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Questions For Dr. Grayling 
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Post Questions For Dr. Grayling
I have been thinking of some questions that I would like to ask Dr. Grayling. Some of these questions have been prompted by the recent BBC series of programmes, by Jonathan Miller on the history of disbelief that I commented on in "The Roundtable".

I thought - as most Booktalkers won't have seen the programmes - I should describe the questions and the context for readers who haven't been able to see the series.

In one of the programmes Jonathan Miller talked to Daniel Dennett about how they approach theists. Dennett said that he wouldn't tell an ugly person that they were ugly, or an obese person that they were fat, because to do so would be impolite, even if it were true. So Dennett said that he has always been cautious about offending theists. He went on to say that he'd had a friendly disagreement about this with Richard Dawkins who, of course, is very robust about attacking theism. But Dennett also said that he is reconsidering his position about this. Miller's position was that he did confront theists in the same way that he would attack a communist extremist or a Stalinist, and he said that he has been called "very rude" for taking this stance, he also said that his wife sometimes objected when he did argue about religion. Should we respect the feelings of theists even when their position is irrational? I have an inkling about which way Dr. Grayling will answer this one - let's see!

In the series Miller had wonderfully clear discussion with the British philosopher Colin McGinn about the philosophical arguments for the existence in God, and how each of them is rationally flawed. When I saw Grayling give his talk, I remember him saying that he disagreed with McGinn on some important aspects of philosophy - I had thought that he meant McGinn was a relativist. (A thoroughgoing relativist would argue that those that believe in God are as right as those that don't because everyone's opinion is as good as everyone else's). But the discussion with Miller suggested McGinn was a logical positivist (who thinks that it is possible to know things are true about the universe). I would be interested in Graylings views about the destructiveness of postmodernism and relativism when it comes to the search for truth.

I have an idea floating around in my mind that Grayling likes the work of Antonio Damasio. I would like to know whether he has a leaning toward pantheism or deism as Damasio seems to have.

Anyone have any comments on these questions? What questions can you think of?

Edited by: PeterDF at: 11/28/04 9:07 am



Sun Nov 28, 2004 8:11 am
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Post Re: Questions For Dr. Grayling
Well, I won't try to comment on your questions but I hope Dr. Grayling will!

As for other questions, here's a few that come to my mind:

1) In Ch. 4, he discusses the bizarre book wherein 50 scientists explain why they believe in creation. His thoughts on the subject are fascinating but the subject is pretty distressing in general. I've been wondering lately about the concept of "progress". I think we Americans were raised to believe in progress and I know I always have. Lately, some intellectuals seem to be pretty dismissive of the concept and talk in terms of "the pendulum" of public opinion and attitudes. I'd like to continue belief in progress (certainly goes well with the evolution concept) but it is very weird to see our country descending into religious fundamentalism. I really thought science had "won" the battles and there were only the stragglers bringing up the rear. Any thoughts on the validity of the "progress" worldview?

2) In my freaking out over the current US elections, I've often said and thought that I don't want the church/state line blurred because I don't want a bunch of ignorant religious toads making their intolerance the law of the land. I wonder though if my own argument is weak. I mean isn't a lot of government actually about establishing/codifying ethics for a community? Which is to say that "legislating morality" is actually what governments do routinely. I'd like to be wrong about this so I can safely return to my standard arguments but I'm a little stuck right now in my thinking. Can anyone offer a way out of debate logjam? I guess Dr. Grayling prompts some of my questions on this issue since he makes it clear that humanists have their own underlying ethics( what he refers to in last chapter as the autonomy of humanism and the heteronomy of religion). To some extent we are fighting an ethics war with religion-based ethics aren't we? So if "they" win the election, are we being disingenuous to complain of them imposing their ethics on us?

Guess that's enough for one post. I hope I'll still be in town when Dr. Grayling does his chat!





Mon Nov 29, 2004 11:45 am
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Post Re: Questions For Dr. Grayling
Peter may be meeting Dr. Grayling at an upcoming seminar, so we still may have the opportunity to do a chat session or possibly an e-interview. Think of some questions and post them here folks. :)

Chris





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