Saturday, February 14, 2015

50 Shades of Grey and Independence Day, Ash Carter's Post Shower Ramble

[This is a guest post by Ash Carter, is he right is our scientific progress masking our cultural and moral decay, or are these social changes also progress andpart of the way things must go? Let me know what you think in the comments]

yeah, ok

What have Independence Day and 50 Shades of Grey have in common? Both illustrate that more technologically advanced civilisations are not necessarily ethical in their use of technology.

As I was showering this morning, I thought about how the British find ourselves in a bizarre cultural moment. On the one hand, every time we read of some extreme punishment meted out by a less liberal judiciary for something we don't consider a crime (think Uganda's anti-gay law, or the large number of things you can get hung for in Iran), we are up in arms.

On the other hand, when we pause from judging other cultures long enough to actually look hard at our own we are all aware that something is badly broken here. By almost any measure of cultural development we are sliding down the international league tables. Why don't we do well at school? What can we do about binge drinking? Etc.



In Independence Day there is an alien species who, far more technologically advanced, decides that human culture should be ended. This same spirit of imperialist our-culture-is-bettter-than-yours thinking once left the whole world under the thumb of European powers. Militarily we have stopped that (we are liberals who liberate those nations, after all) but how much have we changed? We still sit in judgement over less 'advanced' (by which we mean less liberal) cultures.

Are we not able to pause long enough to look at what has eaten our culture from the inside in the past hundred years? Jensen and Payne cover this in their book True Sex, which charts the move in British culture from Victorian prudishness, through moralism to sexual liberty. The birth of the pill and legalised abortions have 'liberated' us sexually. The outbox is generations born into dysfunctional families with all the attendant identity issues and social implications.



But it hasn't stopped there. Choice has been applied not only to your number of sexual partners, but to their gender. But actually the liberation of homosexuality is old hat. In the seven months since I left college the conversation has frequently been about your own choice of gender. Transgender issues will be the next big thing to wrestle with, and it is already in our schools as people are encouraged (at 14, 15, 16!) to work out who they would really like to be.

Another product of the sexual revolution is the mainstreaming of pornography. Every comedian on the TV jokes about it. And, the truth is, it is a cancer that is eating through my generation. We grew up with the internet. Most men and many women have put images and ideas into their heads they shouldn't have. We are only now beginning to understand the impact that this corruption is having on our minds, relationships and lives.

Many people like me have children, little boys who will grow up in a more technologically advanced age. And I must do everything I can to protect them from the libertarian attitudes and behaviours that will hurt them more than they realise. That is, whether you are a Christian or a secular person who reads the academic literature, we are beginning to self-censor. We understand that something must be done. That we have drunk the poison and we want to prevent others from doing the same.

In other words, what does Independence Day teach us about sexual ethics? It teaches us that a cultural imperialism can hide a complete lack of morals within the imperialist. Let's stop and look at where we are. Let's make a choice not to poison ourselves anymore.

Let's make a start by NOT going to see 50 shades of grey. Apparently, it is crap anyway.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Irreducible Complexity and the Incompetent Demiurge

I'm reading "the one book all atheists should read", AKA The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart (Yale 2013). Not because I'm an atheist but because I need all the help I can get in being a theist. Hart has been raved about by a number of people I respect for his previous books and so with all the glowing reviews I was expecting perhaps too much. Make no mistake, Hart is extremely clever and erudite and well read, and did I mention clever? The problem is, for a book intended to convince people there is a God (with a capital G) his pomposity errs on the side of bombastic and frankly as someone who agrees with at least 95% of what he is advocating I find him verbose and borderline supercilious. I was hoping this would be a book I could lend to some thoughtful people I know but too be honest I would want a clearer gentler book to be able to lend it out like that. That said I have no doubt there will be much to take from it. Already he has got the old grey matter moving round. In the first chapter he makes a brief detour to present Intelligent Design Theory (ID) as being not only outside the bounds of Christian Theology but actually the very antithesis of all the major religions' understanding of the creator. Instead he explain how the demiurge, a god (with a small g), who is the creator of the material world but in many respects existing in the same way we do as a discrete being rather than the source of of being itself, is actually what is revealed by such theories. According to this website a demiurge looks like this:
Demiurge large
But that is by the by. More to the point, Hart writes:
The recent Intelligent Design movement represents the demiurge's boldest adventure in some considerable time . . . in the light of traditional theology the argument from irreducible complexity looks irredeemably defective, because it depends on the existence of causal discontinuities in the order of nature, "gaps" where natural causality proves inadequate. But all the classical theological arguments regarding the order of the world assume just the opposite: that God's creative power can be seen in the rational coherence of nature as a perfect whole; that the universe was not simply the factitious product of a supreme intelligence but the unfolding of an omnipresent divine wisdom or logos. . . If, however one could really show that there were interruptions in that order, places where the adventitious intrusions of an organising hand were needed to correct this or that part of the process, that might well suggest some deficiency in the fabric of creation. It might suggest that the universe was the work of a very powerful, but also somewhat limited, designer. (p37-39)

What a fascinating thought, worth wading through the verbiage for and I'm sure just a taster of what is to come. I'm just sad it couldn't have been written in a style more likely to engage the unbelieving rather than scare them off, frankly if an atheist got past page 13 without flinging the book away feeling patronised and belittled.

But anyway, his argument against ID is a fascinating one, he is surely right that the god of ID is a God of the gaps and is vulnerable to atrophy through further scientific discoveries, but I wonder if denying God the right to intervene in creation without it being an admission of imperfection is fair? Aren't the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus a fairly major intervention in creation and a significant "evolutionary" leap in human potential? And why shouldn't God leave some playful fingerprints on the fossil record for humanity to discover on our journey at the point when we find it easiest not to believe in him?

Let me know what you think :-)