#1 The Life Unexamined
One skill emphasized in the study of philosophy is critical thinking, in brief, thinking objectively and rationally about ideas. An important way of doing this is to examine claims that are presented to us rather than assuming them to be true. In the Apology Socrates says “the unexamined life is not worth living.” First, explain what you think Socrates means by ‘the unexamined life’ (it might help to think about what an examined vs. an unexamined life might be). Then answer the following: Do you agree with Socrates that the unexamined life is not worth living? Why or why not? Can you think of any challenges to Socrates’ claim (in other words, could you defend the claim ‘the unexamined life IS worth living?’)?
#2 The Value of Philosophy
Unlike many other disciplines, philosophy is one that students are often unclear about. They aren’t sure what to expect, what they will learn, or what the benefits will be (in contrast to courses in math, history, and government, for example). By now you should have completed the reading by Bertrand Russell called “The Value of Philosophy.” His text could be described as a very ‘philosophical’ response to the question ‘why study philosophy?’. Read Why Study Philosophy? ‘To Challenge Your Own Point of View’ by philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, which deals rather differently with the same question, and then respond to this thread with 1 point (feel free to quote it directly) from each reading that resonates with you about the value of ‘doing philosophy.’ Make sure to explain WHY the points you discuss stood out to you.
Newberger Goldstein, Rebecca. “Why Study Philosophy? ‘To Challenge Your Own Point of View’”. The Atlantic. 27 February, 2014. www.theatln.tc/2HOFCRi. Accessed 30 April 2018.
#3 God and the Origin of the Universe
Chapter 2 discusses the major ideas and arguments relating to God and the origin of the universe. Which of these arguments do you find most convincing? Explain why. Which do you find least convincing? Explain why.
#4 Evolution, Religion, and Intelligent Design
Many people mistakenly believe that a belief in evolution precludes a belief in God or intelligent design; in other words, some people falsely think that one must be an atheist or agnostic to believe in evolution and the Big Bang. The Catholic Church is one example of a religious institution that has long held the view that evolution and the Big Bang explain ‘how we got here.’ Read the below article from the Catholic Herald, and then answer the following questions: Why do you think so many people are mistaken about the ability to believe in God as well as evolution and the Big Bang? Do you find anything problematic about combining religious and scientific explanations of the universe? Explain.
NB: In this discussion, students often misuse the word ‘theory’, saying things such as “the Big Bang/evolution are ‘just’ theories.” But to say this is a misuse of the word ‘theory’ as it applies to scientific theory. Many people misunderstand the word as it is used in the realm of science, thinking it to mean a guess, a hypothetical, untested idea. However, in science, ‘theory’ means something different. Please read the article below:
Article from the Catholic Herald
By Patrick Cusworth October 31, 2014
Pope Francis’s comments on the Big Bang are not revolutionary. Catholic teaching has long professed the likelihood of human evolution
Perhaps it was inevitable that Pope Francis’ comments on the Church’s position on scientific theories such as the Big Bang and evolution would cause a stir. In his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pope cautioned against the image of God the creator as “a magician, with a magic wand”, arguing that belief in both theories around the beginnings of the universe and the birth of humankind are consistent with the Catholic faith.
“The Big Bang, which is today posited as the origin of the world, does not contradict the divine act of creation; rather, it requires it”, he stated. Similarly, he argued, “evolution of nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation because evolution pre-supposes the creation of beings which evolve.”
Yet despite further murmurings that Pope Francis was beginning (yet another) revolution in Catholic doctrine, it must be pointed out – the Pope’s declaration on either theory has not broken with established Catholic belief in the slightest.
The Big Bang theory, originally hypothesised in 1927 by Jesuit priest and physicist Georges Lemaître, is based on the central proposition that the universe is continually expanding. As a preposition, the universe was originally contained within a single point, in a highly intense state of heat and density. As the universe began to expand it cooled, allowing the formation of subatomic particles, which began a series of physical cosmological processes, which led eventually to the known universe. While this has become the most commonly accepted explanation for the beginnings of the universe, many scientists have previously expressed an instinctive opposition to the notion of a beginning point, since this would represent a question which science could not answer – as Professor Stephen Hawking concluded in his autobiography, “One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God to determine how the universe started off”.
Turning to Pope Francis’ comments on evolution, Catholic teaching has long professed the likelihood of human evolution – albeit with the proviso that this takes place under the guidance of the Creator, and that special creation of the human soul is performed directly by God. As Pope Pius XII stated in Humani Generis (art. 36): “the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions… take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God”.
Pope John Paul II specifically endorsed this position in his own address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996, declaring that since publication of the latter encyclical, “new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis… The convergence in the results of these independent studies constitutes in itself a significant argument in favour of the theory”.
While it is refreshing to see the Pope’s pronouncements upon matters scientific reaching and being welcomed by individuals not generally well disposed toward the Church, the implicit suggestion that Pope Francis has somehow brought about a radical change in the Vatican worldview is a misleading one. The Church has a centuries-long history of promoting scientific inquiry – long may it continue.
Cusworth, Patrick. “Pope Francis’s Comments On the Big Bang are not Revolutionary. Catholic Teaching Has Long Professed the Likelihood of Human Evolution”. Catholic Herald. 31 Oct 2014. www.bit.ly/1wQ8QQG. Accessed 30 April 2018.
Ghose, Tia. “’Just a Theory’: 7 Misused Science Words.” Scientific American. 2 April 2013. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/just-a-theory-7-misused-science-words/. Accessed 22 August 2018.
#5 Children and Evil
One solution often given for the problem of evil is that evil is part of a divine ‘plan’ or ‘harmony’ that we cannot see. In 1734, Alexander Pope expressed this view in his poem “An Essay on Man: Epistle I”:
“All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony, not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.”
For some, however, this answer is unsatisfactory. Evil against children is one example given as a counterargument to this position: why would an all-loving god allow innocent children to suffer? The character Ivan expresses this view in Theodore Dostoevsky’s 1880 novel The Brothers Karamazov:
“I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony.”
Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and philosopher, addresses this problem in a debate with Dr. William Lane Craig at the University of Notre Dame. Watch the video below, and then respond to how Harris addresses this specific aspect of the problem of evil, evil against children. What argument does he make in this debate? What is your response to his argument?
Craig, William Lane. Biological Sketch. 2018. www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig/. Accessed 30 April 2018.
Harris, Sam. About Sam Harris. 2018. www.samharris.org/about/. Accessed 30 April 2018.
Pope, Alexander. An Essay on Man: Epistle I. Poetry Foundation. no date. www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44899/an-essay-on-man-epistle-i. Accessed 30 April 2018.
Sam Harris – God is Either Impotent or Evil. YouTube video file. [11:05]. Skepthick. 2014, March 30. youtu.be/QuPsxFklxaw