Thursday, January 28, 2016

Are traditional and modern logic really different? A response to David McPike, Part II

In the comments section of my post "Why Traditional Logic Does Not Employ Truth Tables," David McPike takes issue with a couple things I said. I addressed some of these yesterday. On a related point, I had said:

Therefore, in the modern system, statements such as: "If the moon is made of green cheese, then ducks can swim" are considered true statements, since their antecedents (in this case, "the moon is made of green cheese") is false at the same time that the consequent ("ducks can swim") is false. In fact the antecedent is false and the consequent true, therefore (according to the modern logician) it is a true statement.

To which McPike responds:

This again seems misleading. In the modern system of "logic", statements such as "If P1 then P2" are considered formally, as being possibly true, possibly false. Insofar as propositions figure into actual reasoning about reality, what reason is there to think that modern and traditional logic are any different in viewing logic "as a linguistic and metaphysical art, not [merely!] a technical mathematical calculus"?

My response to the question of what reason I have for thinking that modern and traditional logic are different in their view of what kind of art they are engaging in is threefold: First, anyone versed in the particulars of the two systems in fact do view them differently; secondly, they admit they treat them differently; and, third, they give the reasons why they, in fact, do treat them differently.

This characterization is less the case with modern logicians than with the traditionalists. Modern logicians are largely unfamiliar with the tradition of the traditional system and seem to be mostly unaware of the assumptions behind their own system since they are never called upon to have to explain them in an English academic world that still operates in the shadow of logical positivism (the ideological mileiu in which modern logic was birthed).

Traditional logicians, on the other hand, being in the minority, are in a position to have to explain why they are not doing the same thing as so many of their peers. Consequently, they seem to have a better grasp on the difference between the two systems. 

Mr. McPike might want to consult several traditional logicians to see what I mean. The first would be Jacques Maritain, whose book Formal Logic (1946) contains a discussion of some of these issues. Maritain considers the two systems so different that he even balks at calling modern logic "logic" at all. He refers to it as "logistics." There are other discussions too, such as that by Andrew Bachhuber in his Introduction to Logic (1957) and in Daniel J. Sullivan's Fundamentals of Logic (1963). There is also a short discussion of this in Peter Kreeft's recent Socratic Logic. Anyone wanting something more in depth can go to the works of Henry Veach, who made a whole career out of examining the differences between the two systems and articulating and questioning the assumptions behind the modern system (Aristotelian and Mathematical Logic (1950), In Defense of the Syllogism (1952); Intensional Logic (1952); Logic as a Human Instrument (1959); and Two Logics (1969)).

And the differences between the two systems has not gone unacknowledged by the moderns, as evidenced by Bertrand Russell's summary dismissal of it (along with Aristotelianism in general, an indication that he understood that the difference between the two systems was rooted in the respective underlying metaphysical beliefs). Irving Copi too acknowledges it briefly in his text, and a good example of the some the issues can found online in Kelly Ross' "In Defense of Bramantip," which is, ironically, a defense of at least one plank in the traditionalist platform by a modern analytic philosopher.

In regard specifically to conditional statements, I'm not sure it is accurate to say that modern logic treats them "as being possibly true, possibly false." If the modal qualifiers ("possibly") in this characterization simply mean that the statement may be true or false depending on the actual state of affairs in the world, then I have no problem with it. But once that state of affairs is taken into account, there is "possibly") about it: If the antecedent is true and the consequent false, then the statement is definitely false. In all other circumstances, the statement is definitely true.

Traditionalists agree with the first part of this, but categorically deny the second. In other words, practitioners of the two systems have contradictory understandings of three of the four possible truth value combinations involved in determining the truth of a conditional statement. This seems to me to constitute a rather marked difference. Moderns believe you can determine the truth of a conditional statement based solely on the truth value of its component statements and traditionalists do not (with the exception of the one case of the antecedent being true and the conclusion false).

On the matter of whether the disagreement between the two systems indicates a different believe about the kind of art logic is, I may need a bit more clarification from Mr. McPike on the import of his question. If it is a question about whether logic is, for both schools, a language art, I would argue that it could not be considered so by the moderns, since they view logic as a purely quantificational system (that's why they refer to logic as "quantification theory") and language is not purely quantitative. If the issue then becomes whether language is, in fact, purely quantitative, as I suppose a logical positive may very well believe (I haven't thought a lot about that), then the difference would go deeper than just logic.

If the question is whether the proponents of two systems of logic agree that logic is a metaphysical art, I would simply point to the fact that, first, most of those who championed it in the early twentieth century explicitly denied the existence of metaphysics since they were, in large part, logical positivists (see A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic for a good example, particularly the first chapter, which is entitled, "The Elimination of Metaphysics"); and, second, that the system itself betrays this belief, as I have explained several times.

I'll leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why the Academy's effort to diversity its membership is a bad idea

White men smiling at the Oscars.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has announced that it will be "diversifying" its membership. This is one more blow to guilty White liberals who dominate the leadership of elite organizations and who use their positions to lecture the rest of us on how to act, even though, in occupying these positions in inordinate numbers, they undermine the very Politically Correct principles they espouse.

The action by the Academy—taken in response to protests by non-guilty non-White liberals who took umbrage at the fact that, for the second year in a row, all 20 of the acting nominees were White (most, if not all of them liberal and probably guilty about it)—will further hamper the privileged status of these people who are constantly preaching to the rest of us about the evils of such privilege while enjoying it themselves.

The problem is this: In shaming guilty White liberals who use these positions to work out the deep-seated guilt associated with being White and possessing such privilege, the Academy is underscoring their hypocrisy, which will undoubtedly result in even higher levels of guilt needing to be atoned for. But since the only avenue guilty White liberals have to do penance for their Whiteness and their privilege is to lecture other people from privileged positions about how evil these things are—and such opportunities are diminishing because of actions like that of the Academy which actually apply the principles they are always lecturing the rest of us about but never following themselves—we will be putting these people in an untenable position.

How does the Academy expect guilty White liberals to deal with their shame now that they have been divested of the opportunity to engage in the hypocrisy that, until now, no one has bothered to notice?

Are traditional and modern logic really different? A response to David McPike, Part I

Bertrand Russell
In the comments section of my post "Why Traditional Logic Does Not Employ Truth Tables," David McPike takes issue with a couple things I said.

I said:
Traditional logic does not attempt to reduce logic to a quantitative calculus, largely because it views logic as a linguistic and metaphysical art, not a technical mathematical calculus.
McPike responds:
Surely this is just wrong? 'Traditional logic' also views logic as a formal tool, one which it is necessary to master "before" attempting something like metaphysics. It can be treated (taught and learned) just as abstractly and formally as modern logic.
But to say that traditional logic is formal (or at least has a formal branch—the old traditional logic included material logic, which was not formal) is not the same thing as saying that all rational discourse can be reduced to "a kind of mathematical calculus," which was the point of my post. I think the latter statement is more specific than the mere issue of formality.

For one thing, I think it would be fair to say that the system of traditional logic recognizes that there are what I would call "material leakages" in the system which defy exclusively formal treatment. The conditional statements I pointed to are just one example of this. Oblique syllogisms (syllogisms in which there is a relational term playing an essential role in the inference—"John is the son of Mary) would be another. In both these cases the formal clothing we try to fit our rational expression into doesn't perfectly fit. There is some material relation that inserts itself into the otherwise formal structure of the reasoning and that recognition is built into the formal system of traditional logic.

For another, traditional logicians have traditionally disputed the idea that logic—even in its formal aspect—is purely quantitative in nature, in the way in which the kind of logic fathered by the Principia Mathematica seems to be. Most traditional manuals on logic begin with the distinction between comprehension and extension. Comprehension has to do with the intellectual content of logical terms, whereas extension has to do with their referents in the world. The comprehension of the term 'man', for example, would be a "rational, sentient, living, material substance." The extension of the term 'man' would be "all the men who are, were, or will be."

Comprehension is qualitative in nature because it asks questions involving the kind of things to which terms refer, whereas  extension is quantitative, since it asks how much or how many things a term refers to. I'm willing to be disproven here, but it seems to me that modern systems of logic (at least the propositional and predicate calculus) are all extension and no comprehension. That is reflected in the title modern logicians have affixed to their system: propositional and predicate calculus. I'm no expert in set theory, a fixture of much of the modern logic that traces itself to Russell and Whitehead, but from what I know of it, it seems to be one bit of evidence for my claim here.

And it doesn't seem to me a complete coincidence that those who developed modern logic were almost exclusively mathematicians (Frege, Boole, Russell, Whitehead, et al.).

My point was simply that although the formal branch of traditional logic is the treatment of reasoning in a formal way, there is a recognition that, in doing so, there are material (and qualitative) considerations that affect the course and conduct of the reasoning, a recognition that modern systems do not seem to allow for in their attempt to cram all rational discourse into a purely formal system. The modern system of logic not only does not allow for material considerations in its formal system, it doesn't, as traditional logic does, recognize a material (or "major") branch of logic at all, any material considerations having been relegated to the dust heap of rejected Aristotelian metaphysics (e.g. Russell), or to the field of rhetoric (as seems to be the case with what is now called "informal logic").

I will post my answer to McPike's challenge to my use of conditional statements as examples of the differences between the two systems tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Biblically-challenged #Trump2016 campaign now making religious proclamations.

Katrina Pierson, staff theologian for the Trump campaign, has questioned Jesus founded the Church. In a Tweet today (remember, these are people whose thought is limited to 140 characters) she said:

You wonder what business a campaign that can't seem to get its Corinthians straight is doing making proclamations about an institution that has been considering religious questions for over 2,000 years.


How can I say this in 140 characters: Yo, Trump supporters, Ethanol Pander Alert! Are you there? Yoo-hoo! CRONY CAPITALISM!!! Are you paying attention? ...

There is no more craven act of hypocrisy and political opportunism than Donald Trump's call for higher ethanol mandates in corn-rich Iowa. Not only did he do this in the midst of making his case to Republican primary voters that he is a conservative, but the anti-establishment Trump's announcement endeared him to the state's corn-fed political establishment, which is now coming to Trump's side.

That, of course, was the idea in the first place.

As the conservative blog RedState put it:
Last week and Iowa Governor Terry Branstad looked on, Donald Trump declared himself awholly owned subsidiary of the Ethanol Lobby. By all descriptions, Trump carefully mouthed the words he had presented to him on a note card declaring ethanol to be the greatest thing since bankruptcy protection and eminent domain abuse. 
Is there something about all this that the alleged conservatives now supporting Trump don't understand?

My wife complains constantly about high food prices. And of course ethanol subsidies are one of the chief reasons food prices are high. This isn't some subsidy that helps consumers, it hurts them. The single, sole, and only reason we have them is because corn states have inordinate representation in the United States Senate. It's pure special interest politics and crony capitalism.

On the flip-side there has been no more principled political action during this campaign than the one Ted Cruz has taken in Iowa: He has unapologetically opposed ethanol subsidies in a state in which such a position does nothing but hurt him politically.

Kentucky science and social studies standards contain almost no academic content and the problem with them is ... cursive writing

Richard Day at Kentucky School News and Commentary is apparently upset that State Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt is going to include a new state standard covering cursive writing.

First he goes after critics of the contentless new state science and social studies standards:

One supposes the delays in fully implementing Science and Social Studies is political avoidance behavior. Politically, these catch the most opposition—from climate change deniers and to those who would remove Thomas Jefferson from U. S. History books. Perhaps the word came down from On High. How else might we explain why Pruitt, until recently the nation's lead science standards guy, is taking his foot off the gas.

But instead, apparently Kentucky will add 21st century standards for cursive writing, but not the critical skill of shoe lace tying.

Yeah, those deniers who are upset about a whole semester unit on climate change in Kindergarten, before they even know about, oh, I don't know, nature. In fact the science standards contain little about actual study of nature, which is actually interesting for younger students, and opting instead for technological abstractions that are sure to bore children stiff.

Similarly with the social studies standards, which,instead of teaching children about the rich history of America and the Western world, have Kindergartners identifying "ways that physical and cultural characteristics may affect people living in a place."

If these people don't turn off a whole generation of students to history and science, it will be a miracle.

Oh, and then there's this in the Kindergarten social studies standards:

K.GR.9 Human—Environment Interaction Identify the characteristics of climate and explain how it affect peoples’ lives in specific places.

No mention of George Washington, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, the Liberty Bell, the Revolutionary War, the U.S.S. Constitution, the Star Spangled Banner, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, World War II, Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., or the Vietnam War. But we just can't get enough of climate change. In fact, although all of these other people and events are never mentioned in Kindergarten, climate change is mentioned five times.

And I'm wondering why Day is concerned about other people removing Thomas Jefferson from the history books when Jefferson seems to be absent from the state's proposed social studies standards, along with virtually every other historical figure, event, and document.

And then there's cursive, which Day obviously doesn't like. Of course, I can't think of a better way to prevent students from reading any of the original documents that Jefferson wrote, since they were all penned in cursive. In fact, good luck reading any original source material from about 50 years ago and before if all you know is manuscript writing.

If you wanted to erase a nation's cultural memory, you couldn't do it any better than with standards like these.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Low Intelligence Isn't the Answer: Donald Trump, National Review, and the collapse of serious conservatism

What can you say about a movement of people that stands and applauds the incoherent babbling of Sarah Palin in her endorsement of Donald Trump and then blindly dismisses the serious and reasoned arguments of twenty-two veteran conservative thinkers writing in the flagship conservative magazine without even addressing what they said?

What we are witnessing is a wholesale repudiation of thoughtful conservatism by a substantial faction of this nation's conservative political party. The late William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder and long-time editor of National Review said in the early 1980s that "all the philosophical action is on the right." He was right then. But he could not say that today, not in a national party that can't seem to understand any political thought longer than 140 characters, and which thinks that the assertion "It's going to be great" constitutes political eloquence.

The writers of National Review's special issue "Against Trump" wrote articles. Employing more than 140 characters. Using competent English. With subordinate clauses and multisyllabic words.

Jeb Bush may be low energy, but low intelligence isn't the answer.

Maybe that's the problem: Maybe the people supporting Trump have rendered themselves illiterate and simply can't understand what the National Review writers are saying. One piece of evidence for this thesis is that not a single Trump supporter critical of the National Review issue even bothered to offer a response to anything the writers actually said in the magazine. 

Not one.

On Fox News last night, no one criticizing National Review took up anything any of its  writers actually said. Instead, all the survey-addled commentators (and anchors) could talk about was how the National Review issue politically helped Trump. Someone on Bill O'Reilly's show asked something like "What did they think they were doing?" as if the publication of the issue was the mere product of some misguided campaign ploy to shoot down Trump's candidacy on the eve of Iowa.

It apparently didn't even occur to these people that there are serious, thoughtful conservatives out there who think that maybe, just maybe, rational arguments have some relevance to the discussion about who the party should nominate as its standard-bearer and that articulating these arguments in a careful and measured way might actually contribute to the immediate well-being of the party and the ultimate well-being of the country—or at least be worth addressing.


This is what happens when you trade in your critical thinking faculties for the kind of mindless populism that is willing to trade in principle for political success.

In fact, none of those commenting on the accursed National Review attack on Trump seemed aware that not only was William F. Buckley's National Review almost single-handedly responsible for the modern conservative movement, but that that few of them would even be conservatives at all if it wasn't for NR. As a matter of fact, the very forum in which they were voicing their Twitter length thoughts, Fox News, wouldn't even be in existence if it weren't for the influence of NR in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Here was Donald Trump's response to the multiple arguments—most of them fairly cogent, all of them serious and thoughtful:

The National Review is a dying, dying paper. It's circulation is way down. Not very many people read him anymore. People don't even think about The National Review. I guess they want to get a little publicity. But that's a dying paper. I got to tell you, it's pretty much a dead paper.

The first problem here is that it isn't even true, not that that ever stopped Trump from saying anything. In fact, even if it were dying, it isn't now. Their criticism of Trump (and the criticism of them by Trump) has gotten them more attention than anything they've published in recent memory. But note, like the conservative commentators who are now having to confront their consciences (unsuccessfully, I might add) in the face of the Trump juggernaut, that there is not a single response to anything the writers said in their articles. 

Trump's response is of the "neener-neener" variety of political rhetoric commonly encountered on elementary school playgrounds that now passes as competent argumentation among people who think that Frank Luntz is an objective political analyst. 

This is the state of conservatism in 2016. Conservative Republicans who still think that ideas matter can be excused while they weep for their party.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Is Christianity just another Myth? A discussion with an athiest

UPDATED 10:55, See below.

Following is the discussion today between me and atheist writer John Loftus at Debunking Christianity in the comments section of a post in which he says, "Anyone who looks into the historical evidence for Yahweh, Satan, hell, virgin births, incarnations and resurrections will see these beliefs come from the ancient mythological past. The best way to kill such barbaric and utterly ignorant beliefs is to look at their mythological origins, and no appeal to the genetic fallacy can help the honest believer here." I will update this post with any additional discussion.

Martin Cothran • 2 days ago
I realize this post is meant to just refer the reader on to books that delve into this more deeply, but (not having immediate access to the sources referred to here) I'm wondering what basic form the argument "linking it [any miraculous religious belief?] to the mythological past would take. Could you give a simple example of this?

John W. Loftus Mod  Martin Cothran • 7 hours ago
Hi Martin, I offered an example in Jaco Gericke's chapter. Here are a few more. Before looking into the coherence of the incarnation, let's see how many virgin births of gods there were in the same era. Before looking at how hell is compatible with a good God, let's first look into the history of hell to find it was accepted by others in the mythological past. Before looking at the coherence of a being who rebelled against God named Satan, let's see his history among the other cultures of that same era.

Martin Cothran • 6 hours ago
So is your argument that a miracle claim can be disproven merely by pointing out that other miracle claims have been made?

John W. Loftus • 5 hours ago
Not disproven. But why were so many other famous people believed to be virgin born semi-gods or divine?

Martin Cothran  • 5 hours ago
I'm trying to think of what the logical structure of this argument would be, and particularly what major premise one would have to employ in order to make it work. Here's a stab at it:
No claim of the truth of an historical event can be considered true if there are other, similar claims made asserting other, similar historical events. 
A miracle is a historical claim to a historical event similar to other claims about similar historical events. 
Therefore, a miracle claim cannot be considered true.
If the major premise I have provided is not the one you would employ, I would be curious to know what it should be.

John W. Loftus • 5 hours ago
No disproof is intended. If I were to structure a probabalistic argumemt though, it would go like this: if so many essential features of a religion look like they are culturally generated then the religion itself is probably culturally generated. Or, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck it probabally is a duck.

Martin Cothran  • 2 hours ago
Okay. I get that. So it's sort of an intuitive point, a rhetorical, rather than a logical, one? But does the point have any rhetorical force with the people for whose ears it is intended? In fact aren't you using the term "probabalistic" in a very analogous sense? You don't, for example, have statistical evidence of what percentage of miracle claims are true, since that is the very point in question. Does this argument have any force outside the body of unbelievers who already have a prejudice against the possibility of the miraculous? Why should those who have the opposite prejudice find this point intuitively appealing?

And why is this point any more intuitively obvious than the point made by thinkers such as C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and G. K. Chesterton, who maintained that, to quote Chesterton, "If the Christian God really made the human race, would not the human race tend to rumours and perversions of the Christian God? If the center of our life is a certain fact, would not people far from the center have a muddled version of that fact?"

In fact, Chesterton makes an observation that seems to me to get to the heart of the problem with this line of argumentation: that what this position "really amounts to is this: that because a certain thing has impressed millions of different people as likely or necessary therefore it cannot be true."

John W. Loftus • 2 hours ago
No one is saying it cannot be true, so CS Lewis is wide of the mark. No one is saying this will convince everyone either. For it is possible that all Christian theology was borrowed or stolen from ancient superstitious cultures and still true. One cannot precisely calculate the odds. It's just extremely strange to many of us that Christian theology looked indistinguishable from ancient pagan cultures in its inception.

Martin Cothran • 15 minutes ago
And it would seem strange to some others of us that the beliefs of many pagans WOULDN'T look similar to Christian theology if Christian theology really reflected the nature of reality--a reality that man has had access to since the beginning of thought. That was my main point, but I don't think you contest that.

One other relevant belief of the thinkers I mentioned was that the main problem with paganism was not that it was wrong, but that it was incomplete. This is why the main stream of Christian theological and philosophical thought did not reject paganism wholesale, but accepted and incorporated many of its beliefs and modes of thought. That went for the meaning it saw expressed in their mythologies (which appealed to human imagination) as well as the truth expressed by their philosophers (which appealed to the intellect)--two streams of thought (the imaginative and the rational) that Christianity fused together.

In fact, this was the whole reason C. S. Lewis became a believer: His belief that the mythologies were meaningful but false, and history true but without meaning, was reconciled by Tolkien's thesis that Christianity was a myth that had entered actual history. This line of thought is explained in Chesterton's "Everlasting Man."

UPDATE: 3:16 p.m.

And it would seem strange to some others of us that the beliefs of many pagans WOULDN'T look similar to Christian theology if Christian theology really reflected the nature of reality--a reality that man has had access to since the beginning of thought.
Perhaps, but what if the nature being expressed isn't what you think it is? For example, what if any similarities that there are between Christian and pagan beliefs aren't due to an underlying truth about the reality of the universe, but rather a truth about how humans see and perceive the wo rld around us. Under such circumstances, the similarities between Christian and pagan beliefs don't necessarily reflect a truth about the existence of any sort of supernaturalism or the true nature of the universe, it merely reflects a truth about human psychology.

Without good evidence suggesting that the supernatural is real, how do you presume to know that the supernatural assertions of the religious are not merely a product of human psychology? And how do you arrive at the conclusion that paganism is just incomplete?

UPDATE: 3:45 p.m

Martin Cothran • a few seconds ago
I have no particular comment on your "what if" hypothetical scenario in your second paragraph. Yes, if Christianity and paganism (where they overlap) don't accurately reflect the nature of reality, then they don't reflect the nature of reality. But then, that is sort of tautological, isn't it?

As for your third paragraph, if there were no good evidence that the supernatural is real, then, again, they may, in fact, be the product of human psychology. Your conditional statement is likely true. But one would have to affirm your antecedent--that, in fact, there is no good evidence for it. If ~P, then Q, ~P, therefore Q. But I have no good reason to accept ~P, and accept what seems to me good evidence for P (that the supernatural is real).

As to your last question, all I was referring to is that Christianity accepted many of the Greek and Roman beliefs. There is a great amount of overlap between the meaning expressed in many of the myths and truths expressed by many of the philosophers on the one hand, and the theology later developed by the early Christian fathers and the medieval theologians and philosophers. Christianity took that and ran with it. For example, the Greeks and Romans figured out the four cardinal virtues,(prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice), which are completed with the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity); and Plato and Aristotle figured out the basic metaphysical structure of the world, which was built on and transformed by St. Thomas Aquinas. That sort of thing.

UPDATE: 10:55 p.m

Doubting Thomas • 7 hours ago
Reality is reflected in religion. The reality is that humans made them up. All of them. As for C.S. Lewis, why wouldn't paganism be true and Christianity just one more false religion that points toward the truth?

Martin Cothran  • 6 hours ago
Those are very bold definitive statements. I would be interested in seeing an argument for them. As to your question, again, I don't make strict dichotomy between paganism (either in its mythological or rational form) and Christianity. There is actually a lot of overlap. I could certainly conceive of a state of affairs where what you suggest might be true. The only problem is that I have no reason or evidence that convinces me that it is.

Phasespace  • 6 hours ago
As for your third paragraph, if there were no good evidence that the supernatural is real, then, again, they may, in fact, be the product of human psychology. Your conditional statement is likely true. But one would have to affirm your antecedent--that, in fact, there is no good evidence for it. If ~P, then Q, ~P, therefore Q. But I have no good reason to accept ~P, and accept what seems to me good evidence for P (that the supernatural is real).
I think this is the meat of the issue. I don't think it falls under the rubric of deductive logic, it falls under logical inference and probability. I have no good reason to accept the assertions of supernaturalism if psychology sufficiently explains human behavior with respect to religion (which I think it does), and the evidence in favor supernaturalism is at best sketchy, open to multiple interpretations, and adds additional complications that don't seem to be necessary, when psychology does so sufficiently and efficiently. The law of parsimony wins the day in my book.

Note: This doesn't disprove supernatural belief, but it does leave me wondering about its applicability to many of the issues that it concerns itself with.

Martin Cothran  • an hour ago
Again, my main point here was not to prove Christianity, but to point out that the whole mythological argument is not very convincing. But as to your point about the evidence for supernaturalism being "at best sketchy," are you saying you do not believe in entities or forces beyond the physical? And what makes materialism or the disbelief in the supernatural the default position?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No wonder Putin likes Trump: Pro-Ethanol Mandate #DonaldTrump is a conservative. Keep repeating it to yourself.

The very day after Sarah Palin endorsed Trump, calling him a "conservative," Trump came out for even higher ethanol mandates. It's about the most anti-free market move a politician could possibly make.

I'm no worshiper of the free market, but ethanol subsidies are one of the worst examples of special interest government policy. They're the government mandate version of government spending earmarks.

It's enough to give pandering a bad name.

But don't expect his supporters to back off support for Trump because of this--or anything else. He could come out for collectivized farms, an extensive prison system for political opponents in upper Minnesota, and a conversion of the stars and stripes to the hammer and sickle and people like Palin will still be calling him a conservative.

Look for Trump to being proposing 5-year plans anytime now. Prepare for bad winters.

#DonaldTrump and #SarahPalin are made for each other, unfortunately

I am apparently not the only conservative who Sarah Palin's endorsement of Donald Trump made want to go crawl in a hole somewhere. Robert Tracinski said it perfectly:
Palin’s first big speech on the national stage—the one she gave when she accepted the Republican nomination for vice-president—was carefully modulated, populist without being screechy, and sharply critical of Obama without being harsh or angry.
Her speech yesterday endorsing Trump was pretty much the opposite: rambling, pandering, chock full of empty catchphrases, combative, and screechy—I mean literally screechy, as in the grating quality of her voice, which was apparently her way of showing enthusiasm.
When CNN played it last night, I was looking at Trump's facial expression while he listened to her ramble on almost incoherently. I imagined him thinking to himself, "I hope that isn't what I sound like," a hope that would, alas, be in vain, since that is just what he sounds like to some of the rest of us.

Well, maybe not quite that bad. But they both possess the same limited vocabulary. They both use the same awkward rhetorical phrasings that betray them as intellectually unserious people, neither of whom, I am willing to bet, have cracked a book in years, not even Trump's favorite one.

In fact, ten bucks says that both of them have written more books than they have read, which is to say, not very many.

You don't necessarily want an intellectual as president. We tried the "best and the brightest" thing, and it didn't work out too well. In fact, it was a man who the media derided as a know-nothing that is considered now even by many liberals as a great president: Ronald Reagan.

But Reagan, unlike Trump and Palin, was a voracious reader. He knew what he believed and why he believed it. Yes, he loved to read Louis L'Amour novels. I take in an occasional western myself (Elmer Kelton rules!). But Reagan had read many of the great economic and conservative classics--no, not Going Rogue or The Art of the Deal, or the latest Glenn Beck book), but Russell Kirk, F. A. Hayek, Wilhelm Roepke, Frank Meyer, Whitaker Chambers, Ludwig von Mises, Malcolm Muggeridge, Frédéric Bastiat, and Henry Hazlitt. And he was well-versed in conservatism in general from being a frequent and long-time reader of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s National Review magazine.

This is the main reason the frequent comparisons of Trump to Reagan are so manifestly absurd. The next time you hear someone make this comparison, remind them that Reagan was actually literate.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Autocracy and Anarchy: The necessity of education in a constitutional democracy

In his article in last weekend's Wall Street Journal, Robert Kaplan writes about the disintegration of Europe and what has brought it about. Part of the reason for Europe's post World War II stability was the existence of oppressive regimes in the Middle East:
The decades in which it was able to develop its high ideals of universal human rights, including the right of the distressed to seek havens in Europe, was made possible, it is now clear, by the oppressive regimes that once held sway on its periphery. The Arab world was slammed shut for decades by prison states whose dictator wardens kept their people in order. Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Assad family in Syria, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya—they allowed to Europe to have its idealistic cake and eat it too.
We know now what happens in the absence of these regimes. With the strongmen who headed them gone (only Assad remains), chaos ensues. Europe is now dealing with the consequences of policies that ousted these leaders, and it is not at all clear that people in the Middle East themselves are better off for it.

But foreign policy aside, it is interesting to note the dilemma such states as those in the Middle East find themselves in: Either submit to the autocratic rule of a dictator or face anarchy. Why do these countries find themselves with only these two alternatives when countries in the West have always had other options, sometimes benevolent monarchies and, today, constitutional democracies?

Is there something the West has that the Middle East does not that gives its nations the ability to self-govern without facing either tyranny or anarchy?

I submit that the West is able to do this largely because its citizenry is educated in a way that the citizenry in Middle Eastern countries is not. And furthermore, the kind of education that gives Western nations stability is an education of a particular kind which consists of a consistent kind of acculturation.

In short, Western countries have traditionally imparted, not only certain basic learning skills (how to read, write, and figure), but also a body of cultural background knowledge and a set of moral values.

The most essential aspect of these last two latter kinds of literacy—the cultural, and moral—is their shared nature. The background cultural knowledge and the set of values were held in common. In fact, it is only by virtue of this shared body of knowledge and ideals that we could say that we had a culture at all. A culture is nothing if it is not this shared body of ideals and values.

Furthermore, this shared body of ideals and values was based on a shared religion. As T. S. Eliot pointed out, religion and culture are just two sides of the same coin. Cultures can also cohere on the basis of common racial characteristics, but only because racial identity usually involves a shared religion. Even those of the same race can be subject to societal deterioration if there are divergent religions within the racial group.

The good news is that this connection—the close relation between culture and religion—can produce a stable society. The bad news is that it falls apart without it.

One of the main problems in the Middle East is that fact that, although their cultures are undergirded largely by Islam, the different forms of Islam bring about cultural divisiveness. The cultural divide in Iraq is primarily along the fault line between Shia and Sunni Muslims. And although the Syrian conflict is complex and the loyalties complicated by larger regional politics, the divisions are still largely based on religious loyalties, complicated by the fact that one of these factions, the Alawite minority, has traditionally ruled the rest.

The religion that undergirded the culture of the West was Christianity. But now rival world views have arisen, primarily that of secularism, the technocratic religion of materialism. The Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft has pointed out that every religion has three aspects to it: a creed, a code, and a cult: a set of beliefs, a methodology, and something which it hopes for or aspires to.

For Christianity, these characteristics are expressed (roughly) in the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. Secularism's creed, on the other hand, is materialism, its code or methodology is that of scientific method, and its aspiration is for a technocratic utopia, a world in which science has solved every material riddle.

The first problem is that the political, economic, and moral order of Western society is based on this older, Christian model—a model the Church formed on the basis of the cultures of Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem that preceded it, and which it transformed in accordance with its to own unique theological beliefs, becoming the basis for the societies and governments of Europe and America. And without the support of the ideas that formed them, these beliefs and institutions must change—or die.

The second problem is that the ideology that is replacing the older Christian order cannot inform and uphold the culture in way that an authentic religion can. A belief system like secular liberalism, which is purely instrumental and materialistic, is inherently incapable of providing the kind of visceral motivation that must inform the higher aspirations of a society—aspirations that are necessary to provide social cohesion. No one wants to go die in a ditch in some foreign country for a higher national GDP. No one wants to risk his life for greater employment opportunities or lower prices. People will fight and die for a way of life, but materialist technocracy has cut itself off from half of what people really value in life. A ruling philosophy that is concerned only with the how can never provide the why required to give a civilization some life force.

But now we are dismantling this cultural system, sometimes actively (as we see through the open hostility toward Western values displayed at many of our colleges and universities), but mostly passively, as we see in our elementary and secondary schools. Here, rather than open hostility toward the ideals of Christian culture, these ideals are treated with implicit indifference, which is just as bad.

We are now two or three generations away from a time when our culture was being passed on in our schools. We can still hear it articulated, if we listen, by our grandparents, to whom it was a living tradition. But our parents are less well-versed in it, and to their children, who were never taught it, it doesn't even amount to a heritage.

Although this abandonment is not necessarily explicit, it was intentional. George Steiner has aptly called it "planned amnesia." The intention too is now passing from cultural memory, since modern educators (not to mention everybody else) do not generally know the history of their own profession. But those familiar with the education battles around the turn of the 20th century can easily see its origins in John Dewey's progressivism and William Heard Kilpatrick's pragmatism, the twin ideologies that displaced the older classical education: progressivist political indoctrination (environmentalism, global warming, race and gender politics) or pragmatist job and life skills (drivers ed, sex education, STEM, and vocationalism in general).

All modern education stems from the implementation of Dewey's progressivism in the 1920s and the Life Adjustment Movement of the 1940s and early 1950s. They are inconsistent, of course (as Dewey, who later repudiated the pragmatism that hijacked his Progressive Education Movement, realized), but they have dominated education philosophy in America in an uneasy alliance ever since.

And so today, lacking the active cultural transmission that was the goal of classical education, there is nothing left by which a coherent culture can be passed on. Education has always been the means by which a culture is transferred from one generation to the next. But when the system of education no longer sees it as its role to perform this task, it is simply not done at all.

And since political indoctrination and job training do not amount to an education as we traditionally understand it, you get an uneducated citizenry, an acultural culture. Instead, we mistake technological sophistication for learning. We produce button-pushers thinking we have done our job when, in fact, all we have produced is technological barbarians.

The glue that holds a society together—shared beliefs and ideals—loses its hold, and you get cultural fragmentation, a fragmentation that, lacking a common culture, can only be brought back together by the charisma of a political strongman. And of course since the order is dependent upon a particularly leader, it is only assured until that particularly leader is gone.

We haven't faced it yet, but if we continue down the road of cultural disintegration, we too will face something like we now see in the Middle East. The founders knew full well the importance of those things that ground cultural cohesion, as their many remarks about the necessity of religion and morality to a free people attest. They knew that the absence of these things led to either autocracy or chaos.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Did David Bowie have a soul?

I remember years ago, when the Queen Mary ocean liner was finally retired in Long Beach, California, the owners of the celebrity ship (now just a public spectacle) decided to have it refurbished. This involved repainting the ship's three magnificent smokestacks which were part of the visual allure of this, one of the greatest of boats. But in the process of repainting them, they fell apart. As it turned out, the metal inside had long ago rusted out. The smokestacks, in fact, were all paint.

I always felt sorry for David Bowie. You could tell that he thrived on public attention. In fact, that seemed to be his whole purpose in life, and he was very good at it. He was good at other things too: He was a great songwriter, and a dynamic performer. But it was all in the service of his public image.

Sometimes you wondered if there really was anything underneath the image he had so carefully crafted. Was there anyone really there under all the makeup? Or was he all paint?

The ego is a strange thing: It seeks to gather everything to itself, but it is never filled. It paints itself over again and again into what it wants to be to the point where you begin to wonder if there is still any self left there. I imagine this is why so many celebrities are miserable in their private lives. I always wondered if Bowie suffered from this malady so typical of the pop star. Was there unhappiness under the glitter? If there was, he was too good at cultivating his image to ever let us see it.

It seems almost irrelevant to ask of Bowie what we should ask of anyone who takes the trouble to live a life: the question of whether the life he lived was a good life. We don't like to ask this question of pop culture figures because the question seems irrelevant.

You judge something on the basis of whether it achieves its purpose. But the purpose of a celebrity is not to be good; The purpose of a celebrity is to be interesting. That, at least, is what we seem to assume.

While we are fascinated by the gap between how celebrities appear and what they are in their private lives (this is the whole allure of People magazine, E! Television, and the National Enquirer), we do not expect the twain to meet. This is why we are so forgiving when they die: Not because we are so gracious, but because to be morally good people was never what we expected of them. That was not their role. Their role was to play roles: We never expected them to be the way they portrayed themselves to be. 

Bowie certainly benefited from this tendency to look the other way when it came to his personal life. He was, by the account of his first wife, narcissistic and sexually indiscriminate.

His ability to transform himselfto take off one mask and put on anothermade David Bowie seem the quintessential postmodernist celebrity. Postmodernist writers have always been fascinated with people who seem to reinvent themselves. It underscores their belief that we are not created in any particular way, with any particular nature; instead, we create ourselveswe determine our own nature.

This is why postmodernists have always been fascinated with Madonna. If you read postmodernist literature (I'm not advising it, I'm only saying, if you do), her name pops up again and again. Why? Because she is constantly recreating her public self. Once she gets tired of one persona, she just goes into her personality closet and chooses another one. 

Of course, the ability to create necessarily requires a good imagination, and most of us don't have the requisite imagination to create much of anything, let alone ourselves. Maybe that's why so many of us seem dull: We don't have the requisite imagination we need to create a very interesting self.

But Bowie had an imagination. 

This was at the root of his androgynous pose. In the same way he became Ziggy Stardust, Alladin Sane, the Thin White Duke, he became female, male, male/female, neither. In fact, it is astounding to think back on how he managed to make androgyny cooleven among people who would have reviled homosexuality if you had asked them openly about it. Today you are given bonus points for sexual unconventialityand extra bonus points the farther out your gender orbit is from your natural heterosexuality. But how could someone who was openly androgynous in a time when the culture still widely adhered to traditional gender ideas have become so popular? 

Only the protean Bowie could have pulled it off. He was the human chameleon.

But there is something about the gender mirror show he put on that tells us something about Bowie that it is easy to miss, and it is this: As much as he appeared the examplar of the postmodern self— fluid, ever-changing, impermanent—and despite the fact that much of what he did actually promoted this idea, Bowie was, in fact, a counter-example.

How do we know this? Because he said so himself. Although his androgynous poses certainly gave the appearance of promoting the idea of gender fluidity, Bowie himself knew it was all just an act. He knew the difference between being able to actually transform yourself and simply putting on another mask. This is why he denied being gay and said that his one-time announcement that he was bisexual was "the biggest mistake" he ever made. The androgyny was no revelation of who Bowie really was, it was just one more role he had decided to playfor whatever reason: shock value, fame, whatever. To him, it was a beautiful lie, a lie he openly admitted.

One clue we get about this is the lyrics to his songs. Notice that Bowie almost never talked about personal feelings in his songs. Bowie writes about "Panic in Detroit, and "1984," and "Spiders from Mars." His lyrics chart the universe, but they never delve the soul.

Compare this to another great pop songwriter, Tom Petty, who always stays close to earth, writing about how he doesn't want anyone "Draggin' my Heart Around." "Don't Do Me Like That," "You Wreck Me," "The Waiting," "Refugee"—these songs have the same personal sensibility you find in country music, which is where, rather than purely popular music, Petty finds his roots. They are about personal relationships, anger, love, loss, resentment—all the things each one of us experiences every day. In fact, notice how many of Petty's songs are addressed personally to someone else. They are every bit as morally relaxed as Bowie's songs, but at least they have a beating heart.

You never see this in Bowie. To talk this way would allow us to see behind the mask.

This is why, in the end, Bowie should be anathema to the postmodern gender theorists, who mistake the masks for reality. They, unlike Bowie himself, can't tell the act from the real thing. To them being gay or bisexual, or whatever other invented gender category they give a name to, is "who you are." Bowie didn't go in for this. Bowie's problem was just the opposite: He considered his actions to be completely disconnected from who he was.

Bowie knew he was playing a role. All the same, there a those who are so good in playing somebody else that they have a hard time returning to reality. Sometimes there's so much paint that if there is something there, it's hard, even for the person himself, to figure out what or who it is.

So now Bowie has undergone the final transformation, only this one doesn't involve another role. The mask is off. I would love to know, when they took off all the paint, what they found underneath.

What to get with that #educationtechnology grant your school just received

My new post at Exordium, the blog of the Classical Latin School Association:

Q: Our school is a classical school. We just received a few thousand dollars of grant money for technology. What can we do with it while trying to remain classical?

A: Buy a Promethean Board.

Q: But what about iPads?

A: Don't do it.

Q: Why? I mean, if a Promethean Board is good, then why are iPads bad? ...

Read more here.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Scalia: Government religious neutrality not Constitutional

U. S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia voices an obvious truth one could discover by simply reading the language of the First Amendment. From the Associated Press:
METAIRIE, La. (AP) -- Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday the idea of religious neutrality is not grounded in the country's constitutional traditions and that God has been good to the U.S. exactly because Americans honor him. 
Scalia was speaking at a Catholic high school in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana. Scalia, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 is the court's longest serving justice. He has consistently been one of the court's ... more conservative members 
He told the audience at Archbishop Rummel High School that there is "no place" in the country's constitutional traditions for the idea that the state must be neutral between religion and its absence. 
"To tell you the truth there is no place for that in our constitutional tradition. Where did that come from?" he said. "To be sure, you can't favor one denomination over another but can't favor religion over non-religion?" 
He also said there is "nothing wrong" with the idea of presidents and others invoking God in speeches. He said God has been good to America because Americans have honored him.
Read more here.

In response, internet atheist P. Z. Myers, who moonlights as an amateur Constitutional scholar, says:
That’s right. I thought it was clear: the government doesn’t get to interfere in private matters of conscience. It’s a concept that really isn’t that hard to understand. There should be no federal bias in favor of Baptists over Catholics, or Christians over Muslims, or religious vs. non-religious — it’s just not their job. It’s worrisome that a Supreme Court justice thinks it is their job.
Sure. It's right there in the Constitution. It's in the subsection on Baptists, Catholics and Muslims. Let's see, let me find it ... Uh, I could have swore ... Hmmm.

We'll get right back to you on that.

Obama Administration's 2nd choice for the New Marine Corp's Service hymn

Thursday, January 07, 2016

The Emasculation of the American Military

The forces of Political Correctness have now planted their flag in the midst of the military's most hardcore fighting force: The Marines. The Marine Corps has now succumbed to the Obama-led transformation of the military, a transformation already achieved in other branches of the military. The Marines could whip any foreign enemy, but now they've been forced to surrender to the Tolerance Police by the nation's political leaders.

Here's Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a Jan. 1 memo to Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller:
As we achieve full integration of the force ... this is an opportunity to update the position titles and descriptions themselves to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these MOSs. Please review the position titles throughout the Marine Corps and ensure that they are gender-integrated as well, removing 'man' from the titles and provide a report to me as soon as is practicable and no later than April 1, 2016.
While we're changing military titles, what about the head of the Navy? Navy Secretary Ray Mabus? Shouldn't that be Navy Administrative Assistant Ray Mabus?

You wonder what the military is going to look like when the liberals finally get through with it. Watch them take away those nasty guns they carry around next. They're dangerous, you know.

In fact, isn't this whole military thing a little over the top? I mean why can't we just reason with our enemies? Do we have to be, I don't know, violent about it? This the 21st century, after all. Haven't we grown out of the whole macho thing that has plagued civilization from time immemorial?

Peace, Love, and Bobby Sherman.

Monday, January 04, 2016

From the Great Liberal Ideas Department: Segregated schools for #LGBT youth

The Pride School in Atlanta, Georgia is now accepting applications exclusively for "LGBT youth" in order to meet their "special needs." Students will no longer feel bullied or not accepted, as they are in traditional schools. Segregating them in this way would help them bet the support they need for "being different."

Of course, even if this school is successful, there will still be many "LGBT youth" remaining in public schools. What new progressive policies can we implement for them? Separate drinking fountains? Separate eating places in the cafeteria? How about saving the seats at the back of public buses just for them!

Pretty soon, they'll have LGBT youths pickin' cotton.

You gotta love liberals.