Dennis Danielson Grapples with Moral Discourse

Beyond Paralysis: Radical Hope for Morality in a Cynical Age

Dennis Danielson

Professor Emeritus English UBC

 

Wednesday, March 13 at 4 pm,  

UBC Mathematics Building, Room 100

Audio FileZ0000008

Abstract

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.

Biography

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.

 

 

Robert Mann, Cosmologist, University of Waterloo

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.

 

Abstract

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.

 

Biography

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/

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Bob Doede October 24 on Transhumanism

 

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

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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.

Alister McGrath September 19, 2018

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

Audio File 

Abstract

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.

Biography

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.

https://www.regentinterface.com/

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

 

 

Expert Panel on Addiction @ UBC

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  Audio Recording of Addiction Panel

Dr. Gabriel Loh

Gabriel is currently Clinical Coordinator of Pharmacy Practice at Richmond Hospital and is also a Clinical Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UBC.  Gabriel obtained his undergraduate Pharmacy degree at UBC in 2001, subsequently completed a hospital pharmacy residency at Saint Paul’s Hospital in 2002 and then a post-graduate Doctor of Pharmacy degree at UBC in 2007.  He has worked as a front-line clinical pharmacist in the Intensive Care Units at both Vancouver General Hospital and Richmond Hospital for the past 10 years and has helped care for patients and families with various addiction issues in his daily work.

“Addiction is a complex medical disorder that not only affects the individual but which can also destroy the lives of entire families and loved ones.  While various interventions and treatments are now available to help an individual manage addiction, the Christian community must not neglect the patient’s family members and caregivers who desperately need support and healing as well. While there are all sorts of therapeutic interventions and harm reduction strategies being promoted right now, I believe that a holistic approach that incorporates the physical-emotional-spiritual aspects would be most successful in breaking the cycle of addiction.”

Dr. John Koehn

John completed his medical education at the University of British Columbia, receiving certification from the Canadian College of Family Physicians. He acquired additional training in addiction medicine through completion of the St. Paul’s Goldcorp Addiction Medicine Fellowship and is certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. Currently, he is a consulting physician in addiction medicine at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, British Columbia, where he also teaches as a member of the UBC Clinical Faculty.

” I tell my patients that addiction is a treatable disease and that people get better when they take steps to address it. I am very hopeful for my patients because I’ve seen the difference that recovery can make in their lives.”
Jadine Cairns, Registered Dietician, MSc. Nutrition

Jadine Cairns has worked as a registered dietitian for over 30 years and completed her masters in Human Nutrition at the University of British Columbia in 2003.  She has published and presented at national and international conferences in the area of eating disorders.  She was the President of the Eating Disorders Association of Canada and Chaired the National Eating Disorders Conference in 2014. Currently, Jadine works with the BC Children’s Hospital Eating Program for almost 30 years. She also has a private practice specializing in weight management, eating disorder and disordered eating issues.

Eating Disorders

“Causes of Eating Disorders, simply put, is multi-factorial.  It has been described as a combination of genetics, internal personal factors and external (environmental) factors.  Not much can be done with genetics, but the goal of treatment would be to address the internal space of being human and to be aware of the environment where we live.  Is an eating disorder the result from our “addiction to health”, “perfectionism”, performance, or our need to preserve our self-image in the only way we know how?  The latest thoughts and research around what is helpful and has good prognostic outcomes include psychoeducation, dialectical behavior therapy, family base therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and self-compassion.”

Jay C. Wang, MD
PGYIII Psychiatry Resident, Doctor of Medicine, University of British Columbia under Dr. Evan Wood, Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver.
Dr. Jay Wang Is a graduate of the University of British Columbia School of Medicine. Currently, he is completing his specialty training in psychiatry. Having seen the effects of drugs and addiction on psychiatric patients, he is interested in the interface between psychiatry and addiction, and will be completing subspecialty training in addiction psychiatry in the following academic year. In his opinion, the treatment of addiction emphasizes the biopsychosocial approach, where medications, therapy, and social factors all have a role to play in helping a patient recover.
Live Recording of Panel https://ubcgcu.org/2018/03/05/expert-panel-on-addiction-march-14-ubc/
Some Questions to Ponder
 

Is addiction a brain disease or a chosen habit or something in between?  If we call addiction a disease does that absolve individuals from moral responsibility?

Do you think decriminalization (rather than legalization) of opioids would increase or decrease the present addiction crisis?

Is there a danger that widespread use of opioid antagonists  might merely encourage greater use of opioids?   

Nicotine is far deadlier and more addictive than cannabis. Should the government be taking greater steps to prevent nicotine addiction? 

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Thoughts on Addiction by Dr. Judith Toronchuk, Neuropsychologist

In order for organisms to learn and successfully repeat behaviours that result in survival of the individual and the social encounters necessary for survival of the species, certain brain mechanisms for motivation, emotion and executive control must be activated.  Addiction occurs when these normal mechanisms become hijacked by particular substances. The common mechanism for this hijacking involves increased sensitivity to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Pleasurable behaviors including eating, drinking, music, video games, social and sexual interactions are all accompanied by dopamine release in an area deep in the frontal brain called the nucleus accumbens.   Substances that are abused also directly or indirectly activate this area, but psychostimulants, opiates, ethanol, cannabinoids and nicotine all result in bursts of dopamine release 3 to 5 times greater than that provided by normal reinforcers.

Dopamine release in this brain area flags whatever produced this dopamine spike as worth attending to, and any cues associated with it as worth learning. This is the normal brain mechanism which promotes learning of the behaviours necessary for survival.  Initial bursts of dopamine during successful behaviours causes positive reinforcement and results in the  longterm structural changes in synapses and dendritic spines which underlie learning. The mechanism works as it should if the organism learns, for example, where food is available. The problem arises with the supra-physiological amounts of dopamine produced by addictive substances. This learning of drug associated cues and pleasurable feelings leads to addiction.

Sensitization of the nucleus accumbens occurs during this addiction process. Drugs, alcohol and nicotine can restructure the synaptic pathways so they stimulate more dendrites than previously, but other normal reinforcers stimulate fewer dendrites. This action hijacks motivational processes and the person becomes focused only on the drug. Now the brain is sensitized to the drug cues and any reminder of the drug can cause craving and drug seeking even in abstinent former users. Cues associated with the drug such as paraphernalia or even specific places and people increase anticipatory activity in the sensitized nucleus accumbens and related areas and bring back the craving.

Now we have set the stage for long-term changes in motivation, emotion and executive control of behavior that occur in addiction. Due to physiological adaptation to the high levels of dopamine, chronic use leads to a decrease in the  subjective feeling of pleasure provided by the drug by a mechanism referred to as tolerance. Tolerance means an increasingly greater amount of the drug is necessary to produce the same “high”. Eventually drug users seek to avoid the distress, irritability and restlessness of the withdrawal symptoms produced when dopamine release in the accumbens is decreased if they do not continue to take the drug regularly. To prevent withdrawal with its resulting negative sensations and feelings, individuals become focussed on compulsively seeking more of the drug. Thus, in addition to changes in motivation, there are changes in emotional mechanisms. The memory of reinforcement also decreases the activity in the cortical executive circuits which normally provide inhibitory control over all adult behaviour and allow us to make wise decisions. Thus ability to regulate behaviour thus becomes impaired due to altered cortical control circuits.

~ Dr. Judith Toronchuk, Neuropsychologist

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKkUtrL6B18 Hacking of the American Mind, Dr. Robert Lustig, His book: The Hacking of the American Mind: the science behind the corporate takeover of our minds and bodies.

 

 

Bill Newsome on Neuroscience and Faith at UBC-TWU, January 29-31

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0b7pEuE-eg&t=12s   Bill Newsome January 31 @ UBC Of Two Minds: a Neuroscientist Balances Science and Faith

This is where the fulcrum of our fears lie: that humans as a species and we as thinking people, will be shown to be no more than a machinery of atoms. The crisis of our confidence springs from each person’s wish to be a mind and a person in the face of the nagging fear that one is only a mechanism.

~Jacob Bronowski, Mathematician, Biologist and Historian of Science

Further Reading on Neuroscience and Mind-Body Issues:

Craver, C.F., (2007).  Explaining the Brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.  Oxford.

Nagel, T.,  What is it like to be a bat?; (2012) Mind and Cosmos.

Brown, W.S. & Strawn, B.D. (2012). The physical nature of Christian life: Neuroscience, psychology and the church. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Jeeves, M. & Brown, W.S. (2009). Neuroscience, psychology, and religion: illusions, delusions, and realities about human nature. West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press.

Brown, W.S. and Murphy, N. (2007). Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: philosophical, and neurobiological perspectives on moral responsibility and free will. Oxford Clarendon.

Markham, Paul N. (2007). Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion. Eugene, OR: Pickwick

Murphey, Nancey. (2006). Bodies and souls, or spirited bodies? New York, NY: Cambridge

Green, Joel & Palmer, Stuart. (2005). In search of the soul: four views of the mind-body problem. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Jeeves, Malcolm, ed. (2004). From cells to souls–and beyond: changing portraits of human nature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Jeeves, Malcolm. (2006). Human nature: reflections on the integration of psychology and Christianity. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

Swinburne, R. (2007). The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford.

Bill Newsome:

is the Vincent V.C. Woo Director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Harman Family Provostial Professor and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He received a BS degree in Physics from Stetson University and a PhD in Biology from the California Institute of Technology. He served on the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at SUNY Stony Brook before moving to Stanford in 1988. Dr. Newsome is a leading investigator in the fields of visual and cognitive neuroscience. He co-chaired the NIH working group that planned the US national BRAIN initiative.

Dr. Newsome hs made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception and simple forms of decision-making. Among his many honors are the RAnk Prize in Opto-electronics, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society, the Champalimaud Vision Award, and most recently, the Pepose Award for the Study of Vision, Brandeis University.

He has given numerous distinguished lectureships and was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and to the American Philosophical Society in 2011. His scientific publications include more than one hundred research articles in preeminent scientific journals.

Co-sponsored with the Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation. Other lectures in the series at  csca.ca/van 

Supported by the UBC Murrin Fund and Oikodome Foundation

http://www.testoffaith.com/resources/resources.aspx?resource=true&catid=13&id=128Test of Faith Series with Bill Newsome

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NDW2lEM6Ys Bill Newsome on State of Neuroscience

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jzn2msnmPso Bill Newsome on Free Will

http://resources.asa3.org/FMPro?-db=asadb49.fm4&-format=%2fasadb%2fdetail3.html&-lay=layout1&-sortfield=first%20author&source_occasion=2016%2bAnnual%2bMeeting&-lop=or&-max=2147483647&-recid=36448&-find=    Bill Newsome, a similar talk given in recent years.