Archive for January, 2016

January 19, 2016

Understanding and the Chinese Room

by Neil Rickert

Coel has a recent post

about Searle’s “Chinese Room” argument.  My response is a bit long for a comment, so I’ll respond here.

Understanding

Here’s how Coel frames the issue:

You’ve just bought the latest in personal-assistant robots. You say to it: “Please put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, then hoover the lounge, and then take the dog for a walk”. The robot is equipped with a microphone, speech-recognition software, and extensive programming on how to do tasks. It responds to your speech by doing exactly as requested, and ends up taking hold of the dog’s leash and setting off out of the house. All of this is well within current technological capability.

Did the robot understand the instructions?

My answer would be “obviously not.”  So, according to Coel, that makes me a Searlite.  If I had agreed that the robot understood, then he would say that I’m a Dennettite.

January 10, 2016

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

by Neil Rickert

In the recent events at Wheaton College (see previous post), action toward possibly firing Hawkins is said to be based on her assertion that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Apparently, the Wheaton College president does not agree.

The view that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, is a rather curious position for Wheaton to take.  I’ll readily grant that many conservative Christians agree with that position, but that does not alter its strangeness.

The God of Abraham

Both Christians and Muslims claim to worship the God of Abraham.  So, on the face if it, one would think that they worship the same God.

There is no doubt that the way Christians characterize and describe God is very different from the way that Muslims characterize and describe God.  For example, Christians claim that there God is a triune God, a unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Muslims reject that view of God.  But so do Jewish people.  Yet conservative Christians do believe that they worship the same God as is worshiped by the Jewish people.

It would be easy to understand Christians saying that Muslims mischaracterize God, and it would be easy to understand Muslims claiming that Christians mischaracterize God.  But to say that the Muslim God is a different entity from the Christian God — that’s what is hard to understand.

The atheist view

To say Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, seems to imply that there is nothing more to the Christian God than the way that he is described and characterized by Christians.  But this is pretty much the atheist view — namely that man created God, rather than God creating man.

One wonders whether the president of Wheaton has thought his position through.

January 7, 2016

Wheaton College — shame on you

by Neil Rickert

Wheaton College is around a 30 minute drive from where I live.  I have long respected it as a religious college which did a pretty good job of living up to the expectation of academia.  Many years ago, as a graduate student in mathematics, one of my classmates had graduated from Wheaton, and that’s probably where I first learned something about this school.

Unfortunately, recent events at Wheaton have been disquieting.  I have lost my former respect for that school.

It is almost a month since I first heard of the problems, with a blog post by Fred Clark:

In the last couple of days, there have been many reaction to the move by Wheaton, toward firing Larycia Hawkins, a tenured professor.  Here are some of the posts that I have seen:

What’s this all about?

The “problem” started when Larycia Hawkins said that she would start wearing a hijab, in support of her muslim  neighbors.  This was a reaction to the negative statements that we have been hearing about muslims from politicians (particularly in the Republican primary race) and from some evangelical Christian leaders.

To me, what Dr. Hawkins did seemed like a wonderful example the Christian teaching to “love thy neighbor”.  For Hawkins, this was not just a theoretical principle, but was something to be put into practice.

To me, the reaction of the Wheaton College administration seems very anti-Christian.  I am left wondering whether there is anything Christian about American conservative Christianity.

January 6, 2016

Respect for churches

by Neil Rickert

A recent report from Pew research shows that respect for churches is declining among millennials.  The report also suggests a decline is respect for the news media, but that seems to affect all generations.

I’ve seen comments on this by Jerry Coyne and by Hemant Mehta.  But I wanted to add my own.

What’s going on here?

It’s hard to read people’s minds.  So I’ll guess.  The millennials are very aware of global warming, and they surely realize that their lives will be significantly impacted.  Too many churches and other religious institutions are still in denial about global warming.

Respect is something that has to be earned.  And many of the churches seem to be failing at that.  Not only are they in denial about global warming, they are also far too tolerant of racism and other social ills.

It’s good to see that younger folk are noticing these failings and acting on them.