Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review Suggestions

I'm thinking of doing some book reviews for my blog.  Trouble is, I'm tossed as to which books to review.  Here are a few I'm interested in.

Still, I wonder, which books would you like me to review?  Keep in mind your suggestions are just that: suggestions.  I may not take them up, but I'm willing to look into them, absolutely.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Having Their Cake And Eating It, Too

I don't really know anymore if it is morally acceptable for me to pick on such unwitting targets.  However, the Catholic Church really does provide a limitless storehouse of stupidity to whittle away at.  For example, I just learned that the Catholic Church has listed the "attempted ordination of women" amongst their roster of horribly horrible crimes.

The Catholic News Service notes that,
the "attempted ordination of women" will be listed among those crimes, as a serious violation of the sacrament of holy orders, informed sources said. As such, it will be handled under the procedures set up for investigating "delicta graviora" under the control of the doctrinal congregation.
And let's not forget that the delicta graviora is also the same description pinned to such base crimes as "sexual abuse."  So, while it is that the Catholic Church and I can agree that there are a good many actions and states that are horribly immoral, we certainly must part ways when it comes to whether a woman can chant the mass and preach a sermon.  And just for those technically-minded Catholics out there, we can still part ways on whether it is immoral to give a spiritual appointment (ordination) that sets a woman up as an authority in the assemblies of God.  Because while I really see no problem with dashing the hopes of an oudated and repressive patriarchy, those technically-minded Catholic parrots who just put-up with whatever's tossed at them are just as immoral, in my mind, as those people who are actually committing crimes against humanity.

How?  They've decided to jettison their reason in favour of allowing someone else -- namely the pope and his posse of misogynistic cronies -- determine their morality in opposition to observable reality.  In general, this sort of misguided acceptance of a single ruler's decrees is understood as a dictatorship, which most of the world considers immoral and inhumane.  But as long as suppressing and oppressing women is considered acceptable because such actions are declared under the banner of a "religion", then it's fine.  Because once religion is appended to a dictatorship, what is instinctively understood to be really fucking evil, is suddenly moral.

To sum:

1. The Catholic Church and I agree that sexual abuse is wrong, even evil;
2. The Catholic Church and I strongly disagree that attempting to ordain women is just as evil as other crimes against humanity.

Mind you, as an independent entity, Catholics can set up their own rules for self-governance and internal expectations, and women wanting to become priests really ought to look elsewhere.  But when the threat of damnation is extended to people who are not part of "the true Church", why would a sincere believing woman who has all the giftings of a priest not want to be a Catholic priest?  If by not being a Catholic you risk your salvation, then an intensely devout woman who wants to be a priest has to make the decision: forget her dreams and self-identified personhood, or risk her soul.  So, essentially, the priestly woman is damned if she does, and damned if she doesn't.  Looks like the Catholics can have their cake and eat it, too.

But don't worry: that same woman can just go home and have 12 babies, like a good little Catholic.  She can be "saved through childbearing" (1 Tim. 2:15).  You know, where she can find true fulfillment.

Here's another source on the same issue.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Muzzle the Man, Please

Darth Benedict, head of the Catholic Empire, has used his force to publish a book.  Again.  This time, in Light of the World, one of the topics he tackles is the subject of condom use -- something he and his other spindly-fingered, virgin Sith Lords know a lot about.  I suppose when we want advice, we're all be beholden to the experts, right?

Anyway, Catholicism's chief mouth-breather has announced it to the Empire, and to the scattered remnants of the Rebel Alliance (i.e., Protestants and Non-Catholics alike) that people can hereby use condoms in exceptional circumstances; e.g., if you're going to have sex with a male prostitute.  Or perhaps he should add "if you're going to have sex with a priest."

In any case, people are going to hit the sheets.  There's no exception to that reality.  So, just what kind of "exceptional circumstance" warrants capping one's John-Thomas?  Why, if one's John-Thomas is going to potentially threaten the life of another, of course!  But if you just want to have an hour well-spent with your partner, and not be given over 9 months later to an 18-20 year responsibility, well that's just wrong, evil, sinful, and damnably ungodly.

So are condoms valid in AIDS-riven Africa?

"The Pope made clear in his view condoms were no answer to the Aids pandemic."

So there you have it, commmoners, Darth Benedict has indicated that despite the exceptional circumstances of sexually transmitted diseases that will kill you, they are not the kind of exceptional circumstances that warrant a latex moment. But if you're an African male prostitute, perhaps with AIDS, well that's fine. Go ahead. It's exceptional only when it's exceptional, and not all exceptions are the same. Excepting exceptional circumstances, your circumstances are only exceptional if they're exceptionally exceptional. Then you can put a cap on it. But don't do it if you're just out for some fun. That would make you an evildoer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rational Warrant: A Critique, P. I

An argument for belief in God attempts to establish credible evidence for a divine overseer orchestrating, or being aback of, the universe.  The direction of all argumentation concerning God's existence is to start with what we do know and extrapolate outward to the best possible conclusion concerning things we don't know. 

For example, the Cosmological Argument proposes that from matter we can extrapolate that there must have been a designer because all of what is, is contingent (i.e., dependent on other material things).  That everything material is contingent necessitates that there must have been one non-contingent, or wholly independent beginning to everything else.  This wholly independent thing is often referred to as "God."

From the example of the Cosmological Argument, it can be seen that the argument progresses from what is known (the existence and characteristics of the material world) to what is unknown (God).  A note on that point: by 'God as an unknown', I simply mean that the argument itself does not prove the existence of a super-being so much as it illustrates a logical correlation; namely, that the material world seems to exist in such a way that it must have derived its existence from a point not dependent on it.  However, correlation is not causality, so the Cosmological Argument cannot be used as a proof proper for God's existence; it can, however, be used as a reduction to a possible conclusion; a "rational warrant", as it were.

Which brings us to the point of this article: I do not consider rational warrant to be anything more than begging the question (circular reasoning), or a cheap rhetorical trick that ends in relativism.

First, anyone reasoning along the lines of a classic proof such as the Cosmological Argument already has in mind the inevitable conclusion, which is fine if you are attempting to defend the cosmological proposition for God.  As a friend recently reminded me, all debate happens that way: the opposing sides know what their conclusions are, and they argue accordingly toward those conclusions.  But notice that the conclusions are already assumed.  Philosophically speaking then, arguments for and against the existence of God already assume the conclusion to the proofs they offer.  This is wholesale question-begging: X is true, this is how X is true, therefore X is true; or, God is real, the cosmological argument shows that, therefore God is real.

Now, as my friend stated, and I agreed, such reasoning is fine in a debate setting because it would be a little improper to go into a debate not knowing your position on the resolution.  However, for a philosophical proof and a didactic aide, such reasoning only gives a person logical permission to assume a plausible conclusion; that is, "rational warrant."  And rational warrant, is not proof.  Rational warrant cannot firm up the link between correlation and causality, therefore it is not conclusive proof.  Rational warrant is only a fancy way of giving yourself permission to believe a given plausibility clause when the hard work of reasoning through a syllogism is over.

That brings us to my second point: "rational warrant" is a cheap rhetorical trick.  Suppose I was to say to you, "there is a 900 lbs. hungry tiger in the next room," and you realised there was no door between you and the hungry tiger.  You would suddenly have a swell of emotions that correlate to your inward ideas of a hungry tiger, what that tiger is capable of doing to a person, and your own need for safety.  You would, in fact, have what Kant described as a noumenal experience.

Even before you encountered the hungry tiger, you would start experiencing that tiger as if it were real, and as if your life were in danger because of it.  Then you would take whatever measures you had to to ensure your personal safety.  All very logical, and all quite appreciable.  However, you still haven't received any proof of a hungry tiger in the next room, so you have effectively believed my proposition that "there is a 900 lbs. hungry tiger in the next room" because it was reasonable for you to believe me (at least for the purpose of this illustration!).  In effect, you had "rational warrant" to believe my claim.

Now let's say that two days later, you learned that I was just tricking you.  You would be right to be irritated, but you would also recognise the falsity of your "rationally warranted" beliefs concerning the 900 lbs. tiger.  And this is where the notion of "rational warrant" really breaks down: simply reasoning to a plausible conclusion is not proof, and that's all "rational warrant" is: reasoning to a plausible conclusion.  It is a stylised flash of rhetoric that gives a veneer of reason to a belief-claim.

Because "rational warrant" is a catch-phrase or byword indicating the right of every person to believe whatever they'd like based on their subjective experience of a thing, or a proposition, it reduces even further to relativism.  That is, the notion that what I believe is just as true and valid as what you believe, even if we disagree.  Objective reality (A is A) is thrown out the window, so to speak, in favour of a solipsistic encounter with the world.  Which is fine if you're a solipsist, but for those of us who don't simply assimilate external realities into our self-projections on the world, the relativism of "rational warrant" simply doesn't supply a useful tool to interacting with the world.

The idea of "rational warrant", as I recently learned, can only apply to those beliefs which are actually true.  In effect, this means that a vast majority of beliefs held through history have not been rationally warranted.  But that can only be known in retrospect because once a belief is shown to be false, it is no longer rationally warranted, and it can only be shown to be false after people have already believed a certain belief and thought themselves rationally warranted in doing so -- that was a mouthful, I know.

So for a believing Christian, say, they would consider their beliefs "rationally warranted" because they are able to determine correlations between what they experience (mysticism),  the contingencies in nature, and what they already assume about supernatural realities (e.g., that God exists).  Oddly though, a believing Christian would disagree with the beliefs derived of a Muslim experience, and visa versa, even though they may agree on a good number of things, too.  And both the Christians and the Muslims would be "rationally warranted" for both their agreements and disagreements surrounding their particular metaphysic.

Given the clash between competing belief systems, how can "rational warrant" be rationally claimed?  Simple answer: it cannot.  As I stated before, it is a cheap rhetorical trick used to prop-up the arguments of one set of beliefs, sometimes in the face of a competing set of beliefs.  And if competing beliefs cannot both be true (see: law of non-contradiction), then anyone claiming rational warrant for their beliefs has also to claim a relativistic mindset concerning reality.

In part II, I will discuss how a relativistic mindset toward reality not only denies reality but also reduces belief-sets (e.g., Christianity, Islam, religion in general) to agnosticism.

***Thank-you to AgnosticInnocence for the picture.***