November 25, 2015

Various thoughts: Refugee crisis

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, November 26, 2015

Various thoughts: Refugee crisis

Sometimes I sit on our deck, puff on my pipe, and think. What follows are various thoughts (and questions) concerning the refugee crisis.

Besides taking in refugees (reasonable people of good will can disagree on the numbers), it's important to keep in mind there are also other ways of helping. These include: (a) stopping the immediate cause of the refugees fleeing their homes, so they needn't flee in the first place (and so they can eventually return to their homes); (b) providing food, shelter, schools, and security in refugee camps (security for all, of course, but especially so religious minorities—Yazidis and Christians—are not persecuted even in those camps); (c) supporting NGOs (such as Samaritan's Purse) as they assist refugees on the roads/ boats; (d) etc.

All (most) of us agree that we should help refugees, but we might differ on the best way to help. I say: work this out with fear and trembling, and act accordingly, all the while showing respect to those with whom one might disagree. (By "fear and trembling" I don't mean with fear mongering; I mean work it out humbly, before God, acknowledging one's limitations.)

I favour caring for and accepting refugees, and I favour some degree of caution. I realize there's a terrible urgency in the refugee crisis that stands in tension with my concern for caution. Still, in our zeal to help (which is good), let's at least not engage in faulty reasoning (which isn't good). Let's help wisely. (I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I do believe careful thinking is part of the answer.)

● Doesn't my neighbour (whom I am called to love) include refugees and the folks down the street?

Is Saudi Arabia's tent city—100,000 air-conditioned tents that can house 3 million people—still empty?

● Careful thinking shows that the analogy between the Syrian refugee crisis and the plight of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany is not wholly apt.

"There was no international conspiracy of German Jews in the 1930s attempting to carry out daily attacks on civilians on several continents." Also, "A recent Arab Opinion Index poll of 900 Syrian refugees found that one in eight hold a 'to some extent'-positive view of the Islamic State (another 4 percent said that they did not know or refused to answer)." Thus: "A non-trivial minority of refugees who support a murderous, metastatic caliphate is a reason for serious concern. No 13 percent of Jews looked favorably upon the Nazi party."

Treating Muslims with disrespect (e.g., prejudice, burning Mosques, etc.) is wrong, period. But let's keep in mind that we can think carefully about Islam (in its various forms) and not be Islamophobic. It shows respect to people by taking them seriously enough to find out what they believe and what motivates them. It's not phobic to ask questions like: What do you believe? Why believe it's true? It's not phobic to assess the answers using reason and evidence, all the while showing respect to those with whom one might disagree.

● The Quran's chapters are ordered from longest to shortest, not chronologically. Chronologically, the Quran's peaceful verses occur before Muhammad gains power whereas the calls to jihad (war on unbelievers) occur after Muhammad gains power. Apparently, the later verses abrogate the earlier verses. (Reading assignment: Yoel Natan, "164 Jihad Verses in the Koran," Answering Islam.)

The Bible's calls to war are specific and limited to particular times and places, but the Quran’s call for jihad is open-ended.

Jesus promotes his message by shedding his blood on a cross; Muhammad promotes his message by shedding the blood of others.

● If Islamic "reform" means (at least in part) getting back to basics, what are those basics?

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

November 12, 2015

Various thoughts (again)

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, November 12, 2015

Various thoughts (again)

Sometimes I sit on our deck, quietly puffing on my pipe, and I think. What follows are some of my thoughts. They're somewhat disconnected and perhaps disconcerting—read at your own risk.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba is asking the public for feedback on "Physician Assisted Dying." Here's a wee bit of feedback from me. Yes, I'm pretty sure we all want physician assisted dying: please don't abandon us as we die, please provide clean sheets, food, and morphine as death takes its course. Thank you. Oh, wait, sorry, I misunderstood: you're actually wondering if I'd like for you to kill me? Maybe the college should be asking the public for feedback on Physician Assisted SUICIDE. Just saying.

● The Supreme Court of Canada says physician assisted suicide (er, I mean, "dying") will be legal as of February 6, 2016. Doesn't this reflect poorly on all our efforts on suicide prevention? Are only some suicides worth preventing? National Suicide Prevention Week (revised): Monday to Thursday only?

● The survey from Manitoba's College of Physicians and Surgeons tells us that "Physicians must not impose their moral or religious beliefs about physician assisted dying on patients." Hmmm. Isn't the college imposing the moral belief that life is no longer the default position and so the patient must choose to live or die? (Intellectual health warning: Somebody is having their philosophical cake and eating it too.)

● Physician assisted suicide imposes a terrible burden on the vulnerable. If life is no longer society's default position, then the most vulnerable—the elderly, terminally ill, disabled—must justify their continued existence. This is plain nasty—a kick in the teeth.

● "Progressive" is sometimes a euphemism for "slippery" or "slither."

Glamour Magazine has named Cecile Richards "Woman of the Year." Yes, this is the woman in charge of Planned Parenthood, the organization that's been killing unborn babies and selling baby parts. And, yes, this magazine awarded the same title to the man Bruce/ "Caitlyn" Jenner. Clearly, glamour ain't what it used to be.

● IVF (in vitro fertilization) involves morally dubious practices and risks: (a) destruction of multiple human embryos (human beings) to get one that "sticks" (in the uterus); (b) possible abortion of excess children if more than one embryo sticks; (c) ongoing frozen "leftovers"; (d) egg harvesting at risk of women's health ("eggsploitation"); (e) increased demand for surrogate mothers ("breeders"); (f) severing of ties to one or more biological parents when anonymous donor sperm or eggs are used; (g) turning of children into commodities. IVF? LOL (lots of lament).

Science and physicalism/ materialism should be distinguished. Why? Because science—a method (methods) of inquiry—and physicalism/ materialism—a metaphysical philosophical view—might not wholly overlap. We should be open to going wherever the evidence takes us. Maybe a non-physical entity or being (e.g., an intelligent agent/ mind) is a better explanation of the data?

● To dismiss historical investigation of Jesus' miraculous physical resurrection because one thinks that nature's regularities make such a special act by God maximally improbable is to assume that nature's regularities express the whole of God's intentions regarding God's actions, or it is to assume that God doesn't exist. But this is question-begging. (Question-begging is a mistake in reasoning: it's to assume as proven that which is at issue; it's to assume the conclusion in the premises; it's to assume the outcome of an investigation before doing the investigation; it's to put the cart before the horse; it's to commit a philosophical sin—an abuse of reason.)

● Enlightenment/ autonomous reason was an abuse of reason. The problem wasn't reason per se; the problem was the faulty, arrogant assumptions. Abuse or misuse is not a good reason for disuse.

● Jesus is the Logos and the Truth. Think carefully, for Christ's sake.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)

October 29, 2015

Various thoughts

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, October 29, 2015

Various thoughts

Sometimes I sit alone on our deck, quietly puffing on my pipe, and I think. What follows are some of my thoughts. They're somewhat disconnected and perhaps disconcerting—read at your own risk.

● The story of the blind men and the elephant (in which several blind men disagree about what the elephant actually is, but are corrected by the king who sees the elephant) tells us we are all blind. But the storyteller assumes he/ she is the king who sees.

● That our “western eyes” cast doubt on all our knowledge of philosophical theses is itself a philosophical thesis, so casts doubt onto itself. Ditto for moral theses.

● Any philosophy that is written in a book must account for the known reality of the book in which the philosophy is written and the known reality that the contents of the book can be accurately understood by readers. If not, why do philosophers complain about being misrepresented?

● To know that you are deceived requires knowing at least sometimes that you are not deceived.

● The misuse/ abuse of language keeps us from communicating and knowing truth, but the careful use of language is conducive to communicating and knowing truth. Or why do you ask for clarification? And why do you give it when asked?

● Conflicting religions and worldviews (including the worldview that all religions and worldviews are pretty much the same, which, by the way, conflicts with all other worldviews) call for our ultimate allegiance. The careful examination of evidence and careful reasoning therefrom help us to discern truth. This is not to impose rationality onto the world; it's to do our best to let the world speak for itself.

● To think God can't use reason and evidence to reveal God puts God in a box. Whether God uses reasons and evidence depends on whether God has given us reasons and evidence. We must look. Seek.

● Christian philosopher John Bloom on religious triage: "Given that we have a limited amount of time in this life to study religions, we can dispense with those that offer us a second chance in the afterlife, or which will reincarnate us if we make a mistake in this life, or which promise us that all will be well eventually no matter how we live now. Prudence dictates that we first ought to consider the claims of those religions which say that everything depends upon the decisions made and lived in this life."

● Golden Rule: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." When said by Jesus the others include "infidels" and the rule presumes that our desires aren't defective (e.g., masochism, paedophilia, etc.).

● To claim that "judging is wrong" is to make a judgment.

● All violence is unjust? Surely not. The police officer who kills a gunman on a school shooting rampage kills justly whereas the shooter doesn't.

● To understand what Scripture says is "disputable" depends on what Scripture says it is, not on what I dispute today.

● Are ongoing-overly-quick-accusations of phobia a sign of a phobia against reason?

● Truth-seeking criticisms and loving others are not mutually exclusive.

● Facts and values are not mutually exclusive, either. Here I'm not thinking about valuing (a subjective though real experience that may manifest itself in behaviour); I'm thinking about actual value—real worth. Human beings in fact have real worth. Intrinsic worth. (Many atheists recognize this but have trouble explaining it. I recognize it and find it suggestive of, and explained by, imago Dei.)

● I am a centre of consciousness, i.e., a subjective being, yet I perceive objective truths (e.g., that Pythagoras's theorem is true; that if A is part of B and B is part of C then A is part of C; that Ottawa is the capital city of Canada).

● If mere subjective feeling is the ultimate criterion for truth, then if a woman feels she is fat then she is fat, and if a man feels he is a woman then he is a woman, and if a fat woman feels she is a skinny man then she is a skinny man.

● Truth without love is harsh. Love without truth is blind. Gentle humour can illuminate.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, teaches philosophy at Providence University College.)