Posted by: gcarkner | December 8, 2018

Dramatic Moments of Epiphany

 

Mary Encounters Something Wholly Other

Luke 1: 26-56

Epiphanies are suggestive of transcendence. Michael Morgan (1994, pp. 56f)) points out that Charles Taylor sees a parallel between the epiphanies of art and poetry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the I-Thou epiphany of religious encounter with the divine. Taylor elaborates the idea of epiphanies (1989, pp. 419f, especially 490-93). He sees Post-Romantic and modernist art as oriented to epiphanies, episodes of realization, revelation, or disclosure. Epiphanies and epiphanic art are about a kind of transcendence, about the self coming in touch with that which lies beyond it, a ground or qualitative pre-eminence. One might call it a gift of the imagination or a re-enchantment of reality.

Taylor reviews various ways of articulating epiphany in Sources of the Self (1989, pp. 419-93). He articulates how God, inserted into this idea of epiphany, fits as a moral source (Sources of the Self, pp. 449-52). Epiphanies can be a way of connecting with spiritual and moral sources through the exercise of the creative imagination: sources may be divine (Taylor), or in the world or nature (Romantics like Thoreau), or in the powers of the imaginative, expressive self (Michel Foucault).

These epiphanies are a paradigm case of what Taylor calls recovering contact with moral sources. A special case of this renewal of relationship between the self and the moral source is religion and the relation to God, which he sees in the work of Dostoyevski. The relationship to art parallels the relationship to religion. The self is oriented in the presence of the inaccessible or sublime, that which captures one’s amazement or awe, for example, when one’s eyes are riveted to a certain painting like Monet’s Lillies, and one’s inner emotions are deeply moved by a poem. One is taken beyond oneself, in an experience of transcendence; the experience involves both elements of encounter and revelation. It can come in a discovery such as finding out the chemicals in our bodies were once part of the death of a star; we are stardust, embedded in creation itself; we owe the stars our very life.

When Mary hears from an angel that she is to become the vessel of a most profound turn of events in history, she is in awe, overwhelmed. It is truly an epiphany, an I-Thou encounter with radical alterity. Heaven and earth reach out to each other at this juncture and something dramatic occurs. This news changes everything. Time stands still in this kairos moment. She allows transcendence and immanence to intermingle within her body, her life. Mary’s story is punctuated by the incursion of the eternal into the temporal, informed by the descent of transcendence into a historical teenager’s life. We know it as the incarnation.

Christmas on the Edge by Malcolm Guite

Christmas sets the centre on the edge;
The edge of town, the outhouse of the inn,
The fringe of empire, far from privilege
And power, on the edge and outer spin
Of  turning worlds, a margin of small stars
That edge a galaxy itself light years
From some unguessed at cosmic origin.
Christmas sets the centre at the edge.

And from this day our  world is re-aligned
A tiny seed unfolding in the womb
Becomes the source from which we all unfold
And flower into being. We are healed,
The end begins, the tomb becomes a womb,
For now in him all things are re-aligned.

It is a strong transcendence to use philosopher Calvin Schrag’s insightful language. Transcendence means more than a selfless exposure or reorientation alone, but also a receiving that deeply involves the self, its imagination, its inner resources, its visions and revisions. In this calculus, for religion and art, the self remains autonomous and becomes fulfilled as it opens to the impact of the Other. It powers the sensus divinitatis. The human soul is enlarged. Morgan elaborates through the example of Jewish writer, Martin Buber, on this concept of religious epiphany or I-Thou encounter (Morgan, 1994, pp. 60-61). Taylor appreciates (1994, pp. 226-29) his use of Buber in relation to his (Taylor’s) concept of epiphany. For Buber, the religious event, revelation, involves a meeting between the self and the divine Other, an encounter that depends upon both parties. It is an act of self-affirmation, even as it is a giving over of the self to the Other. Life is enhanced. There is revelation, high thought, deep realization.

The self is receiver, but it is a receiver, not of a content, a proposition, a truth, but rather of a ‘Presence, a Presence as Power’. Furthermore, that Presence provides ‘the inexpressible confirmation of meaning’, a meaning that calls out to be done, to be confirmed by the self in this life and in this world … This confirmation and this affirmation of God and self in the world are what Taylor calls a ‘changed stance towards self and world, which doesn’t simply recognize a hitherto occluded good, but rather helps to bring this about’. (Morgan, 1994, p. 60)

Mary Shares the Profound News with Cousin Elizabeth

There entails the emergence of a supreme good in one’s experience. Thus, the concept of transcendence through epiphany, that has currency for artists and poets of the twentieth century, provides a category for us to extend to the transcendence of God. May this epiphanic realization continue this Advent Season and open up our world to horizons beyond our normal imagination, a re-enchantment. Mary is a model to us. She allowed epiphany and grace to transform her into a vessel of the Christ-event. “I am your servant Lord. As you wish.”

Dostoyevsky’s (1974) work The Brothers Karamozov reveals the power of transcendence and the danger of refusing it, i.e. remaining trapped within an immanent frame. Charles Taylor notes that:

One of Dostoyevsky’s central insights turns on the way in which we close or open ourselves to grace. The ultimate sin is to close oneself, but the reasons for doing so can be of the highest. In a sense the person who is closed is in a vicious circle from which it is hard to escape. We are closed to grace, because we close ourselves to the world in which it circulates; and we do that out of loathing for ourselves and for the world … Rejecting the world seals one’s sense of its loathsomeness and of one’s own, insofar as one is a part of it. And from this can come only acts of hate and destruction. Dostoyevsky … gives an acute understanding of how loathing and self-loathing, inspired by the very real evils of the world, fuel a projection of evil outward, a polarization between self and the world, where all evil is now seen to reside. This justifies terror, violence, and destruction against the world; indeed this seems to call for it. No one … has given us deeper insight into the spiritual sources of modern terrorism or has shown more clearly how terrorism can be a response to the threat of self-hatred … The noblest wreak it [destruction] on themselves. The most base destroy others. Although powered by the noblest sense of the injustice of things, this schism is ultimately also the fruit of pride, Dostoyevsky holds. We separate because we don’t want to see ourselves as part of evil; we want to raise ourselves above it. (C. Taylor, 1989, pp. 451-52)

The various school shootings are just such a projection of hatred for the Other and sometimes Being itself says Jordan Peterson. It is a simple, cold, deadly logic. It is completely grace-less, warlike and violent, full of hatred and resentment. There appears to be a provocative link from self-sufficiency to pride and to the aesthetics of violence (religious or secular). Taylor holds out hope for a transcendent turn to agape love, hope for a different type of transformation from beyond pure immanent choice focused self-invention and greedy self-interest which brackets the social world/common good and God. There is discovery of self within the economy of grace, a discovery and a transformation that offers a different stance towards self and the world. It is an epiphanic discovery, but only if we allow it. Continuing with his discussion of Dostoyevsky, Taylor (1989) writes of this epiphanic encounter with transcendence,

What will transform us is an ability to love the world and ourselves, to see it as good in spite of the wrong. But this will only come to us if we can accept being part of it, and that means accepting responsibility … Loving the world and ourselves is in a sense a miracle, in face of all the evil and degradation that it and we contain. But the miracle comes on us if we accept being part of it. Involved in this is our acceptance of love from others. We become capable of love through being loved; and over against the perverse apostolic succession [of terror and violence] is a grace-dispensing one. Dostoyevsky brings together here a central idea of the Christian tradition, especially evident in the Gospel of John, that people are transformed through being loved by God, a love that they mediate to one another, on the one hand, with the modern notion of a subject who can help to bring on transfiguration through the stance he takes to himself and the world, on the other … What he [Dostoyevsky] was opposing was that humans affirm their dignity in separation from the world. (C. Taylor, 1989, p. 452)

We mourn the terrible, tragic  loss of life that comes with terrorist acts against humanity, and yet we must not give up on love. We need transmission, the ability to see through the world to something better. We must be open to the transformation of the world, rather than the elimination of those who are different. We must move away from self-righteousness to suffer and struggle for peace. We must reject the forces of diabolos, division, fear and hatred. The clenched fist must be replaced the open hand of fellowship and hospitality. If we come to realize that the very core of reality is love, our cynicism will melt away, our nihilism will give way to rich meaning and purpose. What do we make of Mary’s epiphany? Can it rethink and remake us? Can light shine into our inner darkness and bring transformation? An epiphany could change everything.

~Gordon Carkner PhD

Morgan, M.L. (1994). Religion, History and Moral Discourse. In J. Tully, (Ed.), Philosophy in an Age of Pluralism: The philosophy of Charles Taylor in question. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

See also Real Presences by George Steiner; The Self After Postmodernity by Calvin Schrag; Not in God’s Name by Jonathan Sacks.

More on the Turn to Transcendence: https://ubcgcu.org/new-book-release-the-great-escape/

Posted by: gcarkner | December 4, 2018

Scientism as a Challenge to Meaning in Late Modernity

Scientism as a Challenge to Meaning  (Slides for Dr. Gordon E. Carkner presentation)

Epistemological Claim

The Utopian Sentiment 

Intellectual Exclusion or Hegemony 

Anthropological Consequences

Scientism and Ethics

 

  • The Big Picture: An admirably severe discipline of interpretive and theoretical restraint [modern empirical science] has been transformed into its perfect and irrepressibly wanton opposite: what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has now been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for the sure possession of ultimate conclusions. This makes a mockery of real science. (D.B. Hart, The Experience of God. 2013, 71)

Part 1 of Late Modernity, the Challenge of Scientism and the Quest for Meaning

 

Part 2 of Late Modernity, the Challenge of Scientism and the Quest for Meaning

 

Alvin Plantinga on Science and Religion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbjp9PrtPS8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0b7pEuE-eg&t=12s   Bill Newsome, Stanford Leading Neuroscientist, Lecture on January 31, 2018 @ UBC

Of Two Minds: a Neuroscientist Balances Science and Faith

Critique of Scientism   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhR77luOETU

Critique of New Atheists https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hx9gLvLYF5s

See also Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy. This is a brilliant critique of logical positivism and scientism.

Posted by: gcarkner | November 21, 2018

Christmas Reading Suggestions 2018

Christmas Reading Suggestions 2018

Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ.

Alan Jacobs, The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis.

Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-first Century (eds. Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter and Gregg A. Ten Elshof)

Makoto Fujimura, Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life.

Craig Gay, Modern Technology and the Human Future: a Christian Appraisal.

Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church.

Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family.

Daniel Taylor, Do We Not Bleed? A Jon Mote Mystery.

Mark R. McMinn, The Science of Virtue: Why Positive Psychology Matters to the Church.

Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart, Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World.

Dennis Danielson, The Tao of Right and Wrong.

Cynthia Long Westfall, Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ.

Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life.

Kelly M. Kapic, Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering. 

Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: The Search for Meaning in an Uncertain World.

Malcolm Guite, Love, Remember: 40 Poems of Loss, Lament and Hope.

M. Louise Holert, Praying with the Arts: Illuminating the Church Year with Sacred Art.

Andrzej Franaszek, Milosz: a Biography.

 

Check out Regent Bookstore on the UBC Campus (University @ Wesbrook) Gate One for a great selection of top Christian books, cards and gift items. 

Recovery of Meaning Amidst Suffering Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, author of The Great Escape from Nihilism.   (slides)

 

 

 

Posted by: gcarkner | November 21, 2018

Robert Mann, Physics and Astronomy, Waterloo

Next in GFCF Series

Professor Robert Mann,

Professor of Physics and Applied Mathematics,

University of Waterloo

The Multiverse, Science and Theology: A Critical Inquiry

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 @ 4:00 pm,  

Math Room 100, UBC

Abstract

Professor Mann explains multiverse theory and what implications the acceptance of multiverse theory may have for science and theology. If the multiverse is rejected as an explanation for the particularity of our universe, scientists and theologians are left to address why our particular universe exists rather than every universe.

Biography

Robert B. Mann (PhD University of Toronto) is Professor of Physics at the University of Waterloo; he has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Cambridge Universities, and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.  He is an Affiliate Member of the Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing. Author of over 350 papers, he has received numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, Teaching Excellence awards from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and from the University of Waterloo, and a Presidential Award of merit from the University of Waterloo. He was chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo from 2001-2008 and is a past President of the Canadian Association of Physicists (2009-2011) and the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation (1996-2007). He has served on the Advisory Board of the John Templeton Foundation.

His research interests are in black holes, cosmology, particle physics, quantum foundations, and quantum information, as well as the science/religion dialogue. His Waterloo research group looks at these questions:

  • How would relativity influence how a quantum computer worked?
  • Could we use a quantum probe to peek inside a black hole?
  • Is it possible that the Big Bang could be replaced with a black hole at the beginning of time?
Posted by: gcarkner | November 2, 2018

Panel Discussion on Jordan Peterson

A Scholarly Discernment of the Peterson Phenomenon: strengths, weaknesses, what it says about our cultural situation,  where he fits philosophically in comparison with great minds like Charles Taylor, Paul Ricoeur, Victor Frankl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Søren Kierkegaard, Northrop Frye, René Girard, John Milbank, Chantal Delsol, Bernard Lonergan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Kearney, George Grant, Jens Zimmermann, Jonathan Haidt, Alasdair McIntyre, C.S. Lewis, the Church Fathers. Students are hungry these days for wise and authentic public intellectuals to help them make sense of the world they inhabit. Negotiating late modernity is not for the faint of heart.

A couple thoughtful quotes from the five part Psychology Today blog on Peterson by Clinical Psychologist Gregg Heinrichs: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201808/jordan-peterson-part-i-five-part-blog-series
“The conflict between notions that human society constructs human psychology versus the idea that our societies reflect our psychological natures is one of the deepest disputes in the academy today.”
“The benefit of Jordan Peterson entering the cultural consciousness is that he and reactions to him provide a very useful way to understand the cultural-identity political split we are now in [polarization]. Our culture is going through an identity crisis. He’s the canary in the academic coal mine.”
Thanks again for everyone who was part of this important discussion,
~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner

 

Panel Discussion on Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life”:

A Response to the Millennial Crisis of Identity

____________________

St. John’s College Lounge, UBC

Thursday, November 15 @ 7:00 p.m.

 

Panel ModeratorDr. David Ley, Professor Emeritus Geography, UBC; Fellow of St. John’s College

Panelists:

Marvin McDonald is a professional psychologist, faculty member at Trinity Western University, a writer whose work engages theoretical psychology and positive psychology. A gracious interlocutor, Marvin loves dialogue across different worldview perspectives. He believes in a creative interface between philosophy and psychology, and articulates responses to his graduate student inquiries from a vast landscape of knowledge and insight.

Ron Dart teaches in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies at University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, BC. He is the most important writer about the Red Tory tradition in Canada with thirty-five published books, including the recent notable The North American High Tory Tradition. He has also written extensively on one of Canada’s top public intellectuals, George Grant. Ron is also a poet and a back country hiker. He has a number of YouTube videos on the Peterson phenomenon and is presently editing a book on Jordan Peterson.

Gordon Carkner,  a meta-educator with graduate students and faculty at UBC: GFCF (The Forum) & GCU which sponsor interdisciplinary educational forums like this one. He mentors students in a robust, well-rounded outlook on education. He has authored two books and co-authored one, most notably The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity, a book which parallels the theme of the quest for meaning in Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. His PhD work was on the crisis of the late modern self, a dialogue between Michel Foucault and Charles Taylor

Nov 15, JP Panel Carkner Slides

Gordon Carkner on Peterson’s Recovery of Moral Agency in Dialogue with Charles Taylor 

Recovery of Meaning Amidst Suffering Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, author of The Great Escape from Nihilism.   (slides)

 

http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2018/02/jordan-peterson-transcending-tribalism-and-cloistered-virtues-ron-dart.html  Ron Dart, Political Philosopher on the contribution of  Jordan Peterson.

Ron Dart speaks of the Mythical and Mystical In Jordan Peterson

Nov 15, JP Panel Carkner Slides

Quote from Marvin McDonald: “In Peterson, we learn that responsibility is the path to meaning, and this character building exercise comes with suffering as part of the package.”

Registration: ubcgcuevents@gmail.com

 

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Please read the book in advance of November 15 if possible, but this is not required.
Other Relevant and Pertinent Resources on Meaning, Identity, Moral Agency, Discernment of Our Age

Fowers, B. J., Richardson, F. C., & Slife, B. D. (2017). Frailty, suffering, and vice: Flourishing in the face of human limitations. Washington, DC: APA Books.

Carr, D., Arthur, J., & K. Kristjánsson, K. (Eds.) (2017). Varieties of virtue ethics. London: Palgrave/MacMillan.

Worthington, E. L., et al. (2014). Virtue in positive psychology. In K. Timpe & C. A. Boyd (Eds.), Virtues and Their Vices (pp. 433-457).  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; A Secular Age.
Richard Kearney, Anatheism: Returning to God After God.
Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another.
Calvin Schrag, The Self After Postmodernity.
Dennis Danielson, The Tao of Right and Wrong.
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition.
Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head.
C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.
Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen: the search for meaning in an uncertain world.
James K.A. Smith, You Are What You Love.
George Grant, In Defence of North America.
Christian Smith, Souls in Transition.
Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference.
Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.
David Brooks, The Road to Character.
Alasdair McIntyre, After Virtue.
Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU Comic Relief on Millennials in the Workplace by Simon Sinek:

12 Rules for Life: Like Russian author Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, whom he much admires, Jordan Peterson believes that we are not in this world to pursue happiness, to be entertained, but for moral growth, to grow in the virtues, to become attentive and take responsibility for our part in the larger scheme of things. This offers a more hermeneutical outlook or social imaginary, one which authenticates human subjectivity and the quest for purpose and meaning. Philosopher Bernard Lonergan has parallel concerns in his Principles of Self-Transcendence.

  • Be Attentive: pay attention to what is happening around you
  • Be Intelligent: examine your assumptions, reflect, self-criticise
  • Be Reasonable: speak carefully and listen carefully to others
  • Be Responsible: own your part in the greater scheme and take responsibility for yourself

Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life has captured the imagination of many who hunger for a hopeful way forward in a confusing age of uncertainties. He is directing people away from their nihilistic tendencies and towards a meaningful, productive existence. It cultivates a particular kind of identity, one grounded in basic and traditional principles of conscientious living. It is a book well worth engaging.

Firm but caring…Peterson speaks the way I always wished my father had….He is the right person at the right time, someone capable of showing young men that cleaning up their room has cosmic significance, and that imposing a little order upon chaos is good for the soul, which in turn is good for the world ~National Review

Posted by: gcarkner | October 29, 2018

Dennis Danielson: The Tao of Right and Wrong

The Tao of Right and Wrong: Rediscovering Humanity’s Moral Foundations

By Dennis Danielson

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Written in the tradition of The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis’s classic work on moral philosophy celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2018, The Tao of Right and Wrong addresses questions such as what is just? What is right? What is wrong? What purposes, and what virtues, are worth pursuing? And most importantly, how can we weigh answers to these questions without lapsing into, “That’s only your opinion”?

In The Tao of Right and Wrong, Dennis Danielson offers a vigorous primer on moral realism, asserting that humans can and should exercise ethical judgments—and that these judgments are not reducible to subjective opinion, animal instinct, or cultural “construction.” The book is a twenty-first century call for the virtuous cultivation of “humans with hearts,” for a rejection of moral nihilism, and for a life-affirming embrace of moral realism founded in the Tao—the transcultural fund of ultimate postulates that form the very ground of moral judgment, codes of ethics, and standards of right and wrong.

Dennis Danielson is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of British Columbia and an intellectual historian who has written about literature, religion, and the history of science. He is a past recipient of his university’s Killam Prize for research in the humanities, and of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Konrad Adenauer Research Award.

From the text of The Tao of Right and Wrong:

“Even if we can’t decisively answer the question, it’s worth pausing and asking why educators, and to a large extent the rest of us, have grown so squeamish in the presence of words like ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ Why do we resort to euphemisms like ‘positive,’ ‘negative,’ ‘appropriate,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘challenging,’ and the like?” (11-12)

“Any education founded on the proposition that all judgments of value—all ‘oughts,’ all standards of morality—are ultimately just subjective opinions must collapse into incoherence.” (25).

“The point is not that animal behaviors have no relevance to our understanding of human behavior, but rather that we require a standard of judgment above and beyond that offered by bare biology as a guide to what is morally permissible, advantageous, or obligatory.” (39)

“By adhering to a richer notion of reason and of human dignity and integrity, one rooted in the Tao, we may offer our children and ourselves a clearer, more authentic, and more dynamic foundation for moral life, virtuous life.” (53)

“The very fabric of our lives is teleological—purpose-driven—in ways that far transcend the dissemination of our genes (though perhaps that’s part of it). Therefore, a failure to account for that strong sense and experience of purpose, of goal-directedness, of moral worthwhileness, is a serious failure indeed.” (p. 58)

“Surely it’s reasonable to hope that social change might be driven by interpretation of principles rather than that the interpretation of principles should be driven by social change.” (70)

“Let us rekindle our confidence in the reality of ultimate sacred postulates and unashamedly teach them to ourselves and our children.” (78)

 

Endorsements:

“Dennis Danielson’s message in The Tao of Right and Wrong needs to be urgently heeded. … This book should be on every teacher’s reading list.”

—Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics, University of Notre Dame Australia

The Tao of Right and Wrong is a remarkably compressed and equally lucid exposition of the truths that really count. … The debate in which this book engages is, in the full sense of the term, a fundamental one.”

—Rex Murphy, Commentator for The National Post and formerly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

“Dennis Danielson marks the 75th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s classic work The Abolition of Man by updating it for our present situation and applying it to current concerns in a skilful and thought-provoking way. Timely, deft, impressive.”

Michael Ward, University of Oxford, author of Planet Narnia,co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis

“Brilliant essay. … In the Tao of Right and Wrong [Danielson maintains] that the crucial piece many are missing is a sense of the ultimate reality that supports meaning and ethical behaviour.”

Douglas Todd in The Vancouver Sun and The Montreal Gazette

Posted by: gcarkner | October 28, 2018

The Search for Meaning Amidst Uncertainty: Chantal Delsol

Chantal Delsol, French Philosopher

Delsol is a prominent French philosopher, political historian and novelist. Founder of the Hannah Arendt research institute founded in 1993. She is openly Catholic, and a disciple of Julien Freund and Pierre Boutang, describes herself as a “liberal-conservative“. Her analysis is that contemporary man, like the mythological figure Icarus, has flown too close to the sun–utopian ideology. She is one of the world’s most insightful social and cultural writers.

Modern man is not a zombie or a monster, but a drifter with an unhappy conscience, because, having a right to everything, he is fulfilled with nothing, and due to this dissatisfaction, he does not even know the name of what he is looking for. He is in self-exile from his own universe….But periods of metamorphosis hold within themselves the hope of meaning. (Icarus Fallen, xxvii)

To have meaning is to stand for something other than oneself, to establish a link with a value, an idea, an ideal beyond oneself. Life has meaning, for example, for those who spend their lives in search of a cure for a disease., or in the struggle against injustice, or just to show every day that society can be more than a jungle. The link one establishes with this value or idea confers a higher value on life….A life that has meaning recognizes certain references….In other words, it is paradoxically worth something only to the extent that it admits itself not to be of supreme value, by recognizing what is worth more than itself, by its ability to organize itself around something else. Everyone will admit that existence is at once both finite and deficient. We consider society to be mediocre, love insufficient, a lifespan too narrow. The person whose life has meaning is the one who, instead of remaining  complacently in the midst of his regrets, decides to strive for perfection, however imperfectly, to express the absolute, even through his own deficiencies, to seek eternity, even if only temporarily. If he spends his life making peace in society or rendering justice to victims, he is effectively pointing, even if it is with a trembling finger, to the existence of peace and justice as such….By pursuing referents, he points to them. He awkwardly expresses these impalpable, immaterial figures of hope or expectancy….Individual existence, when it means something, points to its referent through its day-to-day actions and behaviours, the sacrifices it accepts and the risks it dares to take….The seeker moves forward, all the while wondering, “What is worth serving?” Individual existence structures itself through the call for meaning. Existence is shaped by questions and expectations.

~Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen, (4-5)

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Western man at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the descendant of Icarus. He wanders into the world he has fallen. It is as if someone has thrown him into a game without giving him rules. When he asks around for instructions, he is invariably told that they have been lost. He is amazed that everyone is content to live in a world without meaning and without identity, where no one seems to know either why he lives or why he dies. (Icarus Fallen)

For two centuries man has attempted to refashion his condition and, in a sense, to separate himself from his former self. The major discovery of modernity consists in affirming that man invented transcendence, morality, and politics from top to bottom. The reasons that might have possessed him to invent these things are multiple, and vary according to who interprets them: to reassure himself, to escape from his natural anguish, to satisfy his desire for power or glory. In any case, what is essential here is the idea of invention. (Icarus Fallen, 18)

The contemporary era, as the end-product of the modern attempt to suppress morality, has created individuals who no longer raise the question of good and evil, and who are entirely ignorant of what used to be called “the examination of conscience”…. The attempt to eliminate the antinomy between good and evil through a denial of their differences should logically lead to carefree indifference towards these categories. Modernity has replaced the objective category of the good with what it calls values, that is, a smattering of subjective goods, each of which derives from individual judgment. By their subjectivity, values spell the death of the good, even if language confers upon them the majesty of the defunct good….Values are a form of solipsism or mere whim, depending on the degree of clarity of thought one might find in them. A purely subjective “good” is binding on no one but oneself, and can be differentiated only with some difficulty from sentiments, affections, or self-interest.  ( Icarus Fallen, 22, 27)

Ban the economy and the black market will blossom. Decree that religions are obsolete and you will have sects. Deny that human beings seek the good, and the ghost of the good will appear surreptitiously under the guise of correct thinking. Societies that attempt to rid themselves of the figures of economics, religion, and morality must put up with them in their black market form. (Icarus Fallen)

Dominated by emotion, our era overflows with sentiment. It is almost as if the feelings that were once associated with a certain type of piety have contaminated the whole population. Tear-jerking sensitivity has always been the stock-in-trade of those groups of human beings for whom existence is structured exclusively by morality, to the detriment of knowledge and efficiency. Seeking the good while remaining indifferent to truth gives rise to a morality of sentimentality. Reactive judgment, deprived of thoughtful reflection, engenders fanatical emotion and an absolute priority of feeling over thought. (Icarus Fallen)

On Relativism 

One of the particularities of our time consists in the fear of truth. We hold dearly to the good but we are suspicious of the truth…. [Modern man] does not fear what is false but what is evil…..The disappearance of truth understood as objective truth, and its replacement by “points of view” or subjective “truths,” does not stop contemporary man from identifying moral imperatives that he would not abandon under any circumstances. Where do these moral imperatives come from, seemingly born out of nihilism, like trees flourishing in the desert? (Icarus Fallen 45, 46)

Morality has reduced to revulsion, indignation, disgust, instinctive nausea, recoil of the heart against the negative consequences of ideology: “This instinctive nausea…is the undergirding, however negative and frightful it may be, of contemporary thought.” (47) Certainties are the target of such revulsion: “The rejection of ideological truths through moral intuition has two consequences: the fear of truth, and the redeployment of a new imperative through the intuition of an objective evil.” (47). It is a reaction to totalitarianisms of the past. “Certitude kills, irrespective of whether it is truth or error that nourishes it. Great certainties terrorize in great ways. Truth or the belief that one possesses the truth, is [seen as] inherently dangerous.” (47)

A pervasive moralism, reduced essentially to bad conscience, that is, to an anemic moral code, has replaced the search for truth. Contemporary man is satisfied to merely reject the objects of his disgust. His only compass in the general disorder of his thoughts is the consensus of repugnance–towards Nazism, totalitarianism in general, anti-Semitism, apartheid. There is no other solid ground to stand on. This disgust indicates an anxious search for the good….The criterion of disgust is only able to impose itself on what has already proved to be unacceptable. In order to denounce a great wrong, we must wait until it produces virtually irreparable human disasters. (48, 49)

Indignation–which is after all merely a gust of anger and one unaware of its sources–reveal the only certainties, however modest they may be, that are left in a time that is otherwise deprived of certainties. In the era of the philosophy of values, of moral relativism, we are still able to point to an absolute evil….From the discovery of an absolute evil, however, we cannot deduce the existence of an objective good, since in our time it is imprecisely the relativity of the good that guards against falsifications of the Good, and against the Good’s great temptation to rule by terror….Henceforth, morality must prevent, but not bind. Its norms are exclusively negative. This, then, is how we are able to reconcile everything that is dear to us, that is, by erecting barriers that protect us from the unacceptable, while allowing each person to choose his own good. (50, 51)

Of course there is a kind of inherent dishonesty in the refusal to designate the good….By antithesis, absolute evil, once it has been recognized, cannot fail to evoke the existence of the absolute good, which is also objective. An absolute good would also entail obligation, and this would necessarily limit individual freedom….The only moral faculty that contemporary man considers valid is a bad conscience…. This morality of the requisite minimum keeps intelligence at bay. (51, 52)

To denounce an evil essentially means to identify a good under attack….The good is understood to exist even while it is denied. It lives, albeit as a nebulous presence, in the very heart of its desertion.(52)

The identification of an absolute evil forces us to believe that an order exists beyond our will, beyond our capacity as creators of order. This identification puts into doubt not only the subjective morality of our times, but the very possibility of its being. We cannot decree that each individual has the sovereignty to invent his own values and at the same time point the finger at an intolerable and permanent universal. We cannot proclaim “To each his own morality,” and at the same time decry racism and apartheid. There is a flaw in the reasoning that we will inevitably have to confront. (53)

Dogmatic relativism suits our independence-hungry spirit perfectly well. Its presuppositions, though, and also its consequences, contradict our common vision of humanity…. Humanity thus becomes fragmented into individuals radically differentiated from one another by divergent paths–each person’s “good” being nothing more than than the destination that he has set for himself. Through this very divergence, the other is kept from becoming one’s fellow man. Relativism takes away all meaning and the raison d’être of empathetic consideration and compassion in the sense of “suffering with,” which which seems so natural….This inner certitude obscurely convinces us that a valid “good” does exist for the entire species, that is, independent of our sovereign will. Relativism which makes of each of us a species unto himself, as if to be preserved on Noah’s ark, contradicts our most profound convictions. This is why it is not viable. (57)

In short, the contemporary era cannot be defined by the absence of moral references, but by the rejection of an Evil and the apologetics of a Good that are taken for granted and detached from any idea of objective truth that might give them legitimacy….The attitude signals a refusal to go looking for such foundations, for fear of actually discovering them. Contemporary man postulates not the emptiness of truth, but the danger of truth. His agnosticism is of a new sort, born not of conviction but of fear…. The contemporary era tells the tale of a veritable flight from truth. (58)

Good & Evil

Definition of Evil: the Greek concept of diabolos–“he who separates, divides through aversion and hate; he who makes unjust accusations, denigrates, slanders; he who envies, admits his repugnancy.” The absolute Evil identified by our contemporary takes the form of racism, exclusion or totalitarianism. The last in fact appears as the epitome of separation, since it atomizes societies, functions by means of terror and denouncement, and is determined to destroy human bonds (examples: apartheid and xenophobia. See How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley). (61)

Definition of the Good: For contemporary man, the notions of solidarity and fraternity, and the different expressions of harmony between classes, age groups, peoples, are still associated with goodness. The man of our time is similar to the man of any time insofar as he prefers friendship to hate and indifference, social harmony to internal strife, peace to war, and the united family to the fragmented family. In other words, he seeks relationship, union, agreement, and love, and fears distrust, ostracism, contempt, and the destruction of his fellow…. The good has the face of fellowship, no matter what name it is given, be it love, the god of Aristotle, or the God of the Bible. (62)

The certitude of the good finds its guarantee in the attraction it induces. The separation of the diabolos occurs constantly, but one day or another it will be pursued by mortal shame…. By experience, we know that evil lies in the excesses of [a particular] good. That is why we refuse to search for the rational foundations of the good, why we voluntarily allow our conception of the good to remain purely instinctual. (62, 63)

In the wake of the 2016 American election, and the obvious political tensions dividing Europe today, much has been written about the terrifying divide – seemingly chasmic in proportions – separating the citizens of the Western world. The bulk of that writing has sought to describe that division in political terms, as a conflict over immigration or free trade. Delsol’s book points, convincingly, to a more frightening possibility: that the citizens of the Western world now no longer share a common vision of the good. ~Philip Clark in a Review of Icarus Fallen

 

Posted by: gcarkner | October 23, 2018

Bob Doede on Technology, Humanity and the Future

 

Anyone who carefully pays attention to the arc of western cultural thought and practice since the rise of modernity will discern a progressively intensifying and spreading pursuit of abstractions as the most trusted means of representing reality and accessing truth. The increases in our power to intellectually grasp and materially control nature, eventually brought with it stupendous gains in human standards of living for a good portion of Earth’s growing population. Yet, in recent decades, it has dawned on many that these improvements in material standards of living came with an unanticipated price: viz., a rather steep and almost unbearable reduction of the existential meaningfulness of life.

Since the rise of information sciences in the 1940s, our fondness for abstractions has expressed itself most emphatically in a number of cultural domains: for example, our culture’s growing preference for digitality over analogue, for algorithm over observation, for informational effigies over empirical realities, and for data-structures over concrete physical presences. This obsession with bloodless abstractions finds its ideological epicenter today in a computational variant of functionalism that has dominated the cognitive sciences for the last four decades. Quite generally, the cognitive sciences view the mind as essentially an information processing software running in, on, and through the brain’s neuronal connectivity, which both receives input from the hardware peripheries of the body’s senses and which also outputs commands to the body’s hardware motor peripheries. Computational functionalism provides the conceptual sub-structure upon which most articulations of transhumanism directly rely.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 2, 2018

Innovation, Integration, Convergence

I’ve recently found a copy of Christian Scholarship in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Thomas M. Crisp, Steve L. Porter and Gregg A. Ten Elshof (Eerdmans, 2014).

Elizabeth Lewis Hall, a US psychologist who works at Biola, writes a chapter in this book called “Structuring the Scholarly Imagination: Strategies for Christian Engagement with the Disciplines” (pp. 97-124). This article has helped me begin to define what integration means for me and what it might mean for those I seek to encourage. You can also get a lot of the content through this video: https://cct.biola.edu/structuring-the-scholarly-imagination/

In brief, Christian faith can contribute to your motivation for studying, the epistemology you use when you study, the content of what you study, the process by which you study, or the outcomes of your study. Lewis Hall understandably gives more attention to content than the others. She explains that sometimes faith can tell us what study questions are worth entering into, and sometimes it can provide a broader (biblical, moral, or eschatological) framework in which to contextualize the answers we find. Sometimes faith can fill in the gaps in (i.e., complement) the answers we find. For instance, science can perhaps describe a phenomenon but not determine its purpose or meaning.

5 Ways Faith can relate to Scholarship: Motivation, Epistemology, Content, Process, Outcomes

These can be subdivided and Lewis Hall provides a typology of modes of Christian engagement with scholarship on p. 118. Near the end of the article, she explains how that, even if every Christian scholar sought integration, it would look differently in different disciplines, in different institutional contexts. Maximal integration is probably only possible when the scholarly community is also a worshiping community. She suggests a continuum of disciplines according to the intensity or frequency of Christianity’s bearing. At the latter end are disciplines that have the most to do with interpretation and the nature of humanity, those closest to the centre of human existence. This is where we relate to God and also where sin affects us most drastically. I suppose that those are the disciplines, like philosophy, where you could imagine a credible academic conference focused especially on Christianity’s relationship to the field of study.

What I liked best in Lewis Hall’s approach is that it leaves us with so much to say to those who are in the disciplines near the beginning of this continuum, say, perhaps, aquaculture or metallurgy. For them, and indeed for all scholars, a Christian motivation for studying is pertinent. Are we studying as an act of gratitude for what God has done for us? Are we motivated by love for the world that God so loves? A Christian process of study is also important. Are we studying in a generous, hospitable, loving manner, and are we striving towards the interdependence that the Scriptures say characterizes the Body of Christ? For the more interpretive, human-nature-focused disciplines, Christian outcomes matter greatly. Are the applications we make from our study likely to provide benefit to human lives – and particularly to the lives of the most needy?

I offer this brief review hoping that it will prompt further discussion about what integration means,

Stephen Ney PhD English Literature

UBC Vancouver, Canada

Posted by: gcarkner | September 27, 2018

The Robots Are Coming?

Martin Ester, PhD ETH, Zurich, Switzerland, Head of School of Computing Science, SFU

Martin Ester Research Interests:

  • Data Mining in Social Media
  • Recommendation in Social Media
  • Opinion Mining from Online Product Reviews
  • Data Mining in Biological Networks
  • Discovery of Cancer Markers from Gene Expression and Variation Data

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