Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use

Self in Society Roundup 34

Arguments for God, Rand's atheism, Lot's daughters, dumbing down education, homeschool motives, cancel culture, liberal meaning, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
October 24, 2023; ported here on January 9, 2024

The Ontological Argument: I appreciate that Robert Mayhew opens his hour talk on this potentially dry topic with a good joke. Mayhew offers a very helpful history of the relevant debate, and he offers a devastating critique drawing on the Objectivist theory of concepts. I disagree with Mayhew when he says that the "argument from morality" is not a major argument for the existence of God; I think it motivates a lot of believers. I take seriously the "argument from morality" in my book, Getting Over Jesus: Finding Meaning and Morals without God, but I discuss the Ontological Argument only glancingly. Mayhew and I agree that the concept of a supernatural God is incoherent (not too surprising considering our common influences). If you find the Ontological Argument compelling or at least interesting, Mayhew's talk is for you.

The Cosmological Argument: Mayhew also covers the Cosmological Argument in a previous lecture, in which he also discusses Ayn Rand's "intransigent" atheism. Mayhew makes another point that I also make in my book: Early people often tended to assume agency in the natural world where no agency exists. I do take more seriously than Mayhew seems to the possibility (or at least speculation) that the "universe" as we typically understand it (many galaxies spinning out from a Big Bang) is part of a broader natural order. Regardless, these are good talks. I will note, as an aside, that Mayhew begins and ends his talk by taking a dig at Craig Biddle (who used to collaborate with the Ayn Rand Institute before he and ARI leaders became mutually hostile) for speaking about religion with Dennis Prager. (So I guess it's okay for Yaron Brook to debate anarchism at a libertarian forum with a well-known anarchist but not for Biddle to debate religion with a well-known religionist.)

Religulous: Recently I rewatched Bill Maher's 2008 comedic documentary, Religulous. My impression is the same as it was: Maher makes a lot of important points, particularly about the danger of Christian beliefs about Armageddon, mixed in with a number of tangents and cheap shots. Today, Maher could have included a lot of footage from the January 6 Capitol assault. Maher did remind me of an unsettling detail about the story of Sodom: After the townspeople threaten to abuse the angels who had come to visit Lot (the townspeople didn't know they were angels), Lot offers his daughters to be raped instead. From the Bible: "Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, 'I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.'" Thankfully, it did not come to that, as the townspeople turned down Lot's offer and the angels struck them blind. This aspect of the story does illustrate the status of women, in that the only approach that Lot—the hero of the story—apparently even considers is to offer up his daughters to be raped.

Dumbing Down Education: Brian Conrad finds that California is seeking "equity" in K–12 math education by dumbing math down, something that, he notes, will especially harm already-disadvantaged students. Noah Smith says about a comparable trend in Oregon: "I'm sorry, but this just seems like racism, dressed up in progressive language. The people making this policy don't think students of color are capable of learning to read, write, and do math, so they're not going to try."

Homeschooling: Interestingly, according to a recent Washington Post / Schar School survey, two-thirds of homeschool parents said the ability to "provide religious instruction" was NOT a motivator for homeschooling. But two-thirds said the ability to "provide moral instruction" is important. Homeschooling parents also listed safety and academics as important reasons. (Via Matt Bateman.)

Externalities: Orbiting space junk is causing problems for satellites and maybe in other ways too, Miriam Kramer reports.

Cancel Culture: Greg Lukianoff and his coauthor Rikki Schlott discuss their new book with Michael Shermer. Although I think a lot of conservatives complain about "cancel culture" to mask bad behavior, I also think that cancel culture is a real and basically bad phenomenon. Of course, I also think the federal government should have no involvement in higher education and that getting rid of such involvement would dissolve many of the problems around cancel culture.

Liberal Meaning: Aaron Ross Powell and Akiva Malamet discuss "finding meaning in liberalism." Malamet points out that liberalism per se does not promise us meaning but clears the path for individuals to pursue meaningful lives on their own terms. I do worry about heading into a sort of nihilism in which (some say) it is impossible to say anything about the good life beyond subjective preference. It's one thing to say that no authority should force people into the authority's conception of the good life; it's quite another to say that there is no such thing as the good life in any objective sense. We can recognize great diversity in legitimate value pursuits and at the same time recognize that some modes of living are better and more meaningful than others. Malamet asks an excellent question: "How do you cultivate autonomous citizens who are capable of making choices for themselves?" See also the duo's previous discussion on identity and identity politics.

Ari Armstrong's Web Log (Main) | Archives | Terms of Use