Tag Archives | Jove’s Witnesses

The Fire Down Below

This story about the scientific controversy over the extinction of the dinosaurs (asteroid or no asteroid?) is interesting; but what I want to comment on here is this passage:

The impact [of the asteroid, if there was an asteroid] unleashed giant fireballs, crushing tsunamis, continent-shaking earthquakes, and suffocating darkness that transformed the Earth into what one poetic scientist described as “an Old Testament version of hell.”

Was Fantasia right after all?

Was Fantasia right after all?

The “poetic scientist” is not identified. I suppose there’s no reason to expect scientists to be any less ignorant about the Bible than most Bible-believers are about science (and the Bible, for that matter), but – what “Old Testament version of hell”? It remains controversial among Biblical scholars whether Hell is even a thing in the Old Testament; but even if it is, it goes pretty much undescribed. All the lake-of-fire-and-brimstone stuff about Hell is in the New Testament. The Old Testament does have some bombastic apocalyptic prophecies, but they describe a future condition of Earth, not Hell. (Some Christians [e.g., Adventists] believe that all Biblical references to Hell actually are references to a future condition of Earth, but that hasn’t been the traditional view.)

I suspect the “poetic scientist” simply assumed that any lurid passages about Hell must belong to the Old Testament, given the New Testament’s “kinder-gentler” reputation. But whether or not the New Testament really is kinder-gentler than the Old depends very much on which parts one focuses on (unsurprisingly, given that both texts are collections of works by a variety of authors from a variety of time periods and with a variety of viewpoints).

The Invisible East

In the 3rd edition of Classics of Philosophy – which is, ironically, one of the texts I’m using in my “Philosophy East and West” course – Louis Pojman and Lewis Vaughn write:

The first philosophers were Greeks of the sixth century B.C. living on the Ionian coast of the Aegean Sea, in Miletus, Colophon, Samos, and Ephesus. Other people in other cultures had wondered about these questions, but usually religious authority or myth had imposed an answer. … The Great Civilizations of Egypt, China, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, and Persia … had produced art and artifacts and government of advanced sorts, but nowhere, with the possible exception of India, was anything like philosophy or science developed. Ancient India was the closest civilization to produce philosophy, but it was always connected with religion, with the question of salvation or the escape from suffering. Ancient Chinese thought, led by Confucius (551-475 B.C.), had a deep ethical dimension. But no epistemology or formulated logic. (pp. 3-4)

Is this true?

The two earliest Upanishads – the Brihadaranyaka-upanishad and the Chhandogya-upanishad – are generally dated to the 7th century BCE or earlier. They contain clear examples of philosophical argumentation. So why don’t their authors – or the thinkers whose views they purport to record (e.g., Yajñavalka and Uddalaka) – count as Indian philosophers antecedent to the Greeks?

Apparently because their views were “connected with religion” and “the question of salvation.” Yet Classics of Philosophy contains writings by Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas, Pascal, and Kierkegaard – for all of whom philosophy was closely bound up with religious questions. If this connection doesn’t invalidate their claim to be philosophers, why does it invalidate the like claim of their Indian predecessors?

In any case, it is not even true that all early Indian philosophical thought is connected with religion. The Charvaka or Lokayata school, which was atheistic, materialistic, and hedonistic, is generally dated to the late 7th century BCE as well – thus again antedating the Greeks.

As for why the early Chinese thinkers are ruled out as philosophers, we’re told it’s because, although they had a “deep ethical dimension,” they had “no epistemology or formulated logic.” So epistemology and logic are philosophy but ethics is not?

And anyway it’s not true that early Chinese thought had no epistemology or formulated logic. Even if we leave aside the exploration of logical paradoxes by such thinkers as Zhuangzi, Hui Shi, and Gongsun Long, we have a pretty clear example of epistemology and formulated logic in the Mohist Canons.

Of course the Mohist Canons date to around the 3rd century BCE, so if Pojman and Vaughn are making only a claim of chronological priority, they’re entitled to dismiss them. But the tone of the passage certainly offers no hint that these Chinese and Indian traditions got more philosophical later. And the fact that no Indian or Chinese sources appear in an anthology titled Classics of Philosophy (rather than, say, Classics of Western Philosophy) suggests that they don’t regard even later Chinese and Indian thought as containing anything worthy of the status of philosophic classic. The sophisticated logical and epistemological debates among the Navya-Nyaya, Purva-Mimamsa, Vyakarana, and Sautrantika-Yogachara schools, for instance, count for nothing, apparently.

It was bad enough when Antony Flew ignorantly declared in 1971 that Eastern Philosophy contains no arguments, but this is the 21st century, for petesake.


One of our majors, Katie Kirk, has an op-ed on Roy Moore in the New York Times today. (Or the New York Times, if you really prefer.) Congratulations, Katie!

Unholy See

The latest trailer for the upcoming film Ready Player One features this image – which is clearly a dark riff on the Vatican:

Here’s the real-life original:

Descartes and Vitoria

I’ve long been a fan of interpretations of Descartes that lay at least as much stress on the continuity as on the discontinuity of his thought with Scholastic Aristoteleanism. (This is no doubt due in large part to the influence of Paul Hoffman, my first Descartes teacher: see here and here.)

I’ve just come across yet another point in which Descartes appears indebted to his Scholastic predecessors. In 1530, over a century before Descartes published his Meditations, Francisco de Vitoria of the University of Salamanca, best known for his defense of native American rights against the Spanish conquistadors, delivered a lecture On Homicide in which the following passage appears:

God could not create a habit which would incline toward what is false. … And by this reasoning, first principles also, even though they are self-evident, can be in a certain way proven. For what if someone were to say that he was forced to assent to this principle: “Every whole is greater than its part,” but would also say that he was afraid perhaps that he was deceived, just as a man sometimes is forced to believe something on the authority of men, in whom the man must have faith and yet it could happen that he be deceived? What, I say, if someone were to speak like this about first principles – could he not be induced by some reasoning to assent to them? Indeed, I think that if someone were to admit to me that God cannot lie nor deceive, he would also concede that it is necessary that a rational creature be created by God with this necessary inclination to consent to these principles, and would evidently be convinced that such principles are true. For if they are false, and God is forcing the human intellect to consent to them, it is plainly evident that God is deceiving men and consequently lying. Similarly, if God were to create any habit inclining toward what is false, He would rightly be accused of lying and deception. (Francisco de Vitoria, Relection on Homicide, trans. John P. Doyle [Marquette, 1997], p. 65.)


Some quick comments on Jeff Deist’s latest:

[W]hile libertarians enthusiastically embrace markets, they have for decades made the disastrous mistake of appearing hostile to family, to religion, to tradition, to culture, and to civic or social institution[s] – in other words, hostile to civil society itself.

This is a dubious package-deal. Many libertarians have been hostile to religion (often for good reason). Hostility to family per se is not terribly common (leaving aside Molyneux), though hostility to family-based oppression is. As for tradition, libertarians – like everybody else – embrace some traditions and reject others.

But the real howler is the alleged hostility to “culture, and … civic or social institutions.” Where are there any examples or evidence of this?

[I]t is reasonable to believe that a more libertarian society would be less libertine and more culturally conservative – for the simple reason that as the state shrinks in importance and power, the long-suppressed institutions of civil society grow in importance and power. And in a more libertarian society, it’s harder to impose the costs of one’s lifestyle choices on others.

As I see it, this gets things precisely backwards. States impose uniformity; civil society, freed of state control, caters to diversity. It’s true, to be sure, that a libertarian society makes it “harder to impose the costs of one’s lifestyle choices on others” – but what is cultural conservatism if not a massive attempt to impose the costs of lifestyle choices on others? (On this point, see my critique of Rothbard on patriarchy here.)

If any evidence is needed of the dangers of cultural conservatism, notice that Deist feels moved to invoke an actual Nazi slogan in his closing paragraph:

In other words, blood and soil and God and nation still matter to people. Libertarians ignore this at the risk of irrelevance.

In response to this, I can’t help thinking of these lines from C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle:

And all the Calormenes banged the flats of their swords on their shields and shouted, “Tash! Tash! The great god Tash! Inexorable Tash!” (There was no nonsense about “Tashlan” now.)

So end all attempts to combine liberty with its opposite.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes