Thursday, March 09, 2023

Millerman, Heidegger, and Philosophic Nazism

I have written about Michael Millerman's philosophic promotion of the right-wing illiberalism of Heidegger, Dugin, and Putin in the pages of First Things.  Now the April 2023 issue of First Things has published a short letter from me about Millerman's article and Millerman's response.

In my letter, I quote from the last paragraph of Millerman's article and then add this comment:

"If Dugin's 'ideologically coherent alternative to Western political modernity' is 'compatible with Putininism,' how is that 'not reducible' to 'intellectual legitimation for a fascist, kleptocratic thug who wishes to recreate the Russian empire'?"

"Has First Things been reduced to this--endorsing illiberal ideologies that are compatible with Putinism, Nazism, and fascist thugs?  Is there any reason to believe that Richard John Neuhaus would have endorsed this?"

Here is Millerman's response:

"Leo Strauss once wrote:  'It would be wholly unworthy of us as thinking beings not to listen to the critics of democracy--even if they are enemies of democracy--provided they are thinking men (and especially great thinkers) and not blustering fools."

"My article argued that Dugin is a thinking man whose political philosophy, whatever its other virtues and vices, has the great merit of helping us understand something about Martin Heidegger, the greatest thinker.  Larry Arnhart invokes the predictable rhetoric of fascist thuggery and the like.  Does such a response, and the attitude it typifies, reflect what is 'worthy of us as thinking beings' when it comes to the basic questions of political philosophy?"

The fundamental question at issue between us is whether Millerman is right in agreeing with Strauss that Heidegger was "the greatest thinker," and that he was philosophically correct in attacking liberal modernity and defending Nazi tyranny.

I have written a series of posts on Heidegger's metaphysical German nationalism as supporting his philosophic Nazism.  I have argued that Friedrich Nietzsche (particularly in Human, All Too Human) identified the philosophical mistake that leads philosophers like Heidegger to support evil tyranny like that of the Nazis.  Nietzsche's adoption of Darwinian evolutionary science allowed him to see that philosophical mistake.

Nietzsche saw that social order arises best as a largely spontaneous order of human cultural evolution that does not require any intelligently designed metaphysical order enforced by state coercion.  This led Nietzsche to embrace the liberal separation of culture and the state, so that the purpose of the state is only to protect individuals from one another, and then secure cultural life as a realm for freedom of thought and action, which allowed the Socratic "free spirits" to live the philosophic life of skeptical questioning.

By contrast, Nietzsche saw, philosophers like Plato and Heidegger who want the state to execute their "spiritual leadership" in enforcing their vision of metaphysical order become "tyrants of the spirit," and consequently they are easily seduced by tyrants like Hitler.  (See Human, All Too Human, 1-9, 235, 261, 438-41, 465, 472, 474.) 

Wednesday, March 08, 2023

The Fallacy of the Universe Being Fine-Tuned for Human Life as Proof for the Existence of God

I have written about how the idea that the Universe is fine-tuned for life has become the most common cosmological argument for the existence of God.  Recently, I have been thinking more about the fallacy in this argument.  My thinking has been stimulated by reading some work by Simon Friedrich--particularly, his article on "Fine-Tuning" for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and his book Multiverse Theories: A Philosophical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2021).

According to many physicists, it is surprising that the Universe supports life--and particularly human life--because this depends precisely on certain fundamental characteristics of the Universe--the quantitative values of some constants of nature, the form of the laws of nature, and the conditions in the early universe.  Even slight variations in these values, laws, and conditions would have made life impossible.  As one example, if the strength of gravity had been only slightly weaker or slightly stronger than it is, stars and planets could not have formed in the way they are today, and thus there would have been no habitable planet for life.  There is a long list of physical constants like gravity that had to be "just right" for a Universe favorable to life to exist.  Sometimes this is called the "Goldilocks principle": the porridge needs to be not too hot and not too cold but just right.

In this way, the Universe appears to be fine-tuned for life.  Why?  Theistic creationists can say that if the Universe is fine-tuned, that must be because there is a divine fine-tuner.  Or is there some better explanation?

From the start, we should recognize that saying the Universe is fine-tuned is a metaphorical use of the term fine tuning.  Metaphor is a form of reasoning in which we understand one thing through its resemblance to something else.  We need to be careful that our metaphorical reasoning does not lead us into the fallacy of equivocation in which we deceptively call two different things by the same name.  And my argument is that the idea of the fine-tuned Universe commits that fallacy of equivocation.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives three definitions of "fine tuning."  The primary definition is "the action or process of tuning a musical instrument very precisely, so as to play at exactly the correct pitch."  The second definition is:  "Originally: the action or process of making minor adjustments to a radio in order to receive or broadcast on specific frequencies.  In later use more generally: the action or process of making minor adjustments to a device, apparatus, etc., in order to achieve a precise setting or calibration."  The third definition is: "The action or process of minor adjustments to something in order to achieve the best or a desired performance; (Economics) the policy or process of making a series of minor changes in monetary and fiscal policy in order to maintain a stable level of aggregate demand, usually that associated with full employment."

Notice that these definitions concern technological devices (such as musical instruments or radios) or social technology (such as planning an economy) in which human beings adjust technological artifacts or social institutions so that they function to satisfy human desires.  The fine-tuning is the product of human fine-tuners.  And we understand how this works because of our common experience of how human beings design, make, and control physical and social tools so that they function in desirable ways.

If this is what we mean by fine tuning, are we right in saying that the Universe is fine-tuned?  Or is this a deceptive equivocation--because the idea of fine tuning assumes human beings as the fine tuners, and it would be ridiculous to assume that the Universe was fine-tuned by human beings?  Presumably, if there were cosmic fine tuners, they would have to be supernatural or transcendent beings with the divine intelligence and omnipotence that allow them to create the Universe as they will.  But our ordinary human experience of human fine tuning tells us nothing about divine fine tuning.

In previous posts, I have shown how the argument for intelligent design is an argument from equivocation in the use of the term "intelligent design."  Both William Dembski and Michael Behe speak of "intelligent design" without clearly distinguishing human intelligent design from divine intelligent design.  We have all observed how the human mind can cause effects that are humanly designed, and from such observable effects, we can infer the existence of human intelligent designers.  But insofar as we have never directly observed a disembodied, omniscient, and omnipotent intelligent designer causing effects that are divinely designed, we cannot infer a divine intelligent designer from our common human experience.

Behe is right that from an apparently well-designed mousetrap, we can plausibly infer the existence of a human intelligent designer as its cause, because we have common experience of how mousetraps and other human artifacts are designed by human minds.  In the same way, William Paley was right that from a well-designed watch, we can plausibly infer the existence of an intelligent human watchmaker.  But from an apparently well-designed organic mechanism (like the bacterial flagellum), we cannot plausibly infer the existence of a divine intelligent designer as its cause, because we have no common experience of how a divine mind designs things for divine purposes.

Dembski has written: "The point of the intelligent design program is to extend design from the realm of human artifacts to the natural sciences."  This sophistical rhetorical strategy of equivocation in the use of the term "intelligent design" hides the fact that while detecting the design of human artifacts is a matter of common observation and inference, detecting the design of divine artifacts is not.

Similarly, if we hear a musical instrument that has been fine-tuned, we can infer the existence of some human fine-tuner, because we understand how musical instruments need human fine-tuners.  But if the Universe appears fine-tuned for life, we cannot say that this proves the existence of a divine fine-tuner, because we have no experience with or understanding of a divine being creating the Universe so that it is fine-tuned for life.

Monday, March 06, 2023

Freedom in Estonia

                                                                         Kaja Kallas

Yesterday, the general elections in Estonia became a big victory for Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and a big defeat for Vladimir Putin.  Nine political parties were running candidates for Estonia's unicameral parliament--known as the Riigikogu.  Kallas' center-right Reform Party took 31.4 percent of the vote, with the far-right EKRE party a distant second with 16.1 percent, and the Center Party 15 percent.  It appears that the Reform Party will take 37 seats in the parliament, so that Kallas will need only 14 more seats in a coalition to control the 101-seat body and continue as Prime Minister.

The EKRE party is a right-wing populist party in the style of Trump--Euroskeptic, anti-immigrant, anti-gay, and determined to "put Estonians first" rather than Ukrainians.  When the Reform Party took the lead in the election, the head of the EKRE Party (Martin Helme) claimed that the election had been stolen.

This is a defeat for Putin because he has hoped that the support for Ukraine from the NATO countries would start to weaken as voters become frustrated by the economic costs of backing Ukraine in the war.  Under the leadership of Kallas, Estonia has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine among all the NATO nations.  Estonia has given the equivalent of 1 percent of its entire Gross National Product in military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, which includes 44 percent of Estonia's military budget.  Estonia is one of only seven countries out of the 30 NATO members that meets a military spending target of 2 percent of Gross National Product; and Kallas has pledged to increase this to 3 percent.  Some of her political opponents have criticized her for this military spending and for giving too much to the support of Ukraine.

The Estonians have a good reason to be afraid of Russian aggression because Estonia is one of only four NATO countries that share a border with Russia, which includes Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland.

I have previously written about Estonia as ranking near the top of the Human Freedom Index and as being the best model for Ukraine to emulate.  Estonia and Ukraine have similar histories as having been under the rule of the Soviet Union until declaring independence in 1991.  But Estonia has been more successful than Ukraine in becoming a free society that follows the principles of classical liberalism.

In the Human Freedom Index 2021 (based on data for 2019), Estonia ranked fourth in the top five freest countries out of 165 countries:

1. Switzerland

2. New Zealand

3. Denmark

4. Estonia

5. Ireland

Ukraine ranked at 98th, while Russia ranked at 126th, and China at 150th.  At the bottom were Venezuela at 164th and Syria at 165th.

In the recently released Human Freedom Index 2022 (based on data for 2020), Estonia has moved up to third place, with Denmark at fourth place.  Switzerland and New Zealand are still first and second respectively.  Ukraine has moved up to 89th, while Russia has moved up only slightly to 119th.  Venezuela and Syria are still at the bottom.

As I have previously argued, this Human Freedom Index allows us to judge the empirical evidence for the success of liberalism, because we can see that the liberal regimes tend to be high in both freedom and happiness, while the illiberal regimes tend to be low.  Most human beings would rather live in free societies like Switzerland, New Zealand, and Estonia than in oppressive societies like Russia, Venezuela, and Syria.

The recent critics of liberalism--like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher--who speak confidently about "how liberalism failed" are silent about this empirical evidence for the success of liberalism.  

By contrast, many of the people of Ukraine have been persuaded by this empirical evidence, so that they're willing to risk their lives in war in the hope that Ukraine can become more like Estonia than Russia.

Wednesday, March 01, 2023

Paul Kingsnorth's Religious Atheism: An Exchange

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Paul Kingsnorth's "wild Christianity," and I identified him as a religious atheist.  We then had a brief exchange in the comments to that post.  I thought I should reproduce that exchange here:

Paul said:

 A religious atheist? Blimey. Now I've heard everything.

I'm flattered to be written about, but you're quite a way offbeam here. And I'm certainly not 'selling spirituality' to anyone. Otherwise I'd probably be running expensive courses or monetising some Youtube videos or something. I'm just trying to make a living with my writing, as I always have, so that I can feed my children.

I'll plead guilty to being bourgeois though, and probably being at least partly liberal, even as I can see the great holes in the whole worldview.

By the way, I never 'knew' that Wicca was true. I always doubted it, as it happens. I did think - and still do - that Zen contains great wisdom and truth about the reality of the human mind. But Christ came to me unbidden, and there was no denying what happened or what it meant.

Of course, writing about any of this is a risk, and possibly a foolish one. It is common to be misunderstood.

All the best,
Paul K

Larry Arnhart said:


Why do you refer to the stories about Colman as "legends"? Certainly, Fahey suggests that as legends these stories should not be taken as historically accurate. Do you agree?

If so, are you suggesting that the stories in the New Testament about John the Baptist and Jesus are legends, and thus not historically accurate? If you believe that the Biblical stories about Jesus are psychologically satisfying but not historically accurate, that's what I call religious atheism. This would make you like Nietzsche's Zarathustra who was said to be "the most pious of all those who do not believe in God."

On March 6th, Kingsnorth posted the following comment:

Of course I don't believe the life of Christ is a "legend." I'm a baptised member of the Orthodox Church.

I would suggest before attacking other Christians that we all ought to make something of an effort to find out what they believe, rather than relying on our own suppositions and prejudices.

I will accept this as Kingsnorth's clarification of the original article, in which he identified the stories about Colman as "legends," and he spoke about the New Testament stories about John the Baptist and Jesus as if they were at the same level as the legendary stories about Colman.

So now, he is saying that stories about saints like Colman are only "legends," but stories about Jesus in the New Testament are not just legends but historically accurate.

How did Paul decide that the miracles attributed to Colman were only legendary, while the miracles attributed to Jesus were historically true?  He doesn't explain this.