The Laing Lectures 2019
Beyond Paralysis: Radical Hope for Morality in a Cynical Age
Professor Emeritus English UBC
Wednesday, March 13 at 4 pm,
UBC Mathematics Building, Room 100
Three quarters of a century after the publication of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, moral relativism remains the approach to ethics that dominates the public square. The reductionist (even nihilist) approach to morality and other things that give meaning to human life also continues to shape what our children are taught in school. In the face of this ongoing dominance, it’s imperative that we reassert a case for moral realism and cultivate hope for an ethics transcending a mere exercise of power.
Dennis Danielson (PhD Stanford) is Professor Emeritus and former Head of English at the University of British Columbia. His interests have ranged across literature, religion, the history of science, and ethics. He is a past recipient of UBC’s Killam Prize for research in the humanities, and of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation’s Konrad Adenauer Research Award. His articles have appeared in Mind, Milton Studies, Nature, American Journal of Physics, Journal for the History of Astronomy, and Scientific American. His books include Milton’s Good God: A Study in Literary Theodicy(1982), The Book of the Cosmos: Imagining the Universe from Heraclitus to Hawking(2000), The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution(2006),Paradise Lost and the Cosmological Revolution(2014), and, most recently, The Tao of Right and Wrong: Rediscovering Humanity’s Moral Foundations(2018).
On his recent book, The Tao of Right and Wrong:
“Dennis Danielson’s message in The Tao of Right and Wrong needs to be urgently heeded. … This book should be on every teacher’s reading list.”
—Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics, University of Notre Dame Australia
“The Tao of Right and Wrongis a remarkably compressed and equally lucid exposition of the truths that really count. … The debate in which this book engages is, in the full sense of the term, a fundamental one.”
—Rex Murphy, Commentator for The National Post and formerly for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
“Dennis Danielson marks the 75thanniversary of C.S. Lewis’s classic work The Abolition of Manby updating it for our present situation and applying it to current concerns in a skilful and thought-provoking way. Timely, deft, impressive.”
—Michael Ward, University of Oxford, co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to C.S. Lewis; author, Planet Narnia.
Written in the tradition of The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis’s classic work on moral philosophy celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary in 2018, The Tao of Right and Wrong addresses questions such as what is just? What is right? What is wrong? What purposes, and what virtues, are worth pursuing? And most importantly, how can we weigh answers to these questions without lapsing into, “That’s only your opinion”?
In The Tao of Right and Wrong, Dennis Danielson offers a vigorous primer on moral realism, asserting that humans can and should exercise ethical judgments—and that these judgments are not reducible to subjective opinion, animal instinct, or cultural “construction.” The book is a twenty-first century call for the virtuous cultivation of “humans with hearts,” for a rejection of moral nihilism, and for a life-affirming embrace of moral realism founded in the Tao—the transcultural fund of ultimate postulates that form the very ground of moral judgment, codes of ethics, and standards of right and wrong.
The point is not that animal behaviours have no relevance to our understanding of human nature, but rather that we require a standard of judgment above and beyond that offered by bare biology as a guide to what is morally permissible, advantageous, or obligatory. (39)
The very fabric of our lives is teleological–purpose-driven–in ways that far transcend the disseminating of our genes (though perhaps that is part of it). Therefore, a failure to account for that strong sense and experience of purpose, of goal-directedness, of moral worthwhileness, is a serious failure indeed. It points decisively to a limitation of science as naturalistically conceived and practical….So the inability of naturalistic science to account for the “goods and shoulds” of human moral life might accordingly be treated less as a failure than as blameless omission–a mere innocent incapacity to achieve something that was never part of its competence or job description in the first place. (58, 59)
[Human rights codes] embody, or should embody, or at least reflect, a vision of what it means for human beings to flourish, to fulfill their potential, to cultivate their gifts, to pursue good purposes, to live lives of meaning and justice….Rights codes by themselves, however, are inadequate as a moral foundation….They are no substitute for the cultivation of virtue. (63, 75)
What assumptions are you making about the nature and purpose of human beings, about what constitutes the good life? How does your moral framework promote virtues of beneficence and magnanimity? How does it cultivate human happiness? (76)
Other Scholarship on Moral Realism
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; A Secular Age; The Language Animal.
Alasdair McIntyre, After Virtue; Three Versions of Moral Inquiry
R. Scott Smith, In Search of Moral Knowledge.
Russ Shafer-Landau, Moral Realism: a Defense.
Miraslov Volf, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.
Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good.
Dennis Hollinger, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World..
David Brooks, The Road to Character.
Glenn Tinder Atlantic Monthly 1989 article “Can We Be Good Without God?” which morphed into his book The Political Meaning of Christianity.
Next in GFCF Series
Audio File of Robert Mann’s talk on the Multiverse
Professor Robert Mann, Professor of Physics and Applied Mathematics,
University of Waterloo
The Multiverse, Science and Theology: A Critical Inquiry
January 16, 2019 @ 4:00 pm,
Math Room 100
(Just behind Koerner’s Library)
Thanks to all who participated in this stimulating and thought provoking lecture. We will edit it and post it later this term. ~Gordon for the GFCF Committee
Books on Faith & Physics recommended by Robert Mann:
Sir John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist: Reflections of a Bottom Up Thinker.
George F. R. Ellis, Before the Beginning: Cosmology Explained
George F. R. Ellis and Nancey Murphy, On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology and Ethics.
Professor Mann explains multiverse theory and what implications the acceptance of multiverse theory may have for science and theology. If the multiverse is rejected as an explanation for the particularity of our universe, scientists and theologians are left to address why our particular universe exists rather than every universe.
Robert B. Mann (PhD University of Toronto) is Professor of Physics at the University of Waterloo; he has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Cambridge Universities, and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. He is an Affiliate Member of the Perimeter Institute and the Institute for Quantum Computing. Author of over 350 papers, he has received numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship, Teaching Excellence awards from the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and from the University of Waterloo, and a Presidential Award of merit from the University of Waterloo. He was chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo from 2001-2008 and is a past President of the Canadian Association of Physicists (2009-2011) and the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation (1996-2007). He has served on the Advisory Board of the John Templeton Foundation.
His research interests are in black holes, cosmology, particle physics, quantum foundations, and quantum information, as well as the science/religion dialogue. His Waterloo research group looks at these questions:
- How would relativity influence how a quantum computer worked?
- Could we use a quantum probe to peek inside a black hole?
- Is it possible that the Big Bang could be replaced with a black hole at the beginning of time?
Audio File of Robert Mann’s TWU talk Time and Eternity
Part of a TWU, SFU, UBC Tour co-sponsored with CSCA, the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation https://www.csca.ca/vancouver/
Irving Barber Learning Centre/Library, Room 182
Response to Professor Doede: Dr. Martin Ester, Head of Computing Science, Simon Fraser University
Martin Ester Research Interests, PhD ETH, Zurich, Switzerland
- Data Mining in Social Media
- Recommendation in Social Media
- Opinion Mining from Online Product Reviews
- Data Mining in Biological Networks
- Discovery of Cancer Markers from Gene Expression and Variation Data
Anyone who carefully pays attention to the arc of western cultural thought and practice since the rise of modernity will discern a progressively intensifying and spreading pursuit of abstractions as the most trusted means of representing reality and accessing truth. The increases in our power to intellectually grasp and materially control nature, eventually brought with it stupendous gains in human standards of living for a good portion of Earth’s growing population. Yet, in recent decades, it has dawned on many that these improvements in material standards of living came with an unanticipated price: viz., a rather steep and almost unbearable reduction of the existential meaningfulness of life.
Since the rise of information sciences in the 1940s, our fondness for abstractions has expressed itself most emphatically in a number of cultural domains: for example, our culture’s growing preference for digitality over analogue, for algorithm over observation, for informational effigies over empirical realities, and for data-structures over concrete physical presences. This obsession with bloodless abstractions finds its ideological epicenter today in a computational variant of functionalism that has dominated the cognitive sciences for the last four decades. Quite generally, the cognitive sciences view the mind as essentially an information processing software running in, on, and through the brain’s neuronal connectivity, which both receives input from the hardware peripheries of the body’s senses and which also outputs commands to the body’s hardware motor peripheries. Computational functionalism provides the conceptual sub-structure upon which most articulations of transhumanism directly rely.
Professor Alister McGrath, Andreos Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, Oxford, Gresham Professor of Divinity
Probing the Viability of Natural Theology for the Twenty-first Century.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018 @ 12:00 noon
Woodward (IRC) Room 3
Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a strong comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them—above all, the question of the existence of God. Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God. He develops a rich Trinitarian approach to natural theology that allows deep engagement with current intellectual and moral complexities. He will pose some key questions for discussion.
Alister McGrath is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading theologians. After an undergraduate degree in chemistry and a doctorate in molecular biophysics from Oxford, McGrath turned to the study of theology. He has a special interest in the relation of science and religion, and has published widely on this topic. As a former atheist, McGrath has an especial interest in the “New Atheism” of writers such as Richard Dawkins. McGrath’s bestselling books include the market leading Christian Theology: An Introduction (6th edition, 2017) and the award-winning C. S. Lewis—A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (2013). Areas of reflection: Science and religion; natural theology as a legitimate field of theological reflection, and as a framework for furthering the dialogue between science, religion, and literature; critical realism in science and theology; the theological utility of scientific philosophies of explanation; theological models of engagement with the natural sciences, especially those of T. F. Torrance and Emil Brunner; the application of biological models of evolution to cultural contexts, especially the development of Christian doctrine; the “New Atheism”; “two cultures” issues, especially defending the value of humanities in a scientific culture.
Alister’s presentation was superb. I have thought a lot about natural theology and yet Alister had something new to say about its re-emergence in this decade with a refreshing nuance. He also said it with style and without a wasted word. The energy in the room was palpable and every question was well directed. Alister’s responses were so good that the energy never left the room. ~Olav Slaymaker, Professor Emeritus Geography UBC
See also https://www.regent-college.edu/about-us/events/event-details?event_id=720 for other McGrath lectures