Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pope and the Archbishop

I just noticed, as I wrote that last post, the Pope on the TV saying more stuff against homosexuality, which is best seen in the context of what the Archbishop of Canterbury was saying a few days ago, about borrowing our way out of a mess that we got into via greedy borrowing being a bit like what alcoholics do. That mess was, I think, more to do with who the City employed and why; but still, why did we let them get away with it? And why'll we probably do the same again? The thing about homosexuality is that it's very emotive. I'm sure the Pope isn't unaware that he's pandering to homophobia, even if he talks about the sin and not the sinner. After all, a similar sin is thinking lustful thoughts about a woman other than one's wife, e.g. when watching a movie (which a lot will be doing this xmas). Marriages tend to break up because they are felt to be falling short of the dream, not because gays come out of closets. And a worse sin is pride, of course; especially pride in such trivia as being straight, or white. The thing about homophobia is that it's obviously like racism and antisemitism etc. People, even straight people, often feel insecure about their sexuality (as the Church has traditionally encouraged them to), and a way to feel better about it with very little subjectively obvious psychic cost (if one's straight) is to think to yourself that at least you're not one of those disgusting gays. The similarities with racism and poor people's views of their own social positions are obvious (not to mention the Church's traditional role in antisemitism). A man can know that he's sexist and letcherous, but comfort himself with the thought that at least he fancies women. And a woman can know that she's fat and lazy, but comfort herself with the thought that at least she's a woman. The irony is that the Church traditionally regarded marriage as second-best to the monastic life (and another irony is that the latter attracted homosexuals, of course... I could go on, but I'll just wish you a merry xmas :)

A Jump Theodicy

Another name-change for my theodicy, to something less irritatingly alliterative and more evocative of its content (by comparison with Fall theodicies), which is now here (Alanyzer's thoughts on it are here). Last January my theodicy was a sketchy talk entitled ‘The Theodolite Theodicy’ at Glasgow (where I was supposed to be continuing with the metaphysics of continuity for my PhD), at which it matured slightly under the questions of Fiona and Akiko.
......In the Spring I happened upon Tim Mawson’s recent paper in Int. J. Philos. Relig. (which was essentially the second chapter of his 2005 introduction to the philosophy of religion), and the theodicy—renamed the Odyssey theodicy—became the final part of my refutation of his arguments for the timelessness of God. I’d finished writing a response to Mawson’s paper (which was essentially this version) by the time of my talk in Aberdeen in July; and its rejection arrived in November, along with three reasons for its rejection, which were so weak as to be interesting.
......The first objection was to my use of the term ‘theodicy’ (as opposed to ‘defence’) on the grounds that, while the reviewer conceded that my speculations might be possible, she (or he) didn’t find them at all plausible. But when atheists find no (so-called) theodicy plausible, are all theodicies thereby misnamed? Hardly, and so (similarly) that she found my theodicy implausible hardly stops it being a theodicy. It should’ve been obvious that I’m not trying to demonstrate the logical compatibility of God’s existence and evil’s occurrence (which is surely trivial) but to maximise the explanatory power of Open theism, by trying to give a good account of why a perfect being would make an imperfect world.
......So her first objection amounted—at best (it may just have been incompetent, in view of the quality of the other two)—to no more than the claim that I’d failed to give a good account of that. As for why I had so failed, there were only the following two objections. Since philosophy ought to be more like amateur science than a professional game, I’d rather add that had she been able to ask me, I could’ve easily cleared up her confusions. Such is blind reviewing.
......Her second objection was that, while one of the aims of Open theism is to bring the philosophical picture of God closer to the Biblical picture, my theodicy would forfeit that aim. However, she said nothing about why it would. And having read the Bible inclusivistically (e.g. with metaphysical humility) and found no incompatibility with my theodicy, I don’t know which verses she was thinking of (or how). If the readers of this post have any ideas of what they might be, I’d be very interested in any possibilities. My theodicy could hardly take us further from the Biblical picture(s) than the doctrine of God’s timelessness has traditionally taken us.
......But what’s most apposite, from the point of view of reviewing a submission, is that even were this objection sound the first half of my submission would still have shown that a perfect person might be everlasting (contra Mawson) and indeed, would be (according to Mawson’s own methodology), while the final half would still have further increased the likelihood of Open theism.
......The final objection was basically a Straw Man fallacy, and was (in full) as follows.
There are several arguments in the literature that it is not possible that there be two omnipotent beings. The relevance of these arguments to the author’s project is obvious. But the soundness of these arguments is no where contested in the paper. If these arguments are sound, then God, as omnipotent, can be quite confident that there are no other unknown deities about.
God presumably is omnipotent but, as I’d argued, it hardly follows that he could be fully justified in being completely sure that he is. And clearly, if God is only fairly confident (and fully justified in being so) then there is, for him, the epistemic possibility that grounds my theodicy. None of those arguments of mine were criticised by her, as though she was unaware of them (despite their obvious relevance). But a trivial consequence of them is that the arguments she mentioned are none of them relevant (not even the one published alongside Mawson).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Next? Turkey

For Turkey to become an EU member would change the Union, a point that we should not seek to hide from our citizens. The European demos has to be party to the deal, and it should not be impossible to convince the public of the Turkish case if we try. A Turkey with a population of rising 90 million with a vibrant economy and young workforce would help to vitalize Europe’s economy as the west-European population ages and declines. A democratic Turkey, secular and Muslim, would assist in preventing the cultural divisions and clashes that we sometimes appear intent on provoking around the world. A militarily professional Turkey would give the EU more credibility as a civilian power able to act occasionally with an effective military smack. Reject Turkey and the EU will have chosen to write a much smaller part for itself in the history of the twenty-first century, and having been so successful in promoting stability around our borders we may find ourselves doing the reverse.
That’s from Lord Patten’s ‘What Next? Surviving the Twenty-first Century’ (2008: Allen Lane, p. 419), which everyone should read, if only to get clear on what’s been happening recently.