On Thomas Nagel

There’s a great article in The Weekly Standard about Thomas Nagel. He’s the atheist philosophy professor who wrote the book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. He is really feeling the heat from those who have no choice but to cling to their superstitions about the universe. You know, it’s basically a combination of Star Trek (the multiverse) and X-men (punctuated equilibrium).

The Heretic: Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him?. I suggest you give it a read at The Weekly Standard website, but here’s a bit of it that I found particularly insightful.

Nagel’s reliance on “common sense” has roused in his critics a special contempt. One scientist, writing in the Huffington Post, calls it Nagel’s “argument from ignorance.” In the Nation, the philosophers Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg could only shake their heads at the once-great philosopher’s retrogression from sophisticated thinking to common sense.

“This style of argument,” they write, “does not, alas, have a promising history.” Once upon a time, after all, our common-sense intuitions told us the sun traveled across the sky over a flat earth. Materialistic science has since taught us otherwise.

Not all intuitions are of the same kind, though. It is one thing for me to be mistaken in my intuition about the shape of the planet; it’s another thing to be mistaken about whether I exist, or whether truth and falsehood exist independently of my say-so, or whether my “self” has some degree of control over my actions. Indeed, a person couldn’t correct his mistaken intuitions unless these intuitions were correct—unless he was a rational self capable of distinguishing the true from the false and choosing one over the other. And it is the materialist attack on those intuitions—“common sense”—that Nagel finds absurd.

Coincidentally, the new issue of Salvo has articles on both Nagel and on academia’s disdain for “common sense.”

Five Gay Marriage Myths

Myth #1: Marriage is fundamentally a voluntary union of persons in a committed relationship

We tend to think of language as something posterior to thought. A thought comes into your mind and then you find the right words to express it. Anthropologists and neuroscientists are currently doing some fascinating work on the relationship between thought and speech and have discovered that things are a little more complicated. Speech does not merely proceed from our thoughts like a one-way street. Rather, researchers have been finding that there is also traffic flowing in the other direction: how we speak affects how we think about the world on a level that our conscious minds may never even be aware. As psychologist Lera Boroditsky put it in a Wall Street Journal article summarizing some of this research, “the structures in languages (without our knowledge or consent) shape the very thoughts we wish to express”.

There are fascinating examples of this from all over the world, but the phenomenon is just as evident close to home. In the last forty years, we’ve seen how the way people speak about unborn children (i.e., calling them “foetuses” or “lumps of tissue” instead of babies) has had an unconscious effect on how so many people think about the ethics of abortion. Or again, how we think about homosexuality has been enormously influenced by pairing homosexuality with words that already had a positive semantic range, such as gay. In David Kupelian book The Marketing of Evil, he showed that these and many other language shifts did not just happen, but arose out of a deliberate strategy for changing the way Westerners perceive certain key issues.

By introducing changes in how we speak, the media often changes how we think.

The same thing is now occurring in the debate over same-sex marriage. Almost without anyone taking notice, our society has begun to talk about marriage as a voluntary union of persons in a committed relationship, rather than a union of a man and a woman. Never before has marriage been spoken about in this way and the implications are profound. Because of how the brain works, this shift in how we talk about marriage has been attendant to a shift in how we think about marriage. Unconsciously we begin wondering: if marriage is really the union of persons in a committed and loving relationship, why shouldn’t gay people be allowed to participate in this institution?

As same-sex marriage was discussed in the public discourse of various English-speaking countries (first Canada, then Britain, and now America), it was almost universally taken for granted not simply that marriage ought to refer to the union of persons, but that the essence of marriage always has been the union of persons. As a result, less and less people, even among the Christian community, understand marriage to be intrinsically and inviolably heterosexual. Continue reading

Three Things Only a PhD Can Believe

The new issue of Salvo is back from the printer and will be arriving at your mailbox soon. Take a look at the table of contents online. We think you’ll like it! In the meantime, take a look at www.salvomag.com to read a few of the articles. Here’s the article featured on the cover, Just Brilliant! Three Things Only a PhD Can Believe by Louis Markos. We’re pleased to have Dr. Markos writing for us! He is Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University; he holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities. His books include From Achilles to Christ, Apologetics for the 21st Century, and Literature: A Student’s Guide.

Also, be sure to check back at the website for more articles from the new issue as well as to see our newly redesigned website (coming soon), featuring a more user friendly mobile interface.

Just Brilliant! Three Things Only a PhD Can Believe by Louis Markos

It is often believed that people who have PhDs are possessed of higher self-esteem and greater independent thought than the average population. As a PhD myself, I fully understand why people believe this. The rigorous studying, testing, and writing required to receive a doctorate should free the PhD’s mind from the idols of the marketplace and teach him that great truth that Socrates discovered: the more we learn, the more we realize what we do not know.

That’s what should happen. What I have more often found (in myself, as well as in others) is that the knowledge acquired puffs up the mind of the PhD, making him feel wiser and more in touch with the truth of things than his less educated fellow mortals. And yet—and here is the ironic part—at the same time the PhD gains a sense of his own superiority, his intellectual, emotional, and psychological need to fit in with his academic colleagues is multiplied tenfold.

At times, this academic groupthink leads PhDs to defend issues that are indefensible and to give their allegiance to causes that are immoral or unethical. At other times, it leads them to believe things that are simply and demonstrably false—things that violate objective observation, common sense, and the collective experience of mankind. Indeed, colleges and universities across Europe and America brazenly teach their students three things that are so patently absurd that only a PhD could believe them.

read the entire article.


Say It, Evan Sayet: A Comic Gets Serious on The Modern Liberal

A Review of The KinderGarden of Eden: How the Modern Liberal Thinks, by Evan Sayet

Evan Sayet

Evan Sayet

In March, 2007, Evan Sayet delivered a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. called “How Modern Liberals Think.” It became a YouTube sensation. Andrew Breitbart called it “one of the five most important speeches ever given.”

He started off his talk by saying, “I’ve got to imagine that just about every one of us in this room recognizes that the Democrats are wrong on just about every issue. Well, I’m here to propose to you that it’s not just ‘just about’ every issue; it’s quite literally every issue. And it’s not just wrong; it’s as wrong as wrong can be.” A comic at heart, but deadly serious about the threat Modern Liberalism and its kissing cousin, Progressivism, pose to decent people everywhere, Sayet says that the Modern Liberal will at every turn side with:

  • The evil over the good
  • The wrong over the right
  • The lesser over the better
  • The ugly over the beautiful
  • The vulgar over the refined, and
  • The behaviors that lead to failure over those that lead to success.

How can he make such sweeping predictions? Sayet grew up a liberal, New York Jew, but now calls himself a 9-13 Republican. In The KinderGarden of Eden, How the Modern Liberal Thinks, the extrapolated book version of that speech, he demonstrates quite cogently (and a bit wonkishly, but it’s a delightful kind of wonkish) how the Modern Liberal’s actions invariably follow what he calls The Four Laws of the Unified Field Theory of Liberalism:

  1. Indiscriminateness – the total rejection of the intellectual process – is an absolute moral imperative.
  2. Indiscriminateness of thought does not lead to indiscriminateness of policies. It leads to siding only and always with the lesser over the better, the wrong over the right, and the evil over the good.
  3. Modern Liberal policies occur in tandem. Each effort on behalf of the lesser is met with an equal and opposite campaign against the better.
  4. The Modern Liberal will ascribe to the better the negative qualities associated with the lesser while concurrently ascribing to the lesser the positive qualities found in the better.

Sayet likens the intellectual development of the Modern Liberal to that of a kindergartner, and the credo driving him to the catchy title of Robert Fulghum’s 1988 bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. While Fulghum’s musings are sweet, and they do capture some of the basics of good character – share things, play fair, don’t hit people … in short, Be nice – as a comprehensive ideology, they are woefully insufficient for the demands of adult self-government in a dangerous world.

Think about it: kindergarten only works if there is at least one grownup in the room capable of taking charge and handling the big problems. Picture a day in the life of a kindergarten class if the teacher never showed up. Similarly, turning America and her hard-won liberties over to Modern Liberals would be akin to turning the entire schoolhouse over to the five-year-olds.

KinderGardenofEden_THUMBNAIL_IMAGE“So long as there were a sufficient number of people of God and science [the grownups] doing things and making things, the Modern Liberals could remain forever like Adam and Eve in Eden or the child on the kindergarten playground,” Sayet concludes. But that era is passing. “Today, we are at a tipping point where the people of God and science will soon be overwhelmed by the demands of taking care of the permanently infantalized. It is unsustainable. If the system collapses under the weight, the future is not merely a slightly less wonderful existence, it is … ” in the words of Thomas Hobbes from Leviathan, “nasty, brutish and short.”

“We’re not there yet,” Sayet warns, “but we’re close.”

I think he’s right. Sure, it would be nice to stay five and let someone else be responsible for the big problems of liberty and provisions. But we’re fast approaching the point where that is no longer feasible. The five-year-olds outnumber the grownups and the brutes are closing in.


At Best an Amicable Divorce Agreement?

Will couple-less co-parenting take off?

While their arrangement seems unusual to some, parenting website FamilybyDesign.com actually matches up people for parenting partnerships similar to Arrick and Sadowsky’s. First profiled in a New York Times story last week, the website is one of a handful of controversial online services helping to connect people interested in finding partners to have children with, without any romantic attachments.

While critics have had harsh words for sites like FamilybyDesign, its founder Darren Spedale defended the approach Monday, telling TODAY there are plenty of loving single people in their thirties who are ready to have children and would make great parents, but don’t want to have to wait to find a mate.

QUESTION: Why is it that progress almost inevitably takes us further and further from a committed and loving family?