PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 33 2nd June 2002
I. 'God or Nature: The Evolutionist-Creationist Controversy' by
II. 'El Miedo a la Muerte' by Carlos Evia Rosado
III. The Pathways Online Conference - Three Months On
I. 'GOD OR NATURE: THE EVOLUTIONIST-CREATIONIST CONTROVERSY' BY D.R. KHASHABA
The battle raging between creationists and evolutionists is probably the one that raises the greatest hubbub on the intellectual front at present. Though, as will presently appear, I do not regard this as a properly philosophical issue, still I think there is call for philosophers to clear some of the confusions and misuderstandings that envelop the battleground.
I maintain that philosophy, exercising pure reason, cannot give us knowledge about the objective world. Socrates, the first thinker to realize this clearly, decisively renounced all investigation into 'physis'. He was concerned solely with the ideas and ideals that constitute our specifically human life. Subsequent philosophers, beginning with Plato, in various degrees obscured or lost sight of this great Socratic insight, and in consequence embroiled philosophy in many needless difficulties and controversies. (Among moderns it was Kant, in his critical philosophy, who revived the Socratic insight, with some complications, but his successors again lost it with a vengeance.) That's why I say that the evolutionist-creationist controversy is not properly a philosophical problem.
Again I say that the advocates of religion are ill-advised to be drawn into the controversy. Creationism is a theory relating to the objective world and as such it is a scientific theory -- good or bad, reconcilable or irreconcilable with other theories: these are questions to be resolved by the methods of science, and what might be regarded as established truth today may be reversed tomorrow, and in no case will that have any bearing on questions of value. For let us grant the creationists that we could prove by impeccable scientific methods that the world was created by a personal god. Here is a theory, as bad and as good as any other: Before the Big Bang there was another universe (why not?) that had culminated in the evolution (let's have the best of both worlds) of an all-powerful god. That god programmed a terramicro chip to produce the Big Bang and all that followed it up to the scribbling of these words of mine. (I know this is not only nonsense but bad nonsense to boot; someone more clever than I am can surely produce a more plausible version.) Suppose this theory were established by rigorous scientific methods as true. Must I then adore, honour or admire that god? No; I would cry in his face, Damn you for all the evil and all the suffering you have put into your scheme of things. I would accept the facts as facts but that would have no bearing on my ideals and values.
Yet there is no comfort here for the scientific camp. For just as the empirical vindication of the personal god would not give him any claim on my respect, so the discovery of the minutest details of the process by which the world has come to be would give us no understanding of that world, whether brought about by a personal fiat or an impersonal evolution. But here we have to stop for a lexical digression. The words 'knowledge' and 'understanding' are very troublesome. They both refer to two radically different things, two totally different realms of our mental life; let us call them the objective and the subjective. The ideal solution would be to appropriate one of the terms to each of the two distinct realms. Sounds simple. The trouble is: (1) there is no consensus and there has never been; (2) more seriously, enthusiasts for the objective kind simply deny the existence of the other kind and lay claim to both terms. So that when we ask, Does the genome project give us knowledge of a human being?, they answer, Yes; and when we ask, Does it give us understanding of a human being?, again they answer, Yes. I would say that the genome project gives us the knowledge that (hopefully) may enable us to cure or prevent diseases, to resolve forensic mysteries, perhaps to reproduce Hitlers, Pol Pots, and Ariel Sharons at will, but it does not give us the insight necessary to put an end to the evil of such monsters. Now take whichever word you like for the one kind and leave me the other word for the other kind. (See my "Knowledge and Understanding" on www.Back-to-Socrates.com )
When Richard Dawkins is challenged by creationists to "give an example of a genetic mutation or an evolutionary process which can be seen to increase the information in the genome" he writes a full-length article about 'information' as technically defined by the American engineer Claude Shannon in 1948. ("The Information Challenge" by Richard Dawkins, http:--- ) That technical definition is no doubt a very good and very fruitful definition when it is used for what it was devised for. But is it the only possible definition of the term? Does it give the only valid meaning of the term? In fact, in line with all scientific thinking, it is averse to all meaning and meaningfulness. It seizes on an extraneous feature of the object of inquiry, symbolizes it, quantifies it, drains it of all life and all meaning, and lives happily with its parched shell. I am not here to defend the imbecilities of 'creationism', but if the creationists' challenge meant to affirm that no description of any genetic mutation or evolutionary process can give us an understanding of, say, vision or consciousness, I would say that Dawkins has failed to meet the challenge. If there were no intelligence and creativity (as distinct from personal creation) at the heart of nature, then I cannot see how the mere putting together of bits and bytes -- even DNA bits and bytes -- could produce our feelings and thoughts. In other words, it is right that evolutionists should have our attentive and respectful ear when they describe, step by step, how consciousness came about, but when they tell us that is all there is to consciousness, we must object to a reductionism that bars our intelligence from looking into an entire realm of being.
But while I would thus agree with, say, Stephen Jay Gould that science should limit itself to studying the natural world, I would not agree with him in relegating the study of meanings and values to religion. If asked, Why not?, I would pose two questions in response: (1) Shall we accept the dogmatic dictates of religion on trust, putting our reason to sleep? (2) What about the conflicting claims of different religions? I hold that our worth as human beings resides in our reason and spirituality. So while, in opposition to religion, I maintain that it would undermine our dignity to accept anything as lying outside the jurisdiction of reason, in opposition to scienticism, I maintain that our proper worth as human beings resides in the ideas, ideals and dreams that are creations of the mind and that cannot be reduced to the givennesses of the phenomenal world. It is only in a philosophy that jealously guards its independence of science that we can find the combination of reason and spirituality that is necessary for a whole human life.
All attempts at reconciling science and religion or science and philosophy are equally misguided, though for different reasons. Philosophy is not equipped to deal with facts and science is not equipped to deal with meanings and values. (I resist a temptation to digress on a discussion of social sciences and psychology.) But religion cannot avoid making factual claims. To attempt any reconciliation with science means submitting itself to the jurisdiction of scientific methods and scientific criteria, and that will always be damaging to the dogmatic claims of religion. The best policy for adherents of religion would be to maintain that their revealed truths are not amenable to scrutiny, which amounts to a deliberate choice of stupidity. All apologetics are doubly stupid because while committed in principle to mindlessness they venture on a contest that can only be fought with the weapons of intelligence.
Finally, the creationist-evolutionist dispute amounts to the question: Do we have to thank God or Nature for what we are?, and in arbitrating between the two parties philosophy should declare that as long as the question is posed in that form, we can never arrive at a satisfactory answer. It is only Spinoza's unified God-or-Nature that can account for the whole that we are. And of that whole, science is concerned with the natural dimension, philosophy with the divine dimension -- or, to resort once again to Spinoza's language, science has to do with 'natura naturata' and philosophy with 'natura naturans'.
(c) D.R. Khashaba 2002
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web site: www.Back-to-Socrates.com
II. 'EL MIEDO A LA MUERTE' BY CARLOS EVIA ROSADO
6th May 2002
Dear Dr Klempner,
Please find enclosed my essay on the fear of death, which finally came out of the printing house. I am sorry that it is in Spanish, but I wanted to share my philosophical knowledge (even if scarce) with my family, friends and acquaintances. Nevertheless, I will try to make a brief summary for you.
The title of the essay reads: "The Fear of Death. A Philosophical Enquiry". With this title I try to mean that it is not my philosophy (although it contains some experiences and thoughts of my own) but rather a survey of the thoughts of philosophers on that subject. Nevertheless, the analysis and conclusions are mine.
The painting on the cover, Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson" intends to depict the naturalistic approach of the essay, as opposed to the theist approach of death.
The dedication reads: "Dedicated to Dr Geoffrey Klempner, Director of Studies, The Philosophical Society of England, for his efforts to put Philosophy to the reach of all".
The Preface describes my motivations for writing this essay, that go back to my working under your supervision in the Pathways to Philosophy programme. This work uncovered the fear of death that had been a permanent companion to me since I suffered a heart attack in 1992, after my undergoing other death threats which I recall.
The Introduction: "To be or not to be. That is the question... .".
Chapter I (Life and Death) tries to define both the concepts of life and death. Regarding the latter, besides its physical characteristics I describe some immaterial ones.
Chapter 11 (After Death) describes and criticises the following views of the afterlife: 1) The Orthodox Jewish (death as a punishment); 2) The Platonic-Christian (Immortality and resurrection); 3) The Epicurean (secular death); 4) The Stoic (creative resignation), and The Oriental (reincarnation). My conclusion is that all these views have in common that they are product of the imagination of human beings. The sheer fact is that we do not know what happens after death.
Chapter 111 (The Problem of the Soul) points out that, despite the importance of the Soul/ Body philosophical problem, it is not dealt here except for what relates to religious views of death. Therefore, it contains a brief history of the soul concept followed by a criticsm of the religious concept of the soul. In particular, I try to refute substance, spirituality and immortality as properties of the soul. To that end I rely mainly on the works of Hume, although other authors are quoted.
Chapter IV (The Fear of Death) is of a psychological character. It tries to answer the question: Why do we fear death? At the beginning of the Chapter I describe some personal experiences and then I rely mainly in the works of Ernest Becker and other psychologists to conclude that fear of death is both innate and enforced by the environment.
Chapter V (Is It Rational to Fear Death?) is very close to the last unit of "The Possible World Machine". I try to make a distinction between rational and irrational fears and rational and irrational persons. Then I use a model developed by Jeffrie Murphy for a rational person to fear a certain state of affairs to prove that "other worldly" views of death are irrational, whereas naturalistic views are rational. I reinforce this argument with a survey of different philosophers views regarding the rationality of the fear of death. I conclude that Philosophy teaches us that it is irrational to fear death per se, to fear the fact that someday we will cease to exist.
Chapter VI (Strategies for Living) reviews several strategies that could be used to overcome the fear of death and to get the greatest profit from life. Finally, I make a review of my own strategies and how they have changed along my life.
Let me tell you that I enjoyed very much all the stages in the preparation of this essay (except for the my struggle with the printing house). Again, thank you very much for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
A reproduction of the front cover of Carlos Evia Rosado's book 'El Miedo a la Muerte' together with the Dedication and first paragraph of the Preface in the original Spanish can be found on the Pathways web site at:
III. THE PATHWAYS ONLINE CONFERENCE - SIX MONTHS ON
Since January, there have been over 350 postings on Pathways conference on the 'Use and Value of Philosophy', exceeding all our expectations. The quality of the discussion has been excellent. Well done to all those involved!
Rather than relaunch the conference, we have decided to allow new participants to join at any time.
In a previous issue (20) of 'Philosophy Pathways' I wrote: "What is an internet conference? It is simply a way for people anywhere in the world to express their ideas, exchange views and dialogue with others who have similar interests. You write something and post it on the conference, just as if you were sending an e-mail. Others respond to what you have written and so the discussion proceeds."
For those who are new to this idea, have a look at issue 1 of the Pathways newsletter, which is posted at:
The conference uses the 'First Class' software which can be downloaded free from:
The First Class client is very easy to use. On the desktop there are help files and a 'Practice' conference which you can use to test out different features of the program. However, if you prefer, you can also access and post messages to the conference using a standard web browser, such as Netscape or Internet Explorer.
To be eligible to participate in the Conference you must be a member of the International Society for Philosophers OR the Philosophical Society of England. If you would like to participate, e-mail me at email@example.com and I will forward your name to Dr Martin Gough, who will issue you with your personal username and password.
If you are not already a member of the International Society for Philosophers, you can join by submitting the blue form at https:---.
If you would like to observe the conference only, go to http:--- and login as:
Username: philconf Password: philconf
Charley Countryman, one of the conference participants writes:
"In an exchange of mail about topics, I had written to Rachel Browne [another conference participant] that Socrates should not be limited to his current reincarnation as a columnist at 'Philosophy Now'. (Though he probably helps that colorful philosophical magazine pay its rent. Something Socrates' friend Crito would have appreciated.)
"Rachel wrote back: 'Socrates continued to ask questions even though he didn't expect those he asked to know. He wanted them to think. He didn't expect those he engaged in conversation to answer the questions he asked about virtue and ethics, but he wanted relevant points to arise within discussion...Questioning wasn't a way to destroy understanding, but a means of deepening it. If we don't question ethics and virtue, we are not thinking about it. If we think about it, and question it, we are trying to get in touch with the subject even if there is no definitive outcome.'
"I had also written: you can substitute your name for Meno's name in the Socratic dialogue recorded by Plato as MENO and be asked what is virtue.
"Socrates could say: 'Please just tell me yourself, what, in heavens name, you say virtue is. Speak out, and don't begrudge me an answer. If you...turn out to have this knowledge, that will show up my remark, that I have never met anyone who did know what virtue is, as a mistake on my part -- as lucky a mistake as I could possibly hope to make. (Loosely borrowed from T.D.J. Chappell's translation of Plato: 'The Plato Reader', Edinburgh University Press,1996.)
"So before coming to any conclusions about the end of philosophy, perhaps we should go back to Socrates and see what he has to ask us today. Maybe some of you observers have some suggestions about which passages of Socrates we could begin with?"
[From Charley Countryman 24 May 2002]
If I may add a couple of postscripts to Charley's note:
If we are talking about the 'value of philosophy', we can ask, 'What is Value?' (or the related, but distinct, question 'What is Virtue?') and also 'What is Philosophy?' Taken together, the questions of value, philosophy and the value of philosophy cover a pretty wide area - enough to keep the conference busy for some time to come.
Coincidentally, Dr Daoud Rofail Khashaba, who has contributed the article for this issue has a web site, www.Back-to-Socrates.com which is well worth a visit.