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Category Archives: Rationalism

Webinar on Taiwan’s Election: What Happened and What’s Next? – US-China Institute

Posted: January 19, 2020 at 6:51 am

Three out of every four voters in Taiwan went to the polls on Saturday. On January 15 at 5pm PST, (January 16 at 9am in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China), the USC U.S.-China Institute will host a video conference looking at what the key issues were in the election and what the election means for Taiwan domestic policies, for cross-strait relations, and for U.S.-Taiwan relations. Please registerto join this online conference.

Taiwans President Tsai Ing-wen received a record 8.2 million votes, winning reelection with 57% of the ballots. Her Chinese Nationalist (Kuomintang) rival, Han Kuo-yu, received 39% of the vote. Tsais Democratic Progressive Party won 61 of the 113 seats in the legislature. The Kuomintang won 38 seats. Several small parties and independent also won seats. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Tsai on her victory and Taiwan for once again demonstrating the strength of its robust democratic system. Xinhua, Chinas state news agency described Tsais election as a temporary counter-current. Xinhua blamed DPP cheating and said anti-China political forces in the West openly intervened and supported Tsai to contain China.

The discussion will be moderated by Clayton Dube, the director of theUSC U.S.-China Institute.Panelists will include:

Tom Hollihan, USCHollihan heads the USC Annenberg School doctoral program and observed the Taiwan election as a member of a Ministry of Foreign Affairs delegation. He is a specialist on political communication and is the author of several books including The Dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands: How Media Narratives Shape Public Opinions and Challenge the Global Order and Uncivil Wars: Political Campaigns in a Media Age.

Daniel Lynch, City University of Hong KongLynch taught international relations at USC for two decades before moving to Hong Kong where he teaches international relations and Chinese politics. His books include Chinas Futures: PRC Elites Debate Economics, Politics, and Foreign Policy, Rising China and Asian Democratization: Socialization to Global Culture in the Political Transformations of Thailand, China, and Taiwan. In addition to observing this election, Lynch spent two months in Taiwan in summer 2019 for his current research.

Shelley Rigger, Davidson CollegeCurrently a Fulbright Scholar based in Taipei and Shanghai, Rigger is especially well-known for her book,Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse,but shes also the author ofPolitics in Taiwan: Voting for Democracy, From Opposition to Power: Taiwans Democratic Progressive Party,andTaiwans Rising Rationalism: Generations, Politics and Taiwan Nationalism.

Ray Wang, National Chengchi UniversityWangworks as an Associate Professor at National Chengchi University, Taiwan. Rays major research interests focus on human rights, religious freedom, and transnational advocacy networks. Currently he serves as the executive editor of Mainland China Studies (TSSCI). He is the recipient of an Excellent Young Scholar Research Fund from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan (2018-2021) and a part of the research is published in the new book, Resistance under Communist China Religious Protesters, Advocates and Opportunists (Palgrave) in 2019.

Please register now to join the roundtable.

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52 ideas that changed the world – 31. Prison – The Week UK

Posted: at 6:51 am

In this series, The Week looks at the ideas and innovations that permanently changed the way we see the world. This week, the spotlight is on prison:

Oscar Wilde first saw the inside of a prison 13 years before he wroteDe Profundis, his famous 55,000-word letter to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, from his cell at Reading Gaol.

On seeing the state of the inmates at a jail in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1882, Wilde wrote of being confronted with poor odd types of humanity in striped dresses making bricks in the sun. All of the faces were mean-looking, which consoled me, for I should hate to see a criminal with a noble face.

By the time of his own incarceration for indecency, Wildes views had softened on those residing in prison. Reviewing a book of poetry composed behind bars by the anti-imperialist Wilfred Blunt, Wilde wrote that an unjust imprisonment for a noble cause strengthens as well as deepens the nature.

Wildes changing attitude to the jail population reflected a shift in the general perception of criminality. The prisons of Wildes Britain were a far cry from the rehabilitation-focused penal systems of the 21st century.

Prisons, which are often run by governments, are usually secure facilities (though not always) that constrain the movements and social interactions of prisoners. The notion was born out of the barbaric origins of the medieval torture chamber, but by the eighteenth centry it had shifted towards imprisonment with labour, according to the Howard League for Penal Reform.

This then changed again as prisons became more concerned with the concept of rehabilitation. This time prisons moved towards the modern mechanisms of criminal justice, what French philosopher Michael Foucault described as not a physical imprisonment, but an economy of suspended rights aimed at reshaping individual behaviour.

The earliest descriptions ofimprisonment corresponded closely with the spread of the written word and the formalisation of early legal codes. However, the earliest legal documents for example the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi dating from about 1750 BC focused on retribution from the victim, rather than state-led punishment as we now recognise it.

Plato began to develop ideas about rehabilitation and in Platos Lawsconsidered the laws role in making citizens virtuous. Plato dwelt on the suggestion that injustice is a disease of the soul that can be cured through punishment.

PlatosGreece did have prisons calleddesmoterion, meaning place of chains however they were used more for the holding of prisoners who had been condemned to death. The Ancient Romans also used imprisonment for the same purpose, and in 640 BC, the Mamertine Prison, known as the Tullianum, was erected.

The 400-year-old San Giuseppe dei Falegnami Roman Catholic church now stands on the site of the prison, but at the time it would have been a squalid series of dungeons in the sewers under Rome.

During the Middle Ages, prison conditions did not improve. Across Europe, brutal punishment was still prescribed to rule-breakers, with castles, fortresses and the basements of public buildings given over to housing the incarcerated.

As historian Patricia Turning writes inCrime and Punishment in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age, by the 13th century the right to imprison criminals gave a certain legitimacy to political administrations, from the king to regional counts to city councils.

Up until the late 17th and early 18th century, justice mostly involved performative displays of violence against criminals. Public executions and torture were widespread, with the Bloody Code imposing the death penalty for hundreds of often petty offencesin the United Kingdom.

In the 18th century, there was a shift away from public executions as public perceptions of violence began to shift. The Howard League notes that a more complex penal system developed during the period, including the widespread introduction of houses of correction. The first of these in the UK was Bridewell Prison - a complex in London that was originally built as Bridewell Palace, a residence for Henry VIII.

What precisely prisons were for during this time was divided between two philosophical outlooks. In From Newgate to Dannemora: The Rise of the Penitentiary in New York, David Lewis notes that Enlightenment ideas of utilitarianism and rationalism clashed, leading to discussion of whether prisons should be a deterrent or a site of moral reform (an early description of rehabilitation).

This divide was embodied by two prison reformers of the time: John Howard after who the Howard League is named and Jeremy Bentham. Bentham, a utilitarian, believed that the prisoner should suffer a severe regime, while Howard advocated for the rehabilitation of prisoners so that they could be reintroduced into society.

Bentham would go on to design the panopticon (pictured below), in which prisoners were under observation at all times.Over 200 years later, Foucault would use Benthams panopticon design as a metaphor for the modern disciplinary society, in which acts of violence had been replaced with efforts to reshape the behaviour of individuals.

The first state prison in England was the Millbank Prison, established in 1816 on the site of the current Tate Gallery in London, with a capacity for just under 1,000 inmates. In 1842, Pentonville Prison in London opened, kickstarting the trend for ever-increasing incarceration rates and the use of prison as the primary form of crime punishment.

In 1786 the state of Pennsylvania in the US passed a law which forced all convicts who had not been sentenced to death to be placed in penal servitude to do public works projects such as building roads, forts and mines. This inspired the rise of so-called chain gangs.

The notion of moral reformation took on a religious bent in Pennsylvania around this time. According to the 2004 bookVoices from Prisonon the life histories of black male prisoners in the US, 1790 saw the Walnut Street Jail in Pennsylvania begin locking its prisoners in solitary cells to reflect on their sins, accompanied by nothing but religious literature.

By the 1800s, prisons as a means of rehabilitation were becoming more mainstream, though the methods for reforming those behind bars were still harsh. Mary Bosworth writes in The U.S. Federal Prison Systemthat the Auburn system developed in New York confined prisoners in separate cells and prohibited them from speaking.

First introduced at Auburn State Prison, the system was modelled on the strictness of a school classroom, where pupils would be shaped and moulded by their teachers. The method became famous and is mentioned by French diplomat Alexis de Tocqueville in his book Democracy in America, based on a visit to the US.

In the early 1900s, major reforms began in the UKs prison system, spearheaded by the Liberal Home Secretary Winston Churchill, who had been imprisoned himself during the Boer War. He said: I certainly hated my captivity more then I have ever hated any other period in my whole life... Looking back on those days Ive always felt the keenest pity for prisoners and captives.

His biographer, Paul Addison, would later add that more than any other Home Secretary of the 20th century, Churchill was the prisoners friend.

Churchills reforms - unpopular though they were at the time - aimed to make prison more bearable and more likely to rehabilitate prisoners.The policy left Britain with one of the most liberal prison systems in the Western world, but by the mid-20th century this had been far outstripped by the Scandinavian penal system.

Sweden was the first country to wholeheartedly embrace the idea of rehabilitation not incarceration.In 1965 it introduced a criminal code that emphasised punishments that reduced prison time. The hugely progressive move included a focus on conditional sentences, probation for first-time offenders and the more extensive use of fines.

This influenced a shift in imprisonment across Europe, with France and the Netherlands following Swedens example and experiencing a rapid fall in prison numbers as a result.

In 2014, Sweden was able to close four of its56 prisons, as only 4,500 people out of a total population of 9.5 million were being held in jail. At the time,Swedish politician Nils Oberg told The Guardian that prison is not for punishment in Sweden. We get people into better shape.

The same year, Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said that the UKs then Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, was introducing measures that amounted to a ramped-up political emphasis on punishment rather than real rehabilitation.

The damming response suggested that despite Britain leading the world in liberalising prisons in the early 1900s, by the turn of the 21st century it had fallen behind.The number of deaths in the ten worst prisons in England and Wales are increasing year on year, withunderstaffing, drug use, crumbling infrastructure and overcrowding all playing a role.

More than 11 million people are currently held in prison around the world - ranging from incarceration in the liberal penal system of Scandinavia, to the hidden detention sites of China and North Korea from which many never return.

The concept of imprisoning people ushered in a type of justice that focused less on the violent retribution endorsed in Britain's Bloody Code and later allowed for rehabilitation to become a vital part of modern criminal justice systems.

Just as Oscar Wildes attitude to criminals tempered, so too has societys, with polling in the US which houses 22% of the worlds prison population showing that 40% of people believe rehabilitation is the most important function of a prison system.

In the same poll, 53% supported the abolition of solitary confinement, a stark comparison to the uncompromising rules of the Auburn system or the authoritarianism of Jeremy Benthams panopticon.

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Title: Judaism Reclaimed: Philosophy and Theology in the Torah – The Jewish Press –

Posted: January 9, 2020 at 3:49 am

Photo Credit: Mosaica Press

Title: Judaism Reclaimed: Philosophy and Theology in the TorahAuthor: Rabbi Shmuel PhillipsPublisher: Mosaica Press

Almost immediately upon publication, Rambams Moreh Nevuchim yielded contradictory interpretations. Some readers, including the books Hebrew translator R. Shmuel Ibn Tibbon, see in Moreh Nevuchim a subversive text, a book of radical philosophy hidden underneath a Torah mask. Others, including the translators son R. Moshe Ibn Tibbon, take Rambam at his word that he is evaluating philosophy from a Torah perspective and rejecting what runs contrary to revelation.

This Ibn Tibbon dispute represents broader trends toward Moreh Nevuchim and philosophy in general. To some degree, as a result of this long interpretative debate, many faithful Jews stayed away from the subjects altogether. To them, the spiritual danger was too great to allow any engagement with philosophy or any other course of knowledge that could challenge religion.

These three approaches still characterize the Jewish community. Some Jews reject Torah traditions when they see evidence they believe contradicts those traditions. Others stay away from all such debates to avoid religious challenges. And still others take the middle path of engagement within the parameters of faith, accepting truth from wherever it comes but recognizing that Torah is the ultimate truth. This last approach was adopted by some (certainly not all) great Torah scholars throughout history. The great Lithuanian-style Torah scholars read widely, even from heretics and Maskilim, accepting insights while rejecting heresies, filtering everything through the lens of Torah faith.

To a large degree, that changed when the Eastern European Haskalah turned vicious in the second half of the 19th century. This second wave of Maskilim utilized mockery and insult to undermine tradition and secularize Jews. In response to these aggressions, the traditional community rightly went to war in defense of Jewish continuity. The intellectual openness of Lithuania was forced to close on a broad scale. However, individuals always remained who represented the old, broad-minded Lithuanian tradition.

Well over a century has passed since the Haskalah battles, and the world has changed many times over. Today, mysticism abounds, whether from the traditions of Chasidism, the Arizal, the Maharal, or some new combination. And yet, these approaches do not satisfy everyone. I believe that the old Lithuanian openness needs a resurgence, if not for everyone then at least for some. At the very least, we need to revive the internal Jewish rationalism, the tradition of Moreh Nevuchim and those who followed in its path, the spirit of the Lithuanian-style search for truth within faith.

In his recent book, Judaism Reclaimed, Rabbi Shmuel Phillips exemplifies this thoughtful, rationalist approach one which examines fundamental issues of belief while remaining not just faithful to but confident in our faith. Despite being a relatively young kollel student in Jerusalem with a law degree from the University of London, Rabbi Phillips writes like a seasoned theologian. He directly confronts the biblical critics who deny the Torahs unique divine origin, the historians who claim Medieval Torah scholars denied certain fundamental beliefs, the professors who claim that the Oral Torah contradicts the Bible, and virtually every other contemporary challenge to traditional Jewish beliefs. Building primarily on Rambam and Rav Hirsch, Rabbi Phillips explains in a sophisticated but accessible way the basis for belief and the mistakes of the critics.

Among his many topics are gender roles, the divine origin of the Oral Torah and the limits to its flexibility, the authenticity of Sefer Devarim, the challenge of ancient Near Eastern texts that resemble the Torah in certain ways, and the differing realms of Torah and science. This book fearlessly, eloquently, and thoughtfully addresses nearly all the major intellectual challenges people today face when thinking about Torah Judaism. And it does so without compromising on belief and without intimidating the reader. Rather, Rabbi Phillips invokes the great intellectual heritage with which we have been endowed by our ancestors. He resurrects a rational Jewish tradition that is rich in faith and uses reason to understand Judaisms faith claims.

Rabbi Phillips freely quotes the latest challenges to tradition, summarizing each view before responding to it. In this way, he lets readers know that he comes from an informed perspective, unafraid of professors, historians, and liberal rabbis who think they can disprove traditional Judaism. Rabbi Phillips argues very straightforwardly and without bombast. He does not talk around challenges, trying to distract readers from the problem. Rather, he calmly and directly explains the traditional Jewish view and how it can reasonably fit the available data, adding the necessary context to appreciate the traditional approach.

The book follows the weekly Torah reading. As such, not every passage contains a faith challenge. On such occasions, Rabbi Phillips pivots to building a worldview by examining philosophical questions that emerge from the text. What is providence, hashgachah pratis? What do G-ds different names mean? Do dark mystical powers exist?

An underlying theme throughout the book is G-ds uniqueness, unlike anything we see in this world and ultimately beyond our comprehension. Paradoxically, this theme, which likewise underlies Rambams Moreh Nevuchim, allows us to answer many theological questions. There are limits to human knowledge that must affect not only how we relate to G-d but also how we view historical finds, ancient texts, and scientific data. As much as we want to be certain about the ancient world, all we have are small pieces of a very large and complex puzzle.

Reclaiming Judaism ably responds to attacks on Orthodox Judaism in an open way, showing that traditional Judaism is consistent with our knowledge of the ancient and contemporary world. Rabbi Phillips also presents a reasonable worldview, emerging from traditional texts and built on the works of great Torah scholars of the past. The book represents the best of the old way: open to all knowledge, deep in its understanding of Torah, and firm in its commitment to faith. Those looking for a faithful, thoughtful, and non-mystical approach to Judaism will find in this book a satisfying guide to how to think about life, G-d, and our place in this world.

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Explained: Savitribai Phules impact on womens education in India – The Indian Express

Posted: at 3:49 am

Published: January 3, 2020 8:14:10 pm

Savitribai Phule, the social reformer who is considered to be one of Indias first modern feminists, was born on January 3, 1831. Among her accomplishments, she is especially remembered for being Indias first female teacher who worked for the upliftment of women and untouchables in the field of education and literacy.

Phule was born in Naigaon, Maharashtra in 1831 and married activist and social-reformer Jyotirao Phule when she was nine years old. After marriage, with her husbands support, Phule learned to read and write and both of them eventually went on to found Indias first school for girls called Bhide Wada in Pune in 1948. Before this, she started a school with Jyotiraos cousin Saganbai in Maharwada in 1847. Since at that time the idea of teaching girls was considered to be a radical one, people would often throw dung and stones at her as she made her way to the school.

Significantly, it was not easy for the Phules to advocate for the education of women and the untouchables since in Maharashtra a nationalist discourse was playing out between 1881-1920 led by Bal Gangadhar Tilak. These nationalists including Tilak opposed the setting up of schools for girls and non-Brahmins citing loss of nationality.

Essentially, both Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule recognised that education was one of the central planks through which women and the depressed classes could become empowered and hope to stand on an equal footing with the rest of the society.

In his essay written for the Savitribai Phule First Memorial Lecture Hari Narke has written, In the social and educational history of India, Mahatma Jotirao Phule and his wife Savitribai Phule stand out as an extraordinary couple. They were engaged in a passionate struggle to build a movement for equality between men and women and for social justice. The Phules also started the Literacy Mission in India between 1854-55. According to Narake, the Phules started the Satyashodhak Samaj (Society for Truth-Seeking), through which they wanted to initiate the practice of Satyashodhak marriage, in which no dowry was taken.

Because of the role Phule played in the field of womens education, she is also considered to be one of the crusaders of gender justice, as one paper published in the International Journal of Innovative Social Science & Humanities Research has said. The paper also credits Phule as being one of the first published women in modern India, who was able to develop a voice and agency of her own, at a time when women were suppressed and lived a sub-human existence.

Even though her poems, which were written in Marathi, she advocated values such as humanism, liberty, equality, brotherhood, rationalism and the importance of education among others. In her poem titled, Go, Get Education she wrote:

Be self-reliant, be industrious

Work, gather wisdom and riches,

All gets lost without knowledge

We become animal without wisdom,

Sit idle no more, go, get education

End misery of the oppressed and forsaken,

Youve got a golden chance to learn

So learn and break the chains of caste.

Throw away the Brahmans scriptures fast.

Her books of poems Kavya Phule and Bavan Kashi Subodh Ratnakar were published in 1934 and 1982.

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Why A U.S.-Iran War Isn’t Going To Happen – The National Interest Online

Posted: at 3:49 am

Will Tehran and Washington let slip the dogs of war following last weeks aerial takedown of Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corpss IRGC) Quds Force? You could be forgiven for thinking so considering the hot takes that greeted the news of the drone strike outside Baghdad. For example, one prominent commentator, the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass, opined that the Middle East region (and possibly the world) will be the battlefield.

Color me skeptical. The apocalypse is not at hand.

Haass is right in the limited sense that irregular military operations now span the globe. Terrorists thirst to strike at far as well as near enemies in hopes of degrading their will to fight. They respect no national boundaries and never have. Frontiers are likewise murky in the cyber realm, to name another battleground with no defined battlefronts. The United States and Iran have waged cyber combat for a decade or more, dating to the Stuxnet worm attack on the Iranian nuclear complex in 2010.

The coming weeks and months may see irregular warfare prosecuted with newfound vigor through such familiar unconventional warmaking methods. Its doubtful Tehran would launch into conventional operations, stepping onto ground it knows America dominates. To launch full-scale military reprisals would justify full-scale U.S. military reprisals that, in all likelihood, would outstrip Irans in firepower and ferocity. The ayatollahs who oversee the Islamic Republic fret about coming up on the losing end of such a clash. As well they might, considering hard experience.

So the outlook is for more of the same. Thats a far cry from the more fevered prophecies of World War III aired since Soleimani went to his reward. To fathom Tehrans dilemma, lets ask a fellow who knew a thing or two about Persian ambitions. (The pre-Islamic Persian Empire, which bestrode the Middle East and menaced Europe, remains the lodestone of geopolitical successeven for Islamic Iran.)

The Athenian historian Thucydides chronicled the Peloponnesian War, a fifth-century-B.C. maelstrom that engulfed the Greek world. Persia was a major player in that contest. In fact, it helped decide the endgame when the Great King supplied Athens antagonist, Sparta, with the resources to build itself into a naval power capable of defeating the vaunted Athenian navy at sea. But Thucydides also meditates on human nature at many junctures in his history, deriving observations of universal scope. At one stage, for instance, he has Athenian ambassadors posit that three of the prime movers impelling human actions are fear, honor, and interest. The emissaries appear to speak for the father of history.

Fear, honor, interest. There are few better places to start puzzling out why individuals and societies do what they do and glimpse what we ought to do. How does Thucydides hypothesis apply to post-Soleimani antagonism between the United States and Iran? Well, the slaying of the Quds Force chieftain puts the ball squarely in the Islamic Republics court. The mullahs must reply to the strike in some fashion. To remain idle would be to make themselves look weak and ineffectual in the eyes of the region and of ordinary Iranians.

In fecklessness lies danger. Doubly so now, after protests convulsed parts of Iran last November. The ensuing crackdown cost hundreds of Iranians their livesand revealed how deeply resentments against the religious regime run. No autocrat relishes weakness, least of all an autocrat whose rule has come under duress from within. A show of power and steadfastness is necessary to cow domestic opponents.

But fear is an omnidirectional, multiple-domain thing for Iranian potentates. External threats abound. Iranians are keenly attuned to geographic encirclement, for instance. They view their country as the Middle Easts rightful heavyweight. Yet U.S. forces or their allies surround and constrain the Islamic Republic from all points of the compass with the partial exception of the northeastern quadrant, which encompasses the stans of Central Asia, and beyond them Russia.

Look at your map. The U.S. Navy commands the westerly maritime flank, backed up by the U.S. Air Force. Americas Gulf Arab allies ring the western shores of the Persian Gulf. U.S. forces remain in Iraq to the northwest, where Suleimani fell, and in Afghanistan to the east. Even Pakistan, to the southeast, is an American treaty ally, albeit an uneasy one. These are forbidding surroundings. Tendrils of U.S. influence curl all around the Islamic Republics borders. Breaking out seems like a natural impulse for Iranian diplomacy and military strategy.

And yet. However fervent about its geopolitical ambitions, the Iranian leadership will be loath to undertake measures beyond the intermittent bombings, support to militants elsewhere in the region, and ritual denunciations of the Great Satan that have been mainstays of Iranian foreign policy for forty years now. Iranian leaders comprehend the forces arrayed against them. A serious effort at a breakout will remain premature unless and until they consummate their bid for atomic weaponry. The ability to threaten nuclear devastation may embolden them to trybut that remains for the future.

Next, honor. Irregular warfare is indecisive in itself, but it can provide splashy returns on a modest investment of resources and effort. Having staked their political legitimacy on sticking it to the Great Satan and his Middle Eastern toadies, the ayatollahs must deliver regular incremental results. Direct attacks on U.S. forces make good clickbait; so do pictures showing IRGC light surface combatants tailing U.S. Navy task forces; so do attacks on vital economic infrastructure in U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia. And headlines convey the image of a virile power on the move.

The honor motive, then, merges with fear. Iranians fear being denied the honor they consider their due as the natural hegemon of the Gulf region and the Islamic world.

And lastly, interest. Mischief-making must suffice for Iran until it can amass the material wherewithal to make itself a hegemon. Its fascinating that Thucydides lists material gain last among forces that animate human beings. After all, foreign-policy specialists list it first. Interest is quantifiable, and it seems to feed straight into calculations of cost, benefit, and risk. It makes statecraft seem rational!

Theres no way to know for sure after two millennia, but it seems likely the sage old Greek meant to deflate such excesses of rationalism. Namely, he regarded human nature as being about more than things we can count, like economic output or a large field army. For Thucydides cost/benefit arithmetic takes a back seat to not-strictly-rational passionssome of them dark, such as rage and spite, and others brightthat drive us all.

And indeed, for Iranians material interest constitutes the way to rejuvenate national honor while holding fear at bay. Breaking the economic blockade manifest in, say, the Trump administrations maximum pressure strategy would permit Tehran to revitalize the countrys moribund oil and gas sector. Renewed export trade would furnish wealth. Some could go into accoutrements of great power such as a high-tech navy and air force.

In turn Iranian leaders could back a more ambitious diplomacy with steel. They would enjoy the option of departing from their purely irregular, troublemaking ways and competing through more conventional methods. Or, more likely, they would harness irregular means as an adjunct to traditional strategic competition. Material gain, in short, not just satisfies economic needs and wants but amplifies martial might. In so doing it satisfies non-material cravings for renown and geopolitical say-so.

And the American side? Repeat this process. Refract U.S. policy and strategy through Thucydides prism of fear, honor, and interest, consider how Iranian and American motives may intersect and interact, and see what light that appraisal shines into the future. My take: perhaps World War III will come one daybut today is not that day.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and the author of A Brief Guide to Maritime Strategy, out last month. The views voiced here are his alone.

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Faith Is the Most Fundamental of the Mathematical Tools – Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence

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It was August 1900 in Paris. David Hilbert (18621943), one of the best-known mathematicians of his time (right), posed a list of twenty-three open problems.

The impact was huge; much of the mathematical research of the dawning century was consumed by Hilberts problems. Nobel Prize winners, Fields medalists, and winners of other prestigious awards were among those who worked to solve them. Some of them (the Riemann hypothesis, for instance) remain unsolved. Large sums of money are offered for a successful solution.

Nineteen hundred was felt to be a significant year. The Dark Ages were past; the Enlightenment had come. The Scientific Revolution had brought progress. God was dead, now the Superman (Friedrich Nietzsches bermensch) lived. The universe, with its infinite history, did not require a God. Darwin had proposed a mechanism through which all biological species have merely emerged.

The twentieth century was shaping up to be promising, the beginning of a new age in which man would take his destined position, far from the noise of all those meaningless myths. Reason should be able to explain all things. Each event should have a natural explanation for its occurrence. Every proposition should be subject to a logical explanation to verify its truth value. If every new year brought the happiness and hope of a new beginning, how much more must a new century bring! And how much more must the twentieth century, the first truly Modern century, promise! No wonder prominent mathematicians tackled the problems with such fervor.

In a way, their optimism was understandable, if not justified by events. Not even Hilbert could escape the enthusiasm of the times. Two of his twenty-three problems, the second and the sixth, reflected the modern aspiration to subject everything to human reason. The second problem aimed to prove that the axioms of arithmetic were consistent that is, the axioms of the natural numbers do not lead to any contradictions. The sixth problem aimed to axiomatize physics, particularly probability and mechanics.

The sixth problem conveys Hilberts modern heart: physics should be subjected to cold reason; even chance must submit to reason! Mathematics, the most rigorous way of knowing, should extend itself beyond abstraction to dominate chance and physical reality.

He put the matter this way when he posed the second problem:

When we are engaged in investigating the foundations of a science, we must set up a system of axioms which contains an exact and complete description of the relations subsisting between the elementary ideas of that science. The axioms so set up are at the same time the definitions of those elementary ideas; and no statement within the realm of the science whose foundation we are testing is held to be correct unless it can be derived from those axioms by means of a finite number of logical steps

But above all I wish to designate the following as the most important among the numerous questions which can be asked with regard to the axioms: To prove that they are not contradictory, that is, that a finite number of logical steps based upon them can never lead to contradictory results.

Hilbert was a modern man, no doubt about it. He wanted all of scientific knowledge to be obtained from basic axioms by means of a finite number of logical steps. His goal was an extension of his particular dream for mathematics, the eponymous Hilberts programto establish a consistent and complete finite number of axioms as a foundation of all mathematical theories. The goal was of cardinal importance to him. On his gravestone at Gttingen, you will find inscribed the words:

We must know. We will know. (Wir mssen wissen Wir werden wissen)

That epitaph on the gravestone (image by Kassandro, CC-BY-SA-3.0) was his response to the Latin maxim ignoramus et ignorabimus (we do not know, we shall not know), a dictum of the German physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond from a speech given at the Prussian Academy of Sciences in which du Bois-Reymond argued that there were questions that neither science nor philosophy could aspire to answer.

Seen from the perspective of the age (what C. S. Lewis has called the climate of opinion), Hilberts aspiration was understandable. The two World Wars had not happened yet; science had not been used to create biological weapons; no one knew that the twentieth century would become the bloodiest in history; progress and industrialization had not caused widely noticed environmental issues; the Left had not founded its Gulag and the Right had not built its Auschwitz.

These events (and some others) overthrew modern aspirations in the way the rolling stone in the vision of Daniel broke the statue with feet of clay into pieces. (Dan 2:34) And in all of these events, the problem was easily singled out the human being. It is impossible to make a superman out of a man. Enlightened modernity, blinded by pride, failed to see what all religions, even the oldest and the false ones, have seen so clearlythat man is wicked and the intention of his thoughts is only evil continuously, that from the sole of his foot even to the head there is nothing sound in him, that mans heart is deceitful more than any other thing. (See Jer. 17:9) In brief, the problem of man is nothing other than himself.

Thus, the practical problem of modernity turned out to be man himselfand it was devastating. But the conceptual problem was still to come and it was equally devastating to modern aspirations.

On Monday, September 8, 1930, Hilbert opened the annual meeting of the Society of German Scientists and Physicians in Knigsberg with a famous discourse called Logic and the knowledge of nature. He ended with these words:

For the mathematician there is no Ignorabimus, and, in my opinion, not at all for natural science either

The true reason why [no-one] has succeeded in finding an unsolvable problem is, in my opinion, that there is no unsolvable problem. In contrast to the foolish Ignorabimus, our credo avers: We must know, We shall know.

In one of those ironies of history, during the three days prior to the conference opened by Hilberts speech, a joint conference called Epistemology of the Exact Sciences also took place in Knigsberg. On Saturday, September 6, in a twenty-minute talk, Kurt Gdel (19061978) presented his incompleteness theorems. On Sunday 7, at the roundtable closing the event, Gdel announced that it was possible to give examples of mathematical propositions that could not be proven in a formal mathematical axiomatic system even though they were true.

The result was shattering. Gdel showed the limitations of any formal axiomatic system in modeling basic arithmetic. He showed that no axiomatic system could be complete and consistent at the same time.

What does it mean for an axiomatic system to be complete? It means that, using the axioms given, it is possible to prove all of the propositions concerning the system. What does it mean for the axiomatic system to be consistent? It means that its propositions do not contradict themselves. In other words, the system is complete if (using the axioms) all proposition in the system can be proven either true or false. The system is consistent if (using the axioms) no proposition in the system can be proved simultaneously true and false.

In simple terms, Gdels first incompleteness theorem says that no consistent formal axiomatic system is complete. That is, if the system does not have propositions that are true and false simultaneously, there are other propositions that cannot be proven either true or false. Moreover, such propositions are known to be true but they cannot be proven using the system axioms. There are true propositions of the system that cannot be proven as such, using the axioms of the system.

Gdels second incompleteness theorem is more stringent. It says that no consistent axiomatic system can prove its own consistency. In the end, his theorem entails that we cannot know whether a system is consistent or not; we can only assume that it is.

Lets recall a portion of Hilberts statement of his second problem: [N]o statement within the realm of the science whose foundation we are testing is held to be correct unless it can be derived from those axioms by means of a finite number of logical steps.

Hilbert knew the difference between science and mathematics, of course. So this introduction to his second problem actually fits well to his sixth problemto axiomatize science. In this regard, his sixth problem is more ambitious than the second one because it purports to translate to sciencebeyond mathematicswhat mathematics should be doing at least in Hilberts mind. But inasmuch as Hilbert was broadening his concepts to take in science as well as mathematics, it was of particular importance that his statement be true of mathematics. The word science should be replaceable by the word mathematics: [N]o statement within the realm of the mathematics whose foundation we are testing is held to be correct unless it can be derived from those axioms by means of a finite number of logical steps.

But Gdels first incompleteness theorem voids such a statement. There are indeed true mathematical propositions that cannot be derived from a finite number of axioms through a finite number of logical steps. Mathematics, our best way of knowing, the one we consider the most certain, is, in the most optimistic case, incomplete!

But even this is not the end of the matter. Returning to Hilberts presentation of his second problem, note what he says in his second paragraph:

Above all I wish to designate the following as the most important among the numerous questions which can be asked with regard to the axioms: To prove that they are not contradictory, that is, that a finite number of logical steps based upon them can never lead to contradictory results.

Well, Gdels second incompleteness theorem destroys this statement too. Because it proves the opposite: no consistent formal axiomatic system can prove its own consistency. If Hilberts program is the Titanic, Gdels incompleteness theorems are the iceberg that sunk it.

Moreover, Gdels first incompleteness theorem throws Comtes positivism into the trash and it does the same with todays scientism. There are indeed true statements that are beyond mathematics and science.

Gdels second incompleteness theorem is a source of hopelessness to a rationalist viewpoint. If no consistent formal system can prove its own consistency, the consequences are devastating for whomever has placed his trust in human reason.

Why? Because provided the system is consistent, we cannot know it is; and if it is not, who cares? The highest we can reach is to assume (which is much weaker than to know) that the system is consistent and to work under such assumption. But we cannot prove it; that is impossible!

In the end, the most formal exercise in knowledge is an act of faith. The mathematician is forced to believe, absent all mathematical support, that what he is doing has any meaning whatsoever.

The logician is forced to believe, absent all logical support, that what he is doing has any meaning whatsoever.

Some critics might point out that there are ways to prove the consistency of a system, provided we subsume it into a more comprehensive one. That is true. In such a case, the consistency of the inner system would be proved from the standpoint of the outer system. But a new application of Gdels second incompleteness theorem tells us that this bigger system cannot prove its own consistency. That is, to prove the consistency of the first system requires a new step of faith in the bigger one. Moreover, because the consistency of the first system depends on the consistency of the second onewhich cannot be proved there is more at stake if we accept the consistency of the second one. And suppose there is a third system which comprehends the second one and proving that it is consistent. Faith is all the more necessary if we are to believe that the third system is also consistent. In such a system, faith does not disappear. It only compounds, making itself bigger and more relevant in order to sustain all that it is supporting.

In the end, we do not know whether the edifice we are building will be consistent; we do not have the least idea. We just hope it will be, and we must believe it will be in order to continue doing mathematics. Faith is the most fundamental of the mathematical tools.

The question is not whether we have faith, the question is what is the object of our faith. It is the rationality of mathematics what is at stake here, its meaning. But we cannot appeal to mathematics to prove its meaning. Thus, Platonic reality, given its existence, does depend on a bigger and more comprehensive reality, one beyond what is reasonable, one that is the Reason itself.

The ambition to know all things is nothing more than a statement on a gravestone.

Even though for years I have enjoyed applying analytical philosophy to Christian apologetics, these and other considerations have led me to question that approach. At this point, I dont see that it creates a clear advantage. Instead, I see it as a concession to the unbeliever in order to lead him to question his own faith and place it instead in Christ.

It is sad to see that many a Christian apologist has placed his faith in logic, not in the Logos. At the end of the day, logic does not prove anything because it is grounded in unprovable propositions. It is impossible to use Aristotelian logic to prove Aristotelian logic. It begs the question; to accept it requires faith. Axioms are undemonstrable by definition and, as theory develops, they become less and less intuitive. To accept them requires faith. Similarly, the consistency of any formal axiomatic system cannot be proven, to accept it requires faith. All of our knowledge is sustained by faith. All of it.

Sustaining faith in reason, besides making for a cheap faith, constitutes an unacceptable abdication to rationalism because reason and logic cannot sustain anything. They cannot even support themselves. Moreover, in order for faith and reason to have a foundation, not merely from an epistemological viewpoint but also from an ontological one, there must be something that sustains it a First Sustainer undergirding them all.

There is no logic without a Logos. Faiths only task is to accept that such a Logos does exist. The opposite is despair, meaninglessness. With this in mind, John 1:1-4 14, and Colossians 1:15-17 are illuminated by a wonderful light.

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Faith Is the Most Fundamental of the Mathematical Tools - Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence

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Shriram Lagoo had courage to stick with the unconventional – The Hindu

Posted: December 18, 2019 at 9:25 pm

Dr. Shriram Lagoo, who passed away on Tuesday aged 92, ruptured the complacency of the Marathi stage with his intelligence, logic and virtuosity. His contemporaries, many of them luminaries, describe him a complete actor who plumbed the depths of his roles to depict characters with subtlety.

His passion towards theatre coupled with his discipline, hard work and continual innovation of his craft throughout his nearly six-decade career invites comparison with the Holy Trinity of the English stage: John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier, whilst his experimental roles echo exponents of the American method school of acting like Montgomery Clift and Marlon Brando.

I met him first in the early 1960s when I was 19, and he was playing an extremely demanding role in a play by Vasant Kanetkar I was immediately struck by his marvellous voice modulation and the brilliance of his application of logic to his craft, filmmaker Dr. Jabbar Patel told The Hindu. He observed how Dr. Lagoo had the method actors attitude towards humanity with the quest for truth forming the analytical base of the characters he essayed.

He was a keen observer of theatre in the West and diligently studied the greats of the British stage, as well as the American method actors. But his favourite was Paul Muni, the great 1930s actor of such films as The Life of Emile Zola and The Good Earth, said Dr. Patel.

Dr. Lagoos control over his craft, coupled with his intelligence, can only be rivalled by the legendary theatre pioneer Sombhu Mitra, he said. His voice had a great ring of melancholy and sadness. It was showcased to devastating effect in iconic roles consisting of long soliloquies like Udhwasta Dharmashala, where he essayed an embattled Marxist and in Kanetkars Himalayachi Saavli, where he made for a peerless Maharashi Karve, the renowned social reformer, says Dr. Patel. He said he was in awe of the late thespians 25-minute soliloquy as Socrates in Surya Pahilela Manus a role he tackled when he was well over 70 years of age.

Fondly recalling their days at Punes Caf Good Luck in the Deccan area, Dr. Patel spoke of Dr. Lagoos warmth. We used to meet there regularly, and he used to regale me with his stories and ideas over tea and bun maska we dubbed the place Good Luck University, said Dr. Patel, who directed Dr. Lagoo in Marathi films such as Samna (1974) and Sinhasan (1979). Both films featured the titans of Marathi screen and theatre: Dr. Lagoo and Nilu Phule. When Saamna, which dealt with grassroots corruption, was entered in the 25th Berlin International Film Festival, I recall the thunderous applause that greeted the performances of these two legends after the curtains came down, Dr. Patel said.

According to actor-director Amol Palekar, Dr. Lagoo was the Last of the Romans. He was a giant in retrospect, one realises what a stupendous actor, director and producer he was. On the one hand, he was a superstar of the commercial stage with his celebrated performances in plays like Natsamraat which ran to 400-500 performances. On the other, through his Rupaved Pratishthan, Dr. Lagoo produced only experimental plays. It took tremendous courage to achieve that, says Mr. Palekar.Speaking of Dr. Lagoos vision and commitment to theatre, Mr. Palekar said he admired the late actor most for his rationalism. He was an avowed atheist and despite enduring unending criticism, he had the guts to declare, Let God be retired, on a public platform He suffered censure, but he stood firmly by his principles and views, he said.

A sampling of three famous and controversial plays: Gidhaade, Garbo and Udhwasta Dharmashala, demonstrate Dr. Lagoos versatility and the complexity he brought to his craft, said Mr. Palekar.

In Vijay Tendulkars Gidhaade (Vultures), Dr. Lagoo, along with the plays producer Pandit Satyadev Dubey, fought a long and bitter battle with the censors. In the end, the two fought it with such conviction and courage that they succeeded in changing the rules of the game and virtually overhauled the Censor Boards diktats, said Mr. Palekar.

As an actor, Dr. Lagoo never flinched from controversial and taboo topics as in Garbo, which dealt with female sexuality, he said. His roles in the motion pictures were no less stellar as a young person, I was privileged to work with him closely and learn so much from him. The affection that he showered on me is to be cherished, said Mr. Palekar.

On the actors humility, Mr. Palekar recalled how he directed Dr. Lagoo in the Marathi version of Edmond Rostands classic 19th century play Cyrano de Bergerac in the mid-1970s in Mumbai. While directing him, I pointed out a few shortcomings in his gait and walk he listened to me patiently and with such humility and then embraced me and said: Why didnt I meet you before It is incredible that such a great actor as he had the capacity to accept objective criticism, says Mr. Palekar, who performed with Dr. Lagoo in films as Ankahee and Gharonda.

Dr. Lagoos connect with social activism was seen in his close association with the late rationalist Dr. Narendra Dabholkar and the pivotal role he played in the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti (MANS). In 2000, well before the advent of gender activists, several activists, socially committed theatre and film artistes and grassroots leaders led by Dr. Dabholkar, Dr. Lagoo and farmers leader N.D. Patil had marched from Pandharpur to Shani Shingnapur to combat the ban on women entering temples.

While he was undoubtedly one of the greatest of all actors to grace theatre, he was an even greater individual and humanist. His social activities helped entrench MANS throughout Maharashtra. What is admirable is that a man with such a popular following fearlessly expressed and stood by unpopular beliefs throughout his life. He never compromised on them, says Dr. Hamid Dabholkar, son of the late Dr. Dabholkar.

Dr. Lagoos last rites will be performed on December 20. The thespian will be given a State funeral.

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Alliance Party defeats DUP in first declared result in Northern Ireland – Belfast Telegraph

Posted: at 9:24 pm

Alliance Party defeats DUP in first declared result in Northern Ireland

The staunchly pro-Remain Alliance Party has taken Northern Irelands first Westminster seat in a major setback for the DUP.

The staunchly pro-Remain Alliance Party has taken Northern Irelands first Westminster seat in a major setback for the DUP.

Deputy leader Stephen Farry cruised to victory with a majority of almost 3,000 votes in the affluent Belfast commuter constituency of North Down.

The seat had been a key target for the DUP after outgoing independent unionist MP Lady Sylvia Hermon decided not to run again.

Mr Farrys victory provides further evidence of the so-called Alliance surge, coming as it does after a series of positive elections for the middle-ground cross-community party.

The result landed another blow to the DUP on what is shaping up to be a very disappointing election for the unionist party.

The predicted Conservative majority at Westminster will see the party lose its influential position as Westminster kingmaker while North Down is unlikely to be its only electoral setback in Northern Ireland.

The DUP also looks destined to lose its seat in South Belfast to the SDLP and it appears party deputy leader Nigel Dodds is in grave danger of losing his North Belfast seat to Sinn Feins John Finucane.

Sinn Fein sources are confident Mr Finucane has triumphed, a result that would represent a huge psychological defeat for unionism in the regions most hotly contested battleground seat.

Meanwhile in Foyle, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood looked well positioned to win the seat from Sinn Fein.

Mr Farry hailed his resounding vote as a blow against Brexit and pledged to work in Westminster to frustrate the EU exit.

We believe that there is no such thing as a good or sensible BrexitStephen Farry

This is a victory for the values that this constituency has been known for for many years, those of moderation, rationalism and inclusion, he said.

He added: They have come together behind a single cause, of sending out a very powerful message that the North Down area wants to Remain.

We believe that there is no such thing as a good or sensible Brexit.

Indeed, all forms of Brexit are damaging to the UK and to us in Northern Ireland and in particular the Boris Johnson deal.

The DUP is vehemently opposed to Mr Johnsons Brexit deal, claiming it will create economic borders down the Irish Sea and weakened Northern Irelands place within the union.

Long-standing DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who is on course to retain his East Antrim seat, insisted his party could still secure changes to the agreement despite the predicted Tory majority.

Obviously wed have preferred to be in a situation we were in the last parliament where we did have the influence and where it was fairly marginal, however for the country it probably wasnt a great thing because no decisions could be made, he said.

I still wouldnt be totally dismayed insofar as a big majority could actually mean that Boris Johnson can go in and be fairly bullish with the EU when it comes to negotiations, and if he does do that then many of the problems the current deal is going to cause Northern Ireland could disappear.

The election comes ahead of the latest bid to resurrect the crisis-hit institutions at Stormont.

Ahead of an anticipated round of negotiations on Monday, Sinn Fein vice president Michelle ONeill said: Whatever the results, Sinn Fein will be in the talks on Monday morning to work to secure a genuine power-sharing executive which is credible and sustainable to deliver good government and properly resourced public services to all.

Sinn Fein will continue to represent people where it matters and stand up against Brexit.

Turning to West Tyrone, Sinn FeinsOrfhlaith Begley retained her seat as was expected.

Describing it as an election of a generation, Ms Begley said that the people of the border constituency have made their views on Brexit heard.

The 27-year-old is the first woman to hold the seat, which has been in the hands of Sinn Fein since 2001.

Speaking after her win, she said: People have been very energised in terms of this campaign and people came out in their thousands to reject Brexit but also to reject Tory austerity.

They sent a very clear message that they see their future in a new Ireland for all.

Sinn Fein has made its voice count where it matters, in terms of Brussels, we have been there, in Dublin and we also travel to London on a regular basis.



Alliance Party defeats DUP in first declared result in Northern Ireland - Belfast Telegraph

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What Christians Miss When They Dismiss Imaginatio… –

Posted: at 9:24 pm

Imagine there is a heavenits easy if you try.

That may not be the way John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote the song, but in a way we cant blame them; Lennon and Ono were merely people constrained by the view of a modern age.

Today we tell our children, just use your imagination, in a way that betrays our dismissive attitude toward imagination. And why not? Imagination is not deep thinking, it is fantasya faerie romance that serious people, especially Christians, need not spend much time on.

Countercultural icons like Lennon and Ono embraced the concept of imagination because it gave them the freedom to paint a picture of something that cannot exist in our world. In doing so, imagination of this kind reached the end of the line.

There is more to imagination than fantasy. In fact, the church and its theology need imagination more than ever in the history of our world. Yet, as theologian Kevin Vanhoozer notes, we suffer today from imaginative malnutrition.

What is imagination? And why does the church and its theology starve for it today?

Imagination is not something that comes readily to mind when we open our Bibles. Before prescribing a hearty diet of imagination, some may say, The Bible is about real thingsfaith, love, sacrificenot idle human pursuits such as imagination. Others may wonder, Doesnt the Bible speak negatively of imagination in a few places?

Does the Bible talk about imagination? Not in any modern English version. But thats only half the story.

In all English versions, the word imagination only shows up notably in the King James Version (Genesis 6:5; Psalm 2:1; Romans 1:21), as well as in Bibles from that time period such as the Bishops Bible (1568). The word does not occur in Wycliffes Bible, the earliest English translation of the Bible from the late 14th century. And it doesnt occur in modern English translations after the King James Version, created in the early 17th century.

Before we look down on the King James Version, Luthers translation of the Bible into German in the mid-16th century also contains a word close in sense to our word imagination. All of these versions occur in a close time period. Confusion or conspiracy?

The meaning of imagination was changing. The Luther Bible, the Bishops Bible, and the King James Version came about in an age where the winds of philosophical change had blown. Swept away were the ideas held by Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus that undoubtedly influenced the thoughts of John Wycliffe; these new English versions were birthed in the age that produced the likes of Francis Bacon and Ren Descartes. Their perception of how people interacted with the world was brand new.

Francis Bacon, writing around the time as the King James Version, is indicative of this shift. Bacon believed that our imagination is tied to and limited by the physical senseswhat we see, touch, and taste. But imagination is a pleasure of the mind in Bacons words; it occurs when the mind links senses and experiences in a way not in the order of the natural world. And what does Bacon believe links our senses and experiences correctly ordered? Reason.

In Pauls powerful opening to his letter to the church in Rome, he explains how the invisible attributes of God are visible in the natural world, if people cared to look. Instead, people became vain in their imaginations as the KJV renders it. In early 17th century lingo: People chose to perceive the world through the falsity of imagination instead of the truth of reason.

John Lennon, welcome to the 17th century.

From there, Descartes created further separation between imagination and reason. In the 18th century, David Hume argued that unreasoned and unprovable ideas are fictions of the imagination. And by the 19th century, William James directly equates imagination with fantasy, which is why when my daughter Violet brings me her finely wrought colored scribbles, I pat her on the head and pronounce for all to hear that she has a good imagination.

Theres more to imagination than mere fantasy. What Hume doesnt grasp is what Plato already understood.

Plato may be the oldest philosopher in the Western tradition to reflect at length on imagination. He believed there were three instances of imagination that intruded on the minds of people. In one sense imagination is the ability to conceive new ideas out of old material. This is close to what we today call fantasy. When a great writer imagines faraway planets, she is conceiving of new worlds and new civilizations, but only in such a way as it relates to our old world and old civilization here on earth. It is new, but only to a degree.

In a second sense, Plato found that imagination is the ability to craft old ideas into new ideas. This is what we today might call reconceptualizing. When a great writer imagines a contemporary person loving others who are political enemies, he is crafting a new way of living, but only in such a way that is faithful and true to the original idea (Matt. 5:44).

This second type of imagination is what we long to return tofinding old truth in new expressions. It is what the modern master of true imagination J. R. R. Tolkien calls the power of giving to ideal creations the inner consistency of reality. It is the power to explain truth that defies simple explanation. Another master, Jesus, does this with his parables.

Let me give you a simple experiment you can try for yourself: Go and tell someone today why you chose to follow Jesus. Its a very old idea, and you will need to tap into your imagination to make it fresh for your audience.

Lets revisit the question: Does the Bible talk about imagination? Yes, it does.

John the Evangelist was an accomplished storyteller. His two main books, a gospel and an apocalypse, have attracted untold readers for two millennia. He natively understood what scriptwriters today tell their students: Show, dont tell.

John didnt write about imaginationhe imagined Gods engagement and invited us to be a part of it. Toward the end of his gospel, John recounts Jesus personal vision of the future for John and Peter. One to death and one to life. These are images that only become clear when lived out in close obedience and faithfulness to God. John and Peter are really no different from you and medisciples who follow the same yesterday and today and forever truth of God in a brand new direction in their unique time and place (Heb. 13:7).

Jesus also didnt speak about imaginationknowing Gods message, he applied imagination and taught it to his disciples. Jesus parables use both types of imagination to make his descriptions of Gods work more real than any reality any human can know. The kingdom of heaven? Human empiricism and rationalism are of little value here, but we hear the words of Jesus and know the kingdom is like a grain of a mustard seed. Even if we have never held a mustard seed in our hand, we get a glimpse of the kingdom by tapping into Jesus imagination.

From prophecy to apocalypse, from parable to origin story, the Bible speaks in a language brimming with imagination. For those with imaginations, let them imagine.

Back to Plato: There is a third instance of imagination, rarely discussed. Plato makes this remarkable admission: In moments of ecstatic vision, the imagination becomes the privileged recipient of divine inspiration. When God illuminates, we imagine.

We get a sense for what Plato means when we read the weird parts of the Biblethe prophetic and the apocalyptic. If we are tempted to think of Johns apocalypse as merely a kind of fantasy, we misunderstand it completely. Instead, it is exactly what Plato anticipated: a vision birthed of divine inspiration. Arguably, it is the most truly imaginativein all senses of the wordwork ever created.

The history of human philosophy from Plato to William James teaches us this: Imagination, rightly understood, is a way of knowingit sits between our senses, our experiences, our memory, and our heart, our intellect, our will. In order for us to know God well, and know our world well, we must engage our imaginations to inform our thinking and our actions.

We live in a world saturated with imaginationimagination of the fantasy sort. From virtual reality to sociopolitical echo chambers, we are awash in continual fantasies created by the world around us.

Many critical issues we face today are of the same form as those faced by previous generations of Christians: worshipping God effectively, loving our neighbors, living justly, building healthy family relationships, and making disciples. By using imagination, the church can develop a fresh voice on these issues while staying true to the cumulative wisdom of Scripture and the church over the last two millennia.

Is there a limit to the call to be imaginative? Yes. A fresh voice does not mean a new voice. Instead, it means using well the two types of imagination that we already see in use in the Bible: taking up old truth in new forms and living in a fresh way under the power of Gods Spirit.

Yet we face a world today that is accelerating away from the familiar issues faced by generations past. Science and technology bring a brave new world that requires a brave new Christians witness.

Should we use new technology such as a gene drive to cause the extinction of anopheles gambiae, a malaria-carrying mosquito species? Should we cause the de-extinction of woolly mammoths, and let those and other species repopulate the earth?

Should we edit the genes of babies, changing the human species? Should we self-edit our own genes, changing who we are? Should we alter the physical makeup of our bodies to become faster, smarter, more beautiful, more female, more male, more amphibian, more not?

It is our responsibility to engage in theological exploration of such imagined future, contends theologian Karen ODonnell, as part of our service to the public, both in the ecclesial community, and beyond.

To paraphrase Plato, we are best equipped to speak wisdom to these new challenges through moments of Holy Spirit illumination, during which our imagination becomes the privileged recipient of divine inspiration. And to paraphrase Tolkien, imagination gives us the power to bring the creations of human fantasy in line with the inner consistency of divine reality.

Lets look at an example: When we read about people biohacking their bodies, it is easy for us to engage our imaginationin Platos first sense, imagination as fantasy. We imagine a fantasy of what biohacking is, and we come to a conclusion about it. If so, we have only used the least important part of our imagination. What we want to do is engage the other two more important parts of our imagination: reconceptualizing the eternal truth of Gods message to people about what it means to be human in a new way, and awaiting a moment of inspiration from Gods Spirit to show us what biohacking might look like within the reality Scripture imagines.

As a result of the Enlightenment, we have expected God to inspire us only through our reason and our experiences. When we take off these filters, and we read the parables of Jesus, the writings of Johnin fact, much of the Biblewe begin to see that God wants to inspire our imaginations as well. When our imaginations are infused by the Spirit of God, we better see who God is and the challenges of the world around us.

With holy imaginations, we can see heavenits easy if we try.

Douglas Estes is associate professor of New Testament and practical theology at South University. He is the editor of Didaktikos, and his latest book is Braving the Future: Christian Faith in a World of Limitless Tech.

Originally posted here:

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For Johnsons Tories, the collapse of public trust isnt a problem its an opportunity – The Guardian

Posted: at 9:24 pm

After a chaotic and surreal campaign, there was a comforting familiarity about the rituals of election night. Tories will rehearse their favourite fairytale that the party of Thatcher has finally rediscovered its 1980s mojo while Labour retreats to its own comfort zone, of bitter internal feuding. But amid all this drama, there is a danger that we might forget how deeply abnormal the Conservative election campaign has been, and how frighteningly unfamiliar the impending government could be.

The winning campaign strategy was simple: to make this the second referendum, to make it as exhausting as possible, and to make sure Labours offer of yet another referendum look more exhausting still. The Tories blank policy agenda beyond passing the existing Brexit deal in January was aimed directly at a group of voters who dont trust politicians, dont believe government can help them, and are done with listening to liberal elites bickering over the precise number of hospitals the Tories will or wont build.

For todays Conservatives, the collapse of trust in institutions isnt a problem its an opportunity. Get Brexit done, like Donald Trumps build a wall, was not a policy pledge so much as a mantra to identify with, for those who think the establishment is a stitch-up.

Two other ingredients were necessary. First, a rightwing big tent needed constructing, one that spreads all the way from Matt Hancock in the centre-right out to Tommy Robinson on the far right. Johnson repeatedly did just enough to communicate to former Brexit party voters that he was on their side. For the desperate men and women (but mostly men) living in the abandoned economic regions of the Midlands and north, for whom only a Trump figure would be enough to draw them to the polls, Johnson performed that role adequately. For well-off elderly voters, who had been seduced by Faragist visions of national identity, Johnsons dog whistles hit home. Study his apologies for past Islamophobic comments, and youll notice that theyre never apologies at all they are affirmations of his right to say what everyone is thinking.

Rebranded as the peoples government, there is no reason to expect it will embrace normal democratic scrutiny or opposition

Second, Johnsons media profile and contacts were leveraged to the hilt. By the end of the campaign, he was performing a kind of Jeremy Clarkson role obliterating any democratic dialogue or interrogation by dressing up as a milkman or driving a forklift truck. Boris began life as a construct of the Daily Telegraph and Have I Got News For You, but now exists as a genre of social media content. Unlike in the heyday of broadcast and print media, propaganda now has to be lively and engaging in order to work.

And so the election was not won by an ordinary political party, with policies, members and ideology. It was won by a single-issue new-media startup you might call it Vote Boris fronted by a TV star, which will now unveil a largely unknown policy agenda.

The 2016 referendum result, together with the Boris phenomenon, have created a Trojan horse, within which lurks who knows what. But the chances of it offering anything transformative to the former Labour voters of Blyth Valley or Bolsover, beyond the occasional culture-war titbit, are minimal.

One thing we do know is that the Vote Boris campaign was funded by hedge funds and wealthy British entrepreneurs just as they donated heavily to Vote Leave. But who knows what they get in return? It also seems safe to assume, on the evidence of Johnsons first few months in office, that his administration will be hostile to many basic norms of the constitution and the liberal public sphere. Meanwhile, a triumphant Dominic Cummings will have his eye on a drastic transformation of Whitehall and regulators, inspired by exotic forms of rationalism, game theory and the libertarian right.

If the new Johnson government sustains its unprecedented relationship with the media of the past six weeks threatening public service broadcasters, excluding the Daily Mirror from its campaign bus, seamless coordination with the conservative press, using Boris to distract from every unwelcome news item then it will be virtually impossible for it to be held to account for what it does. And having already rebranded itself as the peoples government, there is no reason to expect it will embrace normal democratic scrutiny or opposition.

A combination of Brexit, decades of neglect and political alienation in Labours heartlands, the new digital media ecology, and hints of frightening illiberalism could conspire to produce a form of democracy that looks more like Hungary or even Russia than the checks-and-balances system of liberal ideals. Its not that democracy will end, but that it will be reduced to a set of spectacles that the government is ultimately in command of, which everyone realises are fake but that are sufficiently funny or soothing as to be tolerated.

This may sound paranoid, but it is merely an extrapolation from the trends that are already in full sway. Just like Trump, Johnsons capacity to make headlines and change the subject means we can quickly forget how much damage he has already done, in less than six months instead we are locked in a perpetual present, squabbling over the details of what hes doing right now. Its important to keep track. Challenging this juggernaut will be a far larger and more complex project than anything Her Majestys opposition can do alone.

William Davies is a sociologist and political economist

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For Johnsons Tories, the collapse of public trust isnt a problem its an opportunity - The Guardian

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