Interview: In the Name of God – The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence

John Teehan is the author of In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence, and has published and lectured widely on the impact of evolutionary theories on moral philosophy. In this comprehensive interview, John talks in depth about some of the themes in his book: how our moral minds may have been shaped by evolution, and how such a perspective can inform upon our understanding of religious violence.

Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write ‘In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence’?

John Teehan: I’ve always been deeply interested in the study of morality.  Not simply in terms of what we ought to do, how we ought  to live—although those are essential questions—but also in terms of why do  we have the values we have, how do moral traditions develop. This lead me into a study of moral psychology, and in particular evolutionary psychology. If we want to understand how we got where we are today in terms of morality, then trying to understand the origins of moral behaviour seemed to be Continue reading “Interview: In the Name of God – The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence”

Tragic atheism, why?

Over the last month I’ve seen a bunch of posts debating religious belief similar to this from Damon Linker:

Rather than explore the complex and daunting existential challenges involved in attempting to live a life without God, the new atheists rudely insist, usually without argument, that atheism is a glorious, unambiguous benefit to mankind both individually and collectively. There are no disappointments recorded in the pages of their books, no struggles or sense of loss… The studied insouciance of the new atheists can come to seem almost comically superficial and unserious.

I’m totally in the dark about why Linker thinks a loss of faith should be accompanied by a permanent sense of loss.

When a kid learns there’s no Santa Claus, there usually is a sense of loss:  it’s sad to find out that there’s no benevolent toy-maker.

But this sense of loss is short-lived. It doesn’t take long to realize that Christmas is pretty awesome, even without Santa. You get time off work, you give and get presents, you spend time with family and splurge on food.  Before long, you realize that Santa has nothing to do with what’s great about Christmas– and he never did.

A Santa-believing analog of Linker would say: “Those who claim to embrace happily a Santa-less Christmas have failed to grapple with the true horror of Santa-less-ness. I can respect those who don’t believe in Santa. I just can’t respect those who aren’t made permanently gloomy by their non-belief.”  This is a silly thing to say!  All the good stuff about Christmas is still there.

Related articles:

Hume on Miracles
By James E. Taylor, Westmont College (June 2007)
Philosophy Compass

Interview: Comic Relief – A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor

What makes something funny? John Morreall has been studying humor for more than 25 years and, as well as being a professor of religious studies at the College of William & Mary, he is the author of Comic Relief: A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor. We were lucky enough to catch up with John recently, and he told us about his long term interest in the subject, and explored some of the themes in his book.

The Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write Comic Relief?

John Morreall: I’ve been teaching and writing about humor since the early 1980s.  My book Taking Laughter Seriously came out in 1983, and then my anthology The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor in 1987.  Since then my thinking about humor has matured, so I wanted to refine old ideas and articulate new ones.  The big idea I wanted to work out in this book is that humor is a kind of play.  Play is an essential part of life, but it gets very little attention from philosophers.  Analyzing humor as a kind of play generates insights into its value and also fits well with current scientific thought about the evolution of laughter. Continue reading “Interview: Comic Relief – A Comprehensive Philosophy of Humor”

Hawking and his aliens

Earth is calling…or maybe not!? In a new Discovery Channel series, Stephen Hawking has answered the question that has plagued scientists for years. In his mind it is totally logical to assume that aliens are out there and that we should not invite them over here. The reason why there has to be extraterrestrial life is the sheer number of galaxies in the universe and the resulting huge number of planets in every single galaxy. Somewhere there has to be life. Hawking admits that this life can be in the form of microbes and small animals, but he is adamant that there can also be intelligent life and that these aliens can be very very dangerous for us Earthlings. They might be on the hunt for resources or space to live in and might be far advanced from us. For hundreds of years the idea of extraterrestrial life has challenged astronomers, because the sheer assumption leads to a whole plethora of philosophical relevant questions. First of all, would we not have to change the term “alien” and apply it exclusively to extraterrestrial life? Continue reading “Hawking and his aliens”

The ultimate case against Christianity?

If you like to be entertained and you don’t mind F-bombs, watch this very unsafe-for-work talk by Richard Carrier.  He argues that Jesus did not exist.

I do wonder how effective this line of argument can really be.  Carrier spends a lot of effort showing that New Testament gospel accounts are inconsistent and implausible.  For instance, at one point the Sun is supposed to have gone out for a few hours — but later on, no one seems to remember that it happened. Also, according to Carrier, some of the New Testament writers seem to have in mind a purely spiritual son of God, not a flesh-and-blood Jesus.   Continue reading “The ultimate case against Christianity?”

Haiti and the problem of evil

If there is an all-good, all-powerful God, why is there so much wrong with the world? This ancient problem — the problem of evil — receives unfortunate freshness every time something terrible happens.  Philosopher David Bain discusses the problem of evil, and its connection with the Haiti earthquake, in this short and accessible essay.

I usually think that the best hope for a solution to this problem lies in the idea that there is no best of all possible worlds. This view says that, for any possible world God could have created, there is an even better world that God could have created instead. If this were true, then God would have to make a less-than-perfect world — or else nothing at all. And presumably an imperfect something is better than absolutely nothing. Thus we might be able to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could have created an imperfect world. However, it’s another question whether this line of thinking can offer a complete solution to the problem of evil.  For that you’d need to explain how an all-good all-powerful God could allow, not just imperfections, but also hugely catastrophic events — like what has happened in Haiti.

Philosophy of Action and Philosophy of Religion By Stewart Goetz, Ursinus College (Vol. 1, 2006) Philosophy Compass

Morality and Religion By Tim Mawson, St Peter’s College (December 2009) Philosophy Compass

The God particle! Or is it?

The_Large_Hadron_ColliderATLAS_at_CERN_CerchiatoThe search for the elusive Higgs-boson is the driving force between the fierce, but allegedly friendly, competition between the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the Tevatron at Fermilab. Since CERN has decided at the beginning of the month that the LHC will run throughout the winter, an otherwise unusual practice because of the high energy consumption, it probably will win the race, or so they hope.

The reason why it is so important to win that race is that the Higgs boson plays a central role in the Standard Model of particle physics, but is the only particle in that same model that is not yet discovered. The discovery of the Higgs-boson would explain the existence of mass in the universe and the distribution of mass among the particles. It sounds like something of an ultimate explanation for the last open questions in physics.

But what happens then? String theorists argue that the smallest entities in the universe are strings which constitute the particles. In their view the Higgs-boson would not be the ultimate explanation. But should not the question be if we can “ultimately” explain something at all? The Higgs-boson is called the God particle. But what do we mean by that? That God has created that particle? That the Higgs-boson is God? That the existence of the particle proves God’s existence? That God is behind the Big Bang? And if it is discovered, does physics as a discipline all of a sudden stops, because everything is now explained. Of course not, is the obvious answer for most. But why is it then called the God particle? What is that supposed to be telling us?

For those interested in news updates about CERN from the Times, go here.

For an interesting article about science and its relation to religion, read the following:

$1.99 - small Margaret Cavendish on the Relation between God and World

By Karen Detlefsen, University of Pennsylvania

(Vol. 4, May 2009)

Philosophy Compass