Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Reluctant Atheist meets The Fly

I am a reluctant atheist. Every time I read about some new proof of the existence of God/gods, I get a little bit of hope that I will be able to return to belief. So, when I reviewed Dr. Edward Feser’s The Last Superstition (you can read the series by clicking on the label link in the labels list), it was with the hope that there was some substance behind the show, that the tone of contempt shown toward atheists had a basis in real proof. Instead, a careful examination made it clear to me why Aristotlean-Thomasian metaphysics (abbreviated A-T hereafter) had been abandoned, or at least (since I don’t know the actual history of the field) why it will never again dominate metaphysical thinking. Below the fold, I use Dr. Feser’s speculations concerning the metaphysical implications of the movie The Fly to show where I think A-T is giving a poor description, and where Dr. Feser himself doesn’t seem to be using A-T very well. I will assume my readers have read Dr. Feser’s post first.

I will start out agreeing with Dr. Feser’s caveats that with very few actual facts to work with, all of this is speculation. However, I believe that Dr. Feser and I agree on all of the relevant facts, so that should not be an issue.

When addressing the question of whether BrundleFly is human, I think there is another categorization that could have been used to separate distinct concepts and clear up aspects of this classification: person. If we slightly change the traditional A-T definition to "a person is a rational animal", and perhaps "a human is a member of homo sapiens sapiens", with the acknowledge that in A-T, every human has the form that is a person, and therefore is a person, that will clear up much of the confusion. BrundleFly is certainly a person, as Dr. Feser’s descriptions the reasoning behind BrundleFly’s actions makes clear. However, BrundleFly is not a human. He has no evolutionary history when he steps out of the teleportation chamber, he is a type of Swampman or at the very least a hybrid. You are a member of a species based on your line of descent. I could be mistaken, but I believe Dr. Feser would not say that a mule is a horse.

Both of Dr. Feser’s arguments that try to support saying 'BrundleFly is human' actually go against the grain of A-T philosophy. While Dr. Feser assert the retention of reason as a means of asserting humanity, you first have to ask: does BrundleFly still have the form of a human? If you persist in saying that, for living thing, the form is what the living thing attempts to reach, then BrundleFly’s transformation does not deform him, it brings him closer to his true form. The second argument, that "human" should cover any sort of rational animal, serves merely to conflate different concepts. What makes Dr. Feser’s insistence even more self-contradictory is that, for him, there is a regularly occurring event where two living things with distinct DNA strands merge, which event Dr. Feser insists without equivocation produces a new living thing with a new form, different from either of the prior living things.

As for his discussion of what might have happened if BrundleFly has successfully merged with Veronica and her unborn child, the notion that two independent souls might survive in BrundleFly makes for some interesting interpretations for real-world human chimeras and monozygotic twins. Do chimeras really posses two souls, according to Dr. Feser? Do identical twins share a single soul between them? Those are the natural implications of his thoughts.

The reason Dr. Feser and I can start from the same facts, and come to completely opposite conclusions about Brundlefly within A-T, is that the A-T uses the non-factual determination of form to reach its conclusions. While I made what I felt was a reasonable argument that Brundlefly’s form was not human, that does not constitute proof, and in fact form cannot be proved. It can’t be measured, verified objectively, or pulled out by a process. The determination of a form is basically arbitrary, the most people can achieve is to agree to the same arbitrary designations to achieve consistency. That’s why A-T will never supplant the metaphysics of science today. It brings subjectivism to what is intended to be an objective process.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My son's job

I said earlier that I would discuss what Son#1, who has an autism-spectrum disorder, does to make money. Since I don’t make many posts that are only one sentence long, I will also take the time to discuss what I have seen of him at work, what his teachers have passed back as the feedback they receive, what doing this means for Son#1 (and us), and what I think this means for his future, below the fold.

His job is at TJ Maxx. It is his first job, and he was hired through a special program at the school. He works 1 or 2 afternoons a week, just under four hours at a time. He is responsible for putting merchandise back on the shelves, making sure that it is properly folded, sorted, or matched as needed. These tasks play very well into his strengths. These tasks deal with concrete objects, as opposed to abstract objects or people, require physical manipulation, and result in a nicely structured and patterned display. I have observed him at work once or twice when he did not know I was there. He moves quickly from place to place, and pays close attention to what he is doing and the final result.

According to his teachers, the store is very pleased with Son#1. While he is now an adult, so it’s not really my place to ask for personnel records (in fact, CharityBrow and I are now merely advisers at his school progress meetings, Son#1 is now in charge of his school plan), his teachers have informed me that he was nominated for Employee of the Quarter. They have continued to schedule him even though the school year is over, and have apparently indicated that they want to keep him after graduation. While I have always known that I have a determined, hard-working son, it’s quite a relief to see other people appreciate those same qualities. We’ve had some bad experiences in that regard, in particular at the church Son#1 attends, where they told him he could no longer volunteer at their Vacation Bible School (Maybe I’ll rant on that another day). While I want all my kids to succeed, there is a certain anxiety with regard to Son#1, and it’s nice to have that partially alleviated. You can make a living stocking shelves.

Then there is the money. Son#1’s first priority is a trip to Disney World with the band, and he is contributing half the amount needed every month (we contribute the other half). In addition, he makes regular trips on his bicycle by himself to buy himself little things: a soda here, a bag of chips there, perhaps some ice cream instead. He is primarily a saver, though. When he is out of money, it’s because he has lent it to us (don’t worry, he gets a very good rate of interest).

Son#1’s ultimate goal is still to be a band teacher. I think he has a chance to do, but it will take him longer than it might take other people. In the meantime, he’ll be able to pay for school, buy himself clothes, and generally enjoy his life while trying to make it better. There’s not much more I could ask for.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Thoughts on the last Jazz season

I just wanted to take a little time to talk about my reaction to the 2009-2010 season for the Utah Jazz. Overall, I was very pleased with the results. I think the Jazz took a couple of important steps forward. The series against the Lakers was disappointing, but that was more than balanced by other events, in my mind.

Before the season started, I had predicted the Jazz would win 54 games. They actually had 53 wins, so I was satisfied with that. More importantly was that a few of the wins showed they made real progress as a team. They beat San Antonio in San Antonio, for the first time in about a decade, and then did it a second time, sweeping the season series. They tied Denver for the division lead. They took a couple of close games on national TV, and came back from 25 points down in one game. All of this points to a team that is maturing, especially the three best players of Williams, Kirilenko, and Boozer (I think pretty much in that order).

The Jazz front office made some good moves as well. Keeping Millsap helped insure they had one of the better benches in the league. Okur was signed for another couple of years. I think ideally Okur would be a great sixth man, able to come off the bench and play inside or out to give the bench different look. However, he has certainly played better than any other center on the team, and I’d rather know he will be here than relay on Koufos, Fesenko, or undrafted Rookie X to start games. They turned a couple in mid-level draft picks of marginal value (Maynor and Brewer) into significant tax relief. They found and signed the best undrafted player (Matthews). While neither of the D-league signees showed great talent, they were integrated into the Jazz system and made minor contributions. Since I usually put the draft and free-agent signings as the beginning of the season, who they draft in 2010 and whether they can keep Boozer doesn’t factor into this analysis.

In the playoffs, the Jazz beat a full-strength Denver in Denver for the first time in a few years, and without two of their best four players. Not only was that another important milestone, but it also highlighted just how good Sloan is. Probably over the past four of five years, the importance I gave to NBA coaches was gradually diminishing. While I still think that talent tends to win out in the end, the Denver series showed that a well-coached squad can override superior talent on a poorly-coached squad.

Then came the Lakers, and it was disheartening. The Lakers are considerably more talented than the Jazz, especially with the Lakers at full strength and with the Jazz still missing two of their best four, and Jackson will never be outcoached to the degree Dantley was. Still, not only were the jazz swept, but in three games it seemed like the Lakers were doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. I will get real pleasure out of beating the Lakers in some future playoff series, but I don’t see that happening for a couple of years.

So, overall I thought the Jazz were a great team to root for this past year, and I’m looking forward to the 2010-2011 season.

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