Saturday, December 11, 2004

Science Leads Atheist to Deism

In an article written decades ago, Antony Flew recounts this parable:
Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, "some gardener must tend this plot." The other disagrees, "There is no gardener." So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. "But perhaps he is an invisible gardener." So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. (For they remember how H.G. Wells's The Invisible Man could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen.) But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the Believer is not convinced. "But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves." At last the skeptic despairs, "But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?"
Now Flew says that because of the complexity of the garden, i.e. DNA, this invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener must exist.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Consolation of Philosophy Part I

I was recently introduced to Albert Ellis, and his psychological school of thought. Ellis lost his faith in psychotherapy when he observed that those who met with him only weekly or bi-weekly had the same results as those who met with him daily. He also realized that in his life he worked through his own issues by reading and practicing the philosophies of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Spinoza, and Bertrand Russell.

I found a book by Bertrand Russell with a title that intrigued me, Unpopular Essays.

Russell is his own man when it comes to philosophy as shown by his panning of Plato's Republic. He wrote the fact that it is so widely admired is "perhaps the most astonishing example of literarary snobbery in all history." He called The Republic a totalitarian tract. It taught that the main purpose of education is to produce courage in battle. It advocated rigid censorship of literature (including Homer), drama, and music. The government should be in the hands of a small oligarchy, who are to practice trickery and lying. And it advocated a sort of social darwinism for the children of the lower classes.

In case this all sounds familar here is some consolation we can draw from true philosophy:
We must hope that a more rational outlook can be made to prevail, for only through a revival of Liberal tentativeness and tolerance can our world survive.
It is not worth while to inflict a comparatively certain present evil for the sake of a comparatively doubtful future good.
Systems of dogma without empirical foundation...have the advantage of producing a great degree of social coherence among their disciples, but they have the disadvantage of involving persecution of valuable sections of the population.
Dogmatism is an enemy of peace, and an insuperable barrier to democracy.
So long as men are not trained to withold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans.
In thinking about political problems this kind of emotional bias is bound to be present, and only care and practice can enable you to think as objectively as you do in the algebraic problem.
If rational thinking like this is not adopted by all of humanity, these will be the results in the most positive terms:
it is thought by many sober men of science that radio-active clouds, drifting round the world, may disintegrate living tissue everywhere. Although the last survivor may proclaim himself universal Emperor, his reign will be be brief and his subjects will all be corpses. With his death the uneasy episode of life will end, and the peaceful rocks will revolve unchanged until the sun explodes.
There, don't you feel better now?