and lung-y).

2) The Alligator

An endangered reptile–one of the closest things we have to dinosaurs in this time-machineless world–the American Alligator was okay-ed by and archbishop of New Orleans with no scientific backing in an e-mail he sent one afternoon.

3) The Muskrat

In the 1800s, a missionary declared these obnoxious rodents Kosher due to people in Michigan at the time having nothing else to eat and corpses cannot attend church, at least not until Jesus (or Yesshua if you prefer) gets off his ass and starts Lazarus-ing the shit out of our cemetaries.

4) The Beaver

First permissable in Canada–a country which, you may have noticed, has no shortage of fish–the largest North American rodent was requested to be eaten and permission was quickly granted.  Incidentally, when the sexually-repressed ask to be allowed to “eat beaver,” the wording is very important.

5) Corned Beef

Less a single animal and more an amalgamation of every meat-looking thing you can grind up and stick in a can, when it was realized that St. Patrick’s Day (a holiday where people wear green shit, get drunk, and forget how their clothes work) occasionally occurs during Lent, people desperatley begged the Church to let them have their traditional dinner of corned beef and cabbage, and Jesus abliged.

More From the Cantankerous Canadian

Ok, I mentioned that in a previous (2012) discussion with the person now identifying herself as “Cantankerous Canadian Catholic,” she asserted that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to the end of civilization, or something like that.  I decided to check and see what she actually said, and will post it below.  This may make her very angry, but I will redact her name and in any case if she really believes that the consequences of same-sex marriage will be so dire, she should be willing to make that case publicly.  So here it is:

Okay, I’ve been giving this a great deal of thought. Since you’re neither stupid or insensitive, I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why we seem to be at this impasse. And surprisingly, the clue seems to be in this line right here: “So allowing same-sex marriage would be turning society on its head? Come on, (name redacted). I like a bit of hyperbole now and then, but really?”

Try to imagine, just for a moment, that I’m right. That really and truly, legally allowing for same-sex marriage will turn society on its head. Let’s imagine you have a window into the future and can see that I’m right. Would you hesitate at all to vote “No”?

Here’s the thing: whether you believe it or not, I and others like me (including many who voted in support of Prop 8) genuinely believe that is the case. Otherwise, what interest would I have in preventing  others from making their own choices? If I didn’t honestly believe that this would be seismic, I would have no interest in standing in the way. Try to understand that I’m really not exaggerating–not even slightly.

I did some reading last night on David Blankenhorn, a liberal, supporter of gay rights who strongly opposed same-sex marriage, but who publicly dropped his opposition just a few months ago. His announcement is very interesting. He continues to feel strongly that same-sex marriage will negatively impact society in general and children in particular, but he has come to see that the public debate has become framed by the question of equal rights for gays rather than the long-term benefit to society and children. Basically, I guess he’s tired of being called a homophobe when’s he’s not one. I’m guessing that, like me, he’s come to realize that same-sex marriage is inevitable, so he might as well be perceived as being on the “winning” side.

I could give you lots of reasons why I believe that same-sex marriage will turn society on its head, but I don’t think you would see it. But seriously, check back in exactly 10 years. I think I can pretty much guarantee that I’m right. Now, certainly there are aspects of society that really ought to be turned on their heads, but I’d sure like to see a bit more forethought put into the consequences of our decisions, and more attention paid to the children who will inevitably suffer. A little more discussion and a quite a bit less mudslinging would help. It’s just interesting that some people get to decide the framework, and that’s what the media plays. As if there is no other perspective.

My point: Sure, there are homophobes, but there are also many people who oppose same-sex marriage for some very good, solid reasons, out of care and concern for what it will do to society in general and in particular to children. So you see, my interest is not purely academic. I’m interested in the rationale for these arguments, but ultimately I think every one of us has a vested interest in this decision, not only same-sex couples who are the most immediately impacted.

From the Cantankerous Canadian

Since she probably won’t take up my challenge and post on this blog the article that led to a disagreement between her and me, I will do so.  Here is the link:

And here is our point of disagreement: she was asserting that legalized same-sex marriage was a causal factor in the decline of the nuclear family in Canada.  While it is true that some of the data in the article is from the period 2006-2011 (same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005), other data sets stretch back much further, and the author states unequivocally that the decline in the percentage of traditional-style Canadian families is a long-term trend.  So, judge for yourself: is there anything in this article that could properly be considered as evidence for same-sex marriage leading to the decline of the family, let alone (mark her words!) the destruction of civilization?