Thursday, July 09, 2020

Peter Singer disciple may be even more
outrageous than the master

I missed this piece from Nautilus just over a year ago, but it's a look at Oxford philosophy prof Julian Savulescu, a disciple of Australian philosopher Peter Singer.

First, he shoots himself in the ethics foot in one area. Call it either the demarcation problem, per old philosophy friend Massimo Pigliucci, or else call it the sorites paradox.

Among things he says many people get wrong, ethically (and he seems to be talking about his fellow professionals in the field, not just outsiders) is something like blood doping for bicyclists. He says he is OK with low-level doping.

That leads to two immediate questions:
1. What is "low level" vs "high level" doping? That's more a demarcation problem than sorites issue, but could be a bit of both. In fact, I see them as interrelated. How many micro-moles of extra oxygen, if I'm oxygen-loading, to reverse the sorites paradox, can I add before I move from low-level to high-level?
2. Why NOT on high-level doping? (He never says why not, in the interview.)

His talk about eugenics is overall more ethically reasonable. That includes the part that classism issues will arise with it until we move to a post-capitalist world. (I agree, and use the word post-capitalist rather than anti-capitalist, in part because of any Marxist implications it has.)

His part about lifespan extension, though, is a fail, especially since he talked about moving to a post-capitalist world on eugenics. Our planet is getting closer and closer to a "carrying capacity" problem. When we hit 9 billion in another 30 years or whatever, and 1 billion more than today of that number trying to have a halfway "Western" lifestyle, including air conditioning that exacerbates climate change in a negative feedback loop, we'll be in trouble. Working to extend the average human lifespan to 120 or more will just put all those problems on steroids, and Savulescu misses that entirely. He does mention resource depletion later, as a separate ethical issue, but doesn't make a direct connection.

Regular readers of my philosophy-related writing know I'm not a system-builder. But, I do think you have to have a systemic consideration, and not just an ad hoc consideration, of empirical facts on, or likely to be on, the table.

Savulescu fails to do that. And, it's not necessarily him alone. Utilitarianism in general at least runs that risk.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

No, chimps aren't religious

I've seen shorter versions of this claim made before by James Harrod, but with a longer paper on Academia, wanted to take a few minutes to refute it.

First, my rough-and-ready definition of religion is:

"A communal focus on engagement with believed metaphysical personages or entities involving communal rituals and actions to align the community with believed personages or entities."

First of all, this definition is written to include something like Theravada Buddhism, by noting "entities," not just "personages." Theravada believes in an incarnation of a metaphysical life force, even if it doesn't believe in a personal soul, let alone a personal deity. And it believes that laws of karma govern that reincarnation. I have discussed in detail before the fact that Buddhism is a religion, and had a follow-up. I have also noted karma is as offensive as original sin, and maybe worse in Theravada with its rejection of an individual soul. I've also noted how reincarnation and karma has other problems, mainly based in a "progress" mindset that's as wrong there as in misframings of evolutionary theory. OK, so with all that about Buddhism, we move on.

Second, religion is communal, and part of that alignment includes addressing things like "sin." In many religions, the focus is first on sins against a god or gods, but still includes communal sins as well. And, even sins against a god are only visible within the light of a community.

Third, the "rituals and actions" notes that all religions have elements of orthopraxis. They all also have elements of orthodoxy. I've covered this recently.

Now, let's dig in.

Do chimpanzees have compassion? Yes. And even, perhaps, something like compassion for the memory of dead fellow chimps? Yes, I think. So do elephants, cetaceans and a few other non-human animals.

Do chimps have metaphysics? Highly, highly unlikely. In other words, chimps, IMO, don't believe in chimp souls, chimp karma, or a chimp god. Nor do gorillas, neither in the 1970s nor this past decade:

Sorry, James.

And, unlike Caesar/Andy Serkis, chimpanzees, and other primates don't have the speech to organize a community to focus on abstract ideas. And, contra Harrod, who is letting other scholars and thinkers be his mouthpiece, it's tempting to overread what communication chimps have. Well, tempting to him and them, but not to me.

Cetaceans might. But, if they do, they don't have hands with opposable thumbs and can't really engage in metaphysically related actions.

A rich emotion life and symbolic play also prove nothing about chimpanzees possibly conceiving metaphysical concepts. Nor does it at all address the difficulty of communicating such concepts without language. The fact that chimps have neural substrate systems similar to something like Broca's in humans only proves that evolutionary biology is real and is a conservative workman.

And, a first-order theory of mind? Given the complexity of judging human actions that might be called sins against a community, that's not enough. But, let’s get to Harrod’s nutgrafs — his transspecific definition of religion. Here goes:
• Reverence (showing devotion, intense love, deep respect), which may involve a hush;
• Careful observance, which may involve a calling-out announcement or remark;
• Experiencing or expressing emotion of dread (awe in its terror or astonishment aspect) before that which overwhelms the subject by its magnitude, grandeur, beneficence, or lethality; mysterium tremendum
• Experiencing or expressing emotion of wonder (awe in its fascination, curiosity, or desire-to-know-more aspect) with respect to a phenomenon (especially a movement) which is surprising, non-ordinary, extraordinary, special, or ‘miraculous’; mysterium fascinans
• Binding individuals together or back together in empathic intimacy or communion with respect to experiences of aliveness and animacy, including other living beings or things that appear to be alive, which may secondarily involve the witnessing of this by a collective social group.

OK, first observation? He's clearly smoking some Rudolf Otto high-grade drugs. And the "mysterium tremendum" as a key to "religious experience" is by no means widely accepted. As the likes of Susan Blackmore note, psychadelic drugs or deep meditative experiences can induce this "mysterium" in the non-religious. Ditto for near-death experiences.

Harrod goes on to make clear that he is indeed adapting an Ottonian framework to animals.

He ignores entirely ideas of sin, guilt, and metaphysical entities.

As for his five actual points?
• I can love either a girlfriend or a bottle of whisky. I don't worship either one, even if I shout "oh my god" during sex.
• Careful observance? Chimps, like us, evolved to stay safe from snakes and predators, as well as to identify a variety of ripe foods. Careful observance is part of not being dead. It's also, in we humans, what's behind overuse of agency imputation and pattern detection in non-savannah civilized live.
• Mysterium tremendum? Since chimps don't have abstract language, no way I see for them to communicate that, let alone for us to see that they're trying to do so.
• Wonder? Many scientists still have great degrees of wonder for the facts of evolutionary biology, cosmology and many things in between, and they're not religious.
• Empathy for life? I have that, too, and again, I'm not religions.

What Harrod is missing is that, in reality, at some point in human CULTURAL evolution, some point AFTER the evolution of some degree of language in all likelihood, these five points were adapted for what developed into religion. Some of the adaptation, per my notes on point 2 above, may well have been non-conscious.

Should chimpanzees have an evolutionary twig that offshoots into a new species, that follows a similar bath, Harrod can contact me back in a couple of million years.

And with that, I've wasted enough time on him.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Museum of the Bible's Auguean stables:
Have fun on cleanup, old classmate Jeff Kloha

I blogged a few months ago about the breaking of the Dead Sea Scrolls scandal at Hobby Lobby-owned Museum of the Bible, and how the man dealing with the fallout is old seminary classmate Jeff Kloha, who now prefers the full Jeffrey.

Said blogging included disagreements between this now-secularist myself and the still-fundamentalist wing of Lutheranism Kloha about whether or not the DSS confirm a pristine transmission of the text of the Old Testament or Tanakh (they don't, Jeff) and whether or not they're "inarguably" the most important biblical discovery of the last century (they're arguably not, and if we focus on Christian development and diversity, Nag Hammadi is arguably MORE important).

But I digress.

NPR has a new piece about all the cleanup work that Kloha, the museum's chief curator, has on his hands.

He said it's looking at returning a bunch of items to Iraq, some of which likely came from its national musuem. That said, he doesn't know for sure:
"All we have is paperwork, and very vague paperwork," says Kloha, a former professor of the New Testament at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. "Obviously, there are multiple sources for items from Iraq over the past 30 years. So we have no way of knowing where these came from." 
Part one of the fun.

Part two? The Green family bought 5-10 percent fakes among the 8,000 items up for return. Schadenfreude is a bitch.

Part three? Items it has already promised to return are still in the U.S., because the Greens are too cheap to pay insurance. They're hoping to send them back on an Iraqi embassy plane.

Part four? Schadenfreude can spread wide, like diarrhea. Christie's sold a Gilgamesh to the Museum of the Bible, and didn't adequately check provenance. An Afghani Jewish prayer book was likely trafficked by the Taliban.

Kloha told NPR the "few bad apples" story.
"It seems to have been just one or two individuals who were acting as agents and purchasing things for what was, at that point, just the idea of a museum," he says. "It was a handful of advisers who would literally travel the world, make contacts, find things, and then bring them to the Greens for acquisition."
 Not quite, sir.

Part five? Schadenfreude sometimes degenerates into fuck-you privilege. Steve Green, Hobby Lobby patriarch, was flagged by Customs in 2010 for importing an ancient manuscript Bible without documentation. Read the story for details.

And, per this site, let us not forget the Green family's dirty hands on Dirk Obbink's apparent papyrus stealing.

I don't think Jeff is lying. But, it sounds like he needs to get more up to speed on the Green family.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Arise, O Lord, against this Luther

This is another in a serious of posts examining facts, legends and more related to Martin Luther and early Lutheranism on the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

So, Luther had forced Johann Eck to admit that popes could err, and that good works could only "act" after faith — a sola fide faith — had enlightened and sanctified a person.

So, we got?

A committee.

Why not.

The papal curia was, and still is, a bureaucracy like any secular state.

So a committee of about 40 sat down to fine-tooth comb Luther's writings. Among the group was not only Eck but Cardinal Cajetan, rebuffed by Luther the year before Eck was refuted.

The committee eventually led to Pope Leo X "calling bull" on Luther, with the papal bull Exsurge Domine, translated at the start of the header.

Cajetan wanted to take a nuanced approach of ranges of possible church discipline to different writings and comments of Luther's while Eck, more openly humiliated, wanted to bulldoze over him.

Result? Eck won.

The committee, similar to how Hus was treated a century earlier, just drew up a laundry list of what was wrong without saying why it was biblically wrong or how wrong it was.

Just as Rome and Constantinople were asunder long before their mutual anathemas of 1054 (he Slavic missionary competition in the 700s shows that, and the crowning of Charlemagne as emperor [NOT "western emperor"] in 800 in the secular side backs that up), so were Luther and Rome officially asunder when the bull was received by him, months before his excommunication and two years before the imperial pressure cooker of the Diet of Worms.

For Luther, the lack of imperial action — related to imperial succession issues — only emboldened him.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Richard John Neuhaus: A Lutheran con, like
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod on abortion

Richard John Neuhaus was a rising theologian within the late 1960s and early 1970s Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, at a time when the denomination was "schizophrenic" by its own standards.

In 1969, the body elected J.A.O. Preus, perceived as a conservative, as its new president, and him defeating an incumbent perceived as a bit more moderate. But, at the same time, it entered full "altar and pulpit" fellowship with the moderate-conservative, but not full conservative, American Lutheran Church. That was modified four years later into "fellowship under protest" even as the LCMS worried about "liberalism" in theology taking over its main seminary in St. Louis. That ended with the "Seminex" walkout, which failed to oust Preus from the presidency. (Bringing things to a full boil in the 1973-74 academic year, AFTER Preus had been re-elected to a second term and the "fellowship under protest" had been adopted, was the height of bad politics.  And, yes, churches are all about politics.)

Neuhaus supported Seminex, but at the same time, moved more conservative politically because of Roe v. Wade.

I came across this via the "Slacktivist" blog on Patheos. The writer, a liberal evangelical, was refuting David French in his claim that before the 1980s, the rising Religious Right didn't care about abortion. And, contra mythos of my LCMS days, teh Google to its own website tells me Lutherans for Life wasn't officially founded until 1979, and only claims some activity starting 1976. (That said, contra pro-life Catholic mythos, it's arguable that pre-Roe, abortion wasn't big on the Catholic radar screen either, contra Humanae Vitae.)

Anyway, Neuhaus was a sort of a neocon. He was also a paleocon, even more at times, per his affiliation with the Rockford Institute.

And, per Slacktivist, he is kind of full of it on other things.

If one truly does believe in historical-critical methodology, first, then "Jesus is Lord," with which he starts his blast, is always subject to human trimming.

Second, Christianity is compatible with non-democratic governments, human rights abuses, slavery and more. For the first, read Romans 13. For the second? More Romans 13 isn't bad. Nor is 2 Corinthians 11:24-25. For the third? Galatians 3:28. For all of the above? Any good Lutheran (or Catholic, for other reasons, perhaps) theologian would know of this book called "The City of God."

Third, any good non-Catholic would look at least a bit askance at going too far down the road of natural law for human rights. A good secularist would look hugely askance.

Fourth, despite his dipping one foot into theological liberalism or what passed for that at the LCMS of his salad days, it's laughable to be like National Affairs and paint him as a liberal. What he really was, was a neocon. (That's probably part of why Rockford booted him.) First Things magazine itself, in its encomium obituary, tells the truth.

I will say that, when he came by Concordia Publishing House in the early 1990s, he was well received among staff, even by the ordained minister who oversaw copyediting there and was more theologically conservative.

He struck me as a bit erudite and urbane. In hindsight, that probably comes from him being born in Canada.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fabio Luisi at the DSO? I think I'll pass

Dallas Morning News classical music critic Scott Cantrell recently offered praise for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's new music director, Fabio Luisi, who will officially start this fall after a two-year hiatus to replace Jaap van Zweden.

Among the praise was, even with him not having a full hand in the 2020-21 season, booking more 20th century music than van Zweden or Andrew Litton before him.

But, of the pieces Cantrell listed, none are from the warhorses of 20th century atonality.

No serialist Schoenberg, or disciples Berg or Webern.

No late-life serialist Stravinsky.

No second-gen serialism pioneer Ernst Krenek, either from his serialism or his non-serial atonality.

No atonal (or tonal) Penderecki. No Ligeti. No Schnittke.

Lemme know when something from THAT, or similar, is on the playlist.

That said, speaking of warhorses?

I found part of Luisi's premier concert with the DSO on YouTube, which sadly had commenting turned off.

It's Beethoven's Seventh. To me, one of the acid tests is if you play the Allegretto second movement as marked, with the metronome at 76 or thereabouts, you have failed. You're not "HIP," if you're not conducting a period instruments orchestra.

And, while Luisi does get some nice texture out of the movement, it's too slow. Clocking at almost 45 minutes, the whole symphony is too slow. But the second movement, at more than 10 minutes, is WAY too slow. Listen, starting at 13:22 for the second movement.

No, DSO concertgoers, that did not deserve applause at the end of the second movement. Third movement is by the modern book, so good there. In fact, if anything ... it's almost rushed, and has a feeling of that after the slow second movement. Fourth movement, again, crisp, and again, even to the fast end. But ... that second movement ... no. And again, it's not just that it's slow; it stands out like a sore thumb against the third and fourth movements.

Compare that to the master in the period instruments (when appropriate) groups, John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique.

Hear the difference? Compare and contrast the finales, too. Gardiner actually starts slower, but that gives him more room to play.

Or David Zinman with the Tonhalle, whose Beethoven cycle I bought immediately after hearing him with the new urtext on Eroica. YouTube has his 7th separate by movement.

Again, hear the difference?

Or, one more. Kleiber, among the old masters. 12:15 for the second movement. And he takes the whole schmeer even faster than Gardiner or Zinman.

Much above 80 can be rushed.

But anything below 68 can seem slow, and anything below about 64, especially with poor nuancing, can seem draggy. An even 8 minutes, as the three gents above indicate, is about right. Not a full 10 minutes. (Cantrell DID ding him for this.)

And, contra unnamed critics cited by D Magazine, Luisi's predecessor van Zweden didn't lash this piece, at least, too fast. YouTube shows him also at 38 and change. It also shows him with a 14-minute first movement and a second movement that's not exactly fast.

OK, more questionable Beethoven.

A nearly-55 minute Eroica?

Too slow all around. The biggest offender seems to be a 15-minute finale; second biggest is Funeral March nearly 16 minutes long.

Zinman comes in at an even 46 overall. The opening is about 2 minutes quicker. The funeral march about 2:40 quicker. The finale is almost 4 minutes shorter. Listen:

Zinman isn't alone. Erich Kleiber has the finale at 11 minutes in a 45 minute recording. Ditto Gardiner. Again, listen:

If Luisi either can't "get" Beethoven, or, on a piece like Eroica, thinks that sounding like Daniel Barenboim is good (it ain't), then no, this is not a fantastic hire.

Next, a warhorse from just about exactly a century later.

I found Luisi doing the finale of the Mahler Sixth with the Suisse Romande. Before even clicking, I noted a above-35 play time. Antennae up. Listen:

Not totally draggy, and he does get some nice nuances out of texture. But, when not totally draggy, even for Mahler, there seems to be too much rubato in tempo changes. Portions seemed rushed. And, per the Beethoven Seventh above, he likes to play with tempos a lot, as far as pushing composers' plans to the extreme both fast and slow.

A decade-plus older Italian contemporary of Luisi then came to mind — Guiseppe Sinopoli. I bought his M6 in the early 1990s, shortly after he'd started moving beyond opera, and started getting raves for his psychological interpretations. The opener of the M6 (where I'm a tough critic, and was halfway so even then) wasn't bad. Each subsequent movement got worse, and he pushed 35 with the finale. But even he didn't have that much rubato, IIRC.

Listen to somebody hugely uptempo with the M6, Kondrashin:

Big difference.

Or, someone somewhat more conventional, and with a lighter touch, but not delayed, Ivan Fischer, who comes in at just over 28 minutes:

Again, a difference that you would notice, even without Kondrashin as a peg.

Cantrell may have gotten it right before Luisi was named. "YouTube performances suggest consummate professionalism, but something less than a compelling musical personality."

And, speaking of M6? Cantrell (with whom I exchanged emails in the 2000-oughts when I was a DSO season ticket holder at Thursday night concerts, the nights he'd be attending for his preview write-ups) praises this by Jaap.

I'll pass on this, too. The second movement is lyrical and nuanced, but the first movement is by the book, and almost all conductors' books are wrong on this. This is part of why I so like Kondrashin; the opening BRISTLES with him.

Having never talking post-Litton Mahler with Scott, maybe we'd disagree on interpreting him in general?

I do know that we agreed that the DSO, especially under Litton but also in my brief time there at the start of van Zweden's tenure, needed to broaden its rep in the 20th century. Per my suggested playlist, vs Cantrell's, I'm trying to figure out . He does like him some Walter Piston, who did at least some toe-dipping into serialism, and Elliott Carter, though.

Frankly, though he's older than Luisi, I wish they'd made a run at Salonen. But I forgot myself and forgot that this is Dallas.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Francis Collins, the Templeton Prize,
and the Problem of Evil

Online and authorial friend John Horgan dusts off an old interview with Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health on news that he's won this year's Templeton Prize.

Horgan notes that, at the end, where he asked Collins about the future of humanity, he showed lots of faith in god but little in homo sapiens. The questions were really about another issue — the role of suffering in religious belief.

The reality, per Logic 101 is that "suffering," however the word is defined, is not logically necessary for religion or a deity. (Remember: Folks like Theravada Buddhists have a religious belief system without a personal divinity.) Philosophy of Religion 101 will then add that suffering, or a belief in it, is not psychologically necessary, either.

The first is the old Problem of Evil. For believers in a god both omnipotent and omnibenevolent, it's an even bigger stumbling block than the Euthyphro Dilemma. The second often results from attempts by believers in a dual-omni god to avoid the Problem of Evil by citing their god's inscrutability. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this usually involves an appeal to Job, with Christians doubling down by citing Paul referencing Job.

Doesn't work.

This is, as I have called it, the Psychological Problem of Evil.

Either said god is less than all-powerful if he can't make himself scrutable, or he's less than all-good if, other than "stop questioning me," he can't make his followers accept his inscrutability is for their good.

That said, what if there was some new way to get these people to accept his inscrutability? Still doesn't address the omnipotence and psychological evil issue.

There's also a bit of a petard lurking here.

IF ... we did accept that some suffering is necessary for human development as part of religion, how much is necessary and how much is too much? Usually this ends up again being hoist on the inscrutability of god in the Western "dueling-omnis" idea of god.

Otherwise, Collins himself, who famously once said, and included it in a book, that he had the idea of the Trinity be made understandable by a three-part waterfall, doesn't strike me as the deepest of thinkers on matters religious. It's almost as silly as the apple explanation that I heard as a kid — the peel, the pulp and core are all separate, but all connected, and all have "appleness," but there's still just one apple.

Nor does his taking a page from Augustine, on the idea that an omni-god is outside humanity's four-dimensional space-time, makes such a god inscrutable by logical necessity. Per Flatland, such a god could intervene into our four dimensions in a perfectly scrutable way.

I mean, if Collins did a riff on Whitehead's process theology into something even more creative, or invented his own religion, even more, I'd have more respect for him. But this is just plain bleah evangelical Christianity.

As far as what Collins misses in terms of psychology of religion? It was staring himself in his hiking face. The "trinitarian" waterfall is a dictionary exhibit of confirmation bias.