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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label Roger Scruton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Roger Scruton. Show all posts

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Approaching Reality with a Childish Mind

There used to be a time when most children in society would dream of becoming adults. When I say that, I don't mean how kids dream of adventurous occupations ("I want to be a fireman!") or the grandness of their wedding day. I mean that most children understood that as children they lacked the experience, wisdom, and maturity to be a fully functioning member of their community. They saw adulthood as the proper destination for childhood and if one did not arrive at becoming an adult, something went terribly wrong.

In a recent audio piece, Sir Roger Scruton in examining J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels expresses his concern that the novels not only became incredibly popular with adult readers, but how so many adults are trying to make the fantasy of Potter's world is spill out into the real one.

To understand this a bit better, one must understand the two categories of children's literature Scruton identifies:
On the one hand, there are stories addressed specifically to the child's state of mind and which play with those primordial emotions which are the residue of hunter-gatherer terrors. Of this kind are the folk tales collected and embellished by the brothers Grimm.

On the other hand, there is literature which is aimed not at the child, but at the idea of the child; literature that frames the childish mind, treasures it, and also uses it to convey truths about adult reality. Among works of this second kind are some of the masterpieces of our literature, including the Alice books of Lewis Carroll and Mark Twain's story of Huckleberry Finn.

Children's literature of this second kind is about the world as it really is, but written in such a way as to put the innocence and the guilelessness of the child in the center of the narrative. Children's literature of the less artful kind is not about the world as it really is but about the world as children perceive it when deprived of adult wisdom and experience.
Scruton doesn't disparage Rowling's work. He even commends her ability to grip audiences and her deft skill at creating imaginary worlds with engaging names. However, he notes that this less artful literature paints a childish and simplified picture "where good and evil are revealed in concrete terms and divide reality between them." Adults who would hold to such a view of the world would be quite capable of distorting reality, reducing complex issues like free speech, race relations, and differently held views to rather childish views of good guys and bad guys.

Desiring to be Children Instead of Dreaming to be Adults

To be clear, I don't believe Rowling's books are causing such childishness in adults. I believe it simply is one sign of many that our culture continues to shun the responsibility and weight of adulthood for what they perceive as the more carefree existence of childhood. Look at the rise of the Twitter hashtag #adulting, commonly used when someone must deal with choices that aren't necessarily fun, but are required to be considered a responsible person. More and more people bristled against such responsibility instead of embracing it as a welcome sign of maturity and ability.

J.M. Barrie tells us that Peter Pan "still had all his first teeth." I do not desire to now have all my baby teeth. If that were the case, I would seek medical attention because it is a signal that I'm not developing correctly. It would also mean that I would be less capable of enjoying the robust diversity of foods available to me. While children may hold that McNuggets or Mac and Cheese are the best things to eat, they really are poorer than adults who have developed a sophisticated palate.

Similarly, those with a childish concept of the world are poorer in that they cannot understand or experience the wide range of positions, ideas, and emotions that diverse people will naturally have. Tales of a world of magic where every bad guy is easily identifiable is comforting for children who do not yet possess the mental or emotional wherewithal to handle the intricacies of life. But one should not want to remain a child forever. To do so is terribly tragic.

Image courtesy Carlos and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The New Generation and the Lack of Struggle

There's a very interesting scene in the movie The Matrix where Agent Smith, speaking for the computers, tells Morpheus how early versions of simulated worlds constructed by the Matrix proved to be failures. He explains:
Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this...
I don't think Smith got it quite right. Human beings don't define our reality through suffering, but suffering definitely wakes us up to what is truly real, what is valuable, and what is important. During the Great Depression, children would go out and work if they could, perhaps selling newspapers or whatever they could find, in order to bring their earnings home and lay them on the table. They didn't demand to keep “their” money. They did it because it could mean the difference between eating something that night or not. They learned that one cannot expect to have every desire satisfied. That's a luxury, not real life.  It's no wonder that these children went off to fight in WWII and became known as the “great generation” for their continued self-sacrifice.

Of course, after the war, things changed. The Baby Boomers were given advantages their parents had never before seen. The Boomers then reared their children with privileges and technologies that were unthinkable two generations before. It is kids from this generation who demand that no one should ever feel offended and who believe that happiness is a right by virtue of birth. It is this generation that has spawned the Social Justice Warriors, who want to wage a war against any imagined slight or bias they can think of.

The Necessity of Being  Just and Wise and Charitable 

Sir Roger Scruton, speaking at the end of the James Delingpole podcast, made a striking observation.  Delingpole noted “Presumably, we're not living in the darkest times that anyone has lived through…” prompting Scruton to reply:
Absolutely. That is part of the problem. But, em, the new generation and beyond has nothing to confront. They've got an abundance of everything, of food, of clothing, a shelter, and opportunities. And, you know, there are some who are less well off than others, but there's a—the element of struggle has been removed from their lives. And I think that's one reason we've produced a different kind of human type, one that's out of touch with ancestors for whom, who required virtue in order to live properly. They had to be courageous. They had to be just and wise and charitable if they were to make their way in society.

They were… In those days, there was a real difference between human types: those who could attract to themselves friends and a circle of collaborators and those who were on the margins. Now, you know, with social media and all that, it helps people to get by without virtue. You can cultivate the substitute virtue—virtue signaling as it's called—and have friendships which are purely spectral, which exist in cyberspace but not in reality. So, it's easy to get by without furnishing yourself with the real moral attributes that you need.

But I think at a certain stage young people will wake up that they've done this and they rebel against it and they do want what is real.
I hope Sir Roger is right and young people will wake up to the difference between what they perceive as virtuous versus what virtue actually is. If we as a culture can only learn through suffering, the future looks very bleak indeed.

Image courtesy Andrew Ciscel and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 (cc-by-sa-2.0 generic license.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why a Beautiful Sunset Argues for God's Existence

Have you ever seen a beautiful sunset or had your breath taken away by a stunning vista? Such experiences leave us with a sense of awe. They also feel a bit hallowed; people are a bit more reverent when taking in the natural beauty of the world. The delicate symmetry of a snowflake or the glistening of a spider's dew-dropped web awakens a sense of beauty in our souls, prompting believers to thank God for His amazing handiwork.

But is that last move valid? Can we infer God simply from something we ourselves find beautiful? Actually, we can.

Last week, I was discussing the various arguments for God's existence with Dr. Robert Stewart and Dr. Sean McDowell. Most Christians who are interested in apologetics are familiar with arguments from the existence of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the reality of moral values and duties. Some have heard the argument from consciousness or the argument from reason. But there is another argument that many people don't hear about and that is the argument from beauty.

What is the argument from beauty? Richard Swinburne explains it this way:
If there is a God there is more reason to expect a basically beautiful world than a basically ugly one. A priori, however, there is no particular reason for expecting a basically beautiful rather than a basically ugly world. In consequence, if the world is beautiful, that fact would be evidence for God's existence.1

The objective nature of the beautiful

I think one of the reasons the argument from beauty isn't more well-known is simply that people don't believe beauty is an objective thing. We've all heard the bromide that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and taken that to mean beauty is completely subjective. Even shows like The Twilight Zone foster the idea. People assume that beauty, since it is enjoyable, is like other enjoyable experiences. And given that everyone has a different view of what counts as enjoyable, then beauty must also be subjective in this same way.

However, the beautiful is different from the merely enjoyable. Roger Scruton upacks the difference:
There is also a sense in which you cannot judge something to be enjoyable at second hand: your own enjoyment is the criterion of sincerity, and when reporting on some object that others find enjoyable the best you can sincerely say is that it is apparently enjoyable, or that it seems to be enjoyable, since others find it so.

However, it is not at all clear that the judgement that something is enjoyable is about it rather than the nature and character of people. Certainly we judge between enjoyable things: it is right to enjoy some things, wrong to enjoy others. But these judgements focus on the state of mind of the subject, rather than a quality in the object. We can say all that we want to say about the rightness and wrongness of our enjoyments without invoking the idea that some things are really enjoyable, others only apparently so.

With beauty matters are otherwise. Here the judgement focuses on the object judged, not the subject who judges. We distinguish true beauty from fake beauty-from kitsch, schmaltz and whimsy. We argue about beauty, and strive to educate our taste. And our judgements of beauty are often supported by critical reasoning, which focuses entirely on the character of the object.2
In his book Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, Scruton builds a strong argument for the objective nature of beauty. But it strikes me as obviously part of the human condition that we are built to recognize beauty. That's why no one thinks a rainbow is ugly and why all cultures across time have used color and art to increase the beauty of their surrounding environment. Psychiatrists have noted that distortions of the beautiful can even signal severe mental disorders, as the famous series of cat paintings by Louis Wain demonstrates.

Beauty grounded in God

If beauty is objective, then it reflects a common understanding among all people. The argument from morality says because all people have an inherent understanding of morality; because we can recognize what is good, we can know God exists. The argument from reason states because we can reason towards the true, we can know God exists. The Good and the true are what Scruton calls "ultimate values"—something we pursue for its own sake." He then explains, "Someone who asks, 'Why believe what is true?' or 'why want what is good?' has failed to understand the nature of reasoning."3

We recognize the beautiful like we recognize the good or we recognize the true. And it is because God exists that we can hold the true, the good, and the beautiful as valuable and objective.


1. Swinburne, Richard. "The Argument from Design." Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology. By Louis P. Pojman and Michael Rae. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Pub., 1994. 201. Print.
2. Scruton, Roger. Beauty: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 6-7. Print.
3. Scruton, 2011.2.
Image courtesy JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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