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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Why is there something rather than nothing?

This is a question which has puzzled philosophers, scientists and theologians over centuries, and still to this day continues to be unanswered. Why is there something rather than nothing?
The Earth, universe and galaxies all seem to be in existence, but why are they in existence? Why is there something rather than nothing?
One explanation to this question is that something else created the 'something', and before that something else created the something else. It seems to be an endless, unanswered cycle, whereby you are always looking for one more thing to have created the previous something.  
Max Tegmark, cosmologist, suggested that there is however one thing which seems to have always existed. Mathematics. It seems mathematics is one concept which was never created, ever. He believed that this included mathematical objects such as the cube and the sphere. These concepts exist outside of space and time, as the cube was not created 14 billion years ago, however we still feel as though it exists. 
Another explanation to the question why is there something rather than nothing comes from Brian Greene (from Columbia university), who suggests that maybe the answer to the question is much more simple than expected. He used the example of the film The Matrix, explaining that maybe like in the film, our brains are being stimulated to think that we are in a given reality even though we are not. The idea can lead us to think of the conclusion; is mathematics a description of reality, or is mathematics reality itself. Is maths something that was invented, or discovered? The idea of the simulated multi-universe gives us a way of thinking about it because if you and I are in a computer simulation, then this is very good, and feels very real - as we believe that we are going through a real life. If this is the case, and you opened up the computer controlling it all, then you would find a bunch of numbers; one's and zero's being manipulated by mathematical equations. So if this is a computer simulation, then we would be mathematics. We would be what mathematics feels; which is reality. 
Finally, some may not answer this question at all, and may suggest that the question is a like a dog chasing its tail - a tautology. 
Maybe the universe itself is a tautology. Perhaps a strange loop is the engine that drives existence - the unresolveability of the paradox keeps it in motion forever. 


Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The Problem of Evil and Suffering

            The existence of evil in the world is the “rock of atheism”, this was famously said by Philosopher David Hume in the 18thCentury. However, many philosophers have put forward their arguments to prove the reality of God despite Evil and Suffering in the world. One of which is the `Existence of God` by Richard Swinburne.  When reading his work, he presents a number of separate arguments but the one that most caught my attention was “How Evils serve Greater Goods”.

Swinburne suggests that sometimes the evil in this world serves a greater good or a greater purpose. He states that “such bad actions, like physical pain, provide opportunities for good actions to be done in response to them”, we could relate this to when a child must go to the dentist to have tooth removed, despite the pain the child will endure, he will benefit from this as it allows another tooth to grow. He also describes the consequences of having a world without pain. He states that we “show courage when threatened by a gunman, as well as when threatened by cancer; and show sympathy to those likely to be killed by gunmen as well as to those likely to die of cancer” However, if we simply imagine what our lives would be like without these emotions then “…merely would none of us have the opportunity to respond with sympathy or courage or reforming zeal…so many of us would have an easy life that we simply would not have much opportunity to show courage or indeed manifest much in the way of goodness at all”. Essentially, Swinburne means that it is vital we are able to express emotions such as courage and sympathy, for in a world without pain we would never be given the opportunity to express this. We can only help people if they are suffering, therefore Swinburne believes that God must allow evil and suffering to occur so that we can use our emotions to know when people need help. However if God was to replace disease by “such an increase of inbuilt depravity” Swinburne states that we would live in “a world in which humans (and animals) lacked much natural affection for parents, children, neighbours, etc. would be a horrible place”

On the other hand, despite this being a good inductive argument for the existence of God although there is suffering and evil in the world, I still feel that there are faults with this argument. When Swinburne suggests that everything serves a greater purpose, I think back to events in history which I am yet to see a greater purpose. The Holocaust, for example, is one of the most infamous example of moral evil to this day. 11 million people died and for what reason? I personally fail to see what goodness came from this immoral act and am sure I am not the only person who has this point of view. However, I do see how good can come out of natural disaster. For instance, the Boxing Day Tsunami in Indonesia which tragically took 230, 000 lives, it gave other people around the world the chance to donate money, provide aid and help those who were suffering. Although, it is still hard to contemplate why God would allow so many people to die and so many more people to suffer because of this event, with only some good actually being derived from it.



Sunday, 8 February 2015

Does the three-parent baby law make human life disposable ?

This week saw Britain become the first country in the world to allow the creation of so-called “three-parent” babies with MPs voting overwhelmingly in favour of the technique of mitochondrial donation. However, this milestone in medical science is one of great controversy.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has condemned the House of Commons decision to vote in favour of legalising three-parent children. Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster stated that the "Three-parent baby law makes human life disposable. " But is he right to suggest this? Will this new law really make human life disposable ?
There is no doubt that this new law will help people's lives. About 2,500 women of child-bearing age in Britain are thought to be at risk of passing on mitochondrial disorders to their children. About one in 6,500 babies is born with a severe form of the disease, which affects vital organs such as the brain, heart and muscles. It is as Ms Ellison told MPs in the commons debate “For many families affected, this is the light at the end of the tunnel”
However, I can understand the point that Bishop Sherrington makes. There is a worry that this new law could lead to a slippery slope of genetically modified “designer babies”. I think that for some there is the perception that soon couples will be designing their children, like they would design a new room, choosing every aspect of their child's genetic makeup. It is important to remember that even though an embryo may not be a fully developed, 9 month old baby, it is still a human life that should be treated as one. As Bishop Sherrington states "The human embryo is a new human life with potential; it should be respected and protected from the moment of conception and not used as disposable material.”
So is Bishop Sherrington right? Will this new law lead us to a slippery slope or will it be the light at the end of the tunnel for so many families ?

Response to Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry “How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault? It is not right; it’s utterly evil… why should I respect a capricious, mean minded, stupid God who created a world that is so full of injustice and pain.”

If I refer back to St Augustine’s theodicy in response to this statement, he believes that freedom is the fundamental principle of evil and suffering because mankind abused their free will by disobeying God. This is seen in Adam and Eve rebelling against God in the Garden of Eden, therefore God did not create evil, He only created goodness but man spoilt it all by sinning and bringing evil into this world. Augustine argued that evil did not really exist as a thing in itself. Rather it is merely an absence of good. (Privatio boni) He claims that evil is a punishment of sin or an act of one person being sinful to another; none of that evil comes directly from God.

Stephen fry referred to the existence of bone cancer in children. In response, St. Irenaeus’ would say that suffering is a necessary part of God’s created universe; it is through suffering that human souls are made noble, as we develop, learn and mature through the bad things in life. The world is a ‘vale of soul making’.  We can also say that the human body is an extremely complex machine that has many faults right from birth, therefore we are put on this earth to be tested in many ways and this pain should strengthen our faith in Him.  Earth is not supposed to be perfect and full of perfect, free moral agents. This is why God created heaven and Hell. If you’re a good person, then you get to enjoy a forever-lasting afterlife in heaven. 

Fry describes the existence of underserved misery as "utterly, utterly evil." This is an interesting moral perspective, especially when viewed alongside Richard Dawkins' comments on the problem of suffering:

"In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."                                                                                                                                                              Dawkins articulates what happens if you take God out of your view of the world. In a godless universe we lose any concept of ultimate justice, good or evil. The universe is ultimately impersonal and indifferent to any of these concerns. Therefore, removing God from the equation does nothing whatsoever to eradicate the problem of evil and suffering in this world.

At the heart of the Fry's argument is the idea that the world that exists is as God intended it to be. He assumes that God deliberately created a universe with appalling suffering. But a central doctrine of the Christian faith is that God created a good and perfect world and after the fall of humanity nothing is fully as it should be. Rather than abandoning us when we make mistakes, God stepped into our history. Jesus died on the cross to bring forgiveness and reconciliation. He promises a future where evil is finally overthrown, however in the meantime we should follow in the footsteps of Jesus, showing the same love and grace to everyone.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Religion from an athiest point of view

I have been a catholic for all my life and when it came to the choice of making my confirmation I did not have to think twice in saying yes. It never occurred to me that my brother, who is a self-confessed atheist, had to make the decision to not make his confirmation. We have been raised in the same house by the same parents and brought up with the same religious beliefs for all our lives, yet we differed in our opinions on faith. This got me thinking and I decided to ask my brother why he decided to not believe in God and this is what I found out.

When I think of death I automatically think of going to heaven and being reunited with God, however when people do die my brother believes that they will just stay in the ground. I asked my brother does this not make you feel as if you are living a life that means nothing as when you die it is all lost and he said yes. You live your life the way you want to, there will be no judgement or reward everyone will just die. He said that there cannot be a heaven if God does not exist.

I then went on to ask my brother, how do you know God does not exist? He responded with all the evil and suffering in the world. My brother believes that evil and suffering is proof that God does not exist because he does not believe that a God who is supposed to be all loving and caring would allow his creations to go through such terrible times. To this I said to my brother, but evil and suffering is not for the sake of getting hurt, there is a reason for it. From the tough times we experience we will gain strength and knowledge and this will help us in the future. In reply my brother said there are other ways to gain strength and knowledge that do not involve being put through hell to gain them.

From this talk with my brother I have concluded that even though my brother and I had the same upbringing we both took a very different view on religion. My brother looks at the bad things and says how can a loving God allow this?, whereas I would look at it and say I wonder why I needed to gain this strength and knowledge, what will happen to me in the future for me to need it? Religion is not based on the things you are taught it is based on how you interpret the world and your experiences that form your opinion.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Derek Jarman's film Wittgenstein

Do you think Derek Jarman's film Wittgenstein is a useful way to learn about his philosophy?

Wittgenstein is a 1993 film by the English director Derek Jarman, it is loosely based on the life story as well as the philosophical thinking of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Some may believe that the film is a useful way to learn about Wittgenstein’s philosophy as the film uses simple language that is easy to understand, this is reflected in Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language games because he believed to be able to be in the game, you had to understand the rules of the game to be able to talk about the game. Therefore, in order for people to talk about the film, language that is easy to understand needs to be used. The film also uses props which carry hidden meanings in order to portray Wittgenstein’s philosophy and certain parts of his life, in a way that may be easier for some people instead of too much description. 

However, many people may find the use of props to portray certain things about Wittgenstein’s life and philosophy confusing, it is hard to understand the hidden meaning of the props being used if you have not studied Wittgenstein and his theory prior to watching the film. The props may also be seen to be distracting, for example the alien that is used in the film, it is very difficult to understand what the alien actually represents and why he was used at all. The alien is not the only prop that was hard to understand, there were many others that were never explained in the film, you just had to know. 

Another reason why the film is not a useful way to learn about Wittgenstein’s philosophy is because the film is heavily based on biographical information and what was happening in Wittgenstein’s life. The film was also based a lot on the build up to Wittgenstein’s philosophy and how he got to his final ideas, not the actual theory of his philosophy. Also, when the film actually did explain Wittgenstein’s theory (when he was lecturing at Cambridge) the film made it very hard for not only the other characters to understand what Wittgenstein was talking about, but also the audience, this could have been done in a much clearer way so that the audience can learn from the film.

To conclude, we feel that the film is not at all a useful way to learn about Wittgenstein’s philosophy, as not only is the film based more on biographical information but the hidden messages and props used are too distracting for any audience to learn anything about his philosophy from the film.


Monday, 10 November 2014

The Green Mile

Death Row guards at a penitentiary, in the 1930's, have a moral dilemma with their job when they discover one of their prisoners, a convicted murderer, has a special gift...

The Green Mile, (1999) tells the story of various prisoners on death row; told from the perspective of an elderly man looking back on his times as a prison officer in the 1930’s. It is hard to understand why this film can be seen as displaying miracles, however once the audience come into contact with inmate John Coffey, the story soon unravels and bewilders all.

A miracle is commonly known as an event which breaks the laws of science, therefore many believe the only explanation behind such events is God. This is shown in the modern day with the prisoner John Coffey, who is an example that people are not always what they seem.

In a Louisiana nursing home in 1999, Paul Edgecomb (the elderly ex prison guard) begins to cry while watching the 1935 film 'Top Hat'. His elderly friend Elaine shows concern for him, and Paul tells her that the film reminded him of when he was a prison officer in charge of death row inmates at Cold Mountain Penitentiary during the summer of 1935. The scene shifts to 1935, where Paul works with fellow guards Brutus "Brutal" Howell, Harry Terwilliger, and Dean Stanton.

The brutal prison guards feel they are justified in their actions towards the inmates, displaying the hate they have for them for committing such atrocious crimes. However, one inmate is different from the rest. The audience certainly get the wrong impression of John Coffey at a first glance; a giant black man convicted of raping and killing two young white girls as he arrives on death row. However, he is shy, soft-spoken, and emotional, telling the prison officers that he must sleep with the light on as he is afraid of the dark.

It is soon discovered that John has amazing powers, first by strangely healing the prison guards urinary track infection, then continuing to resuscitate one of the inmates’ pet mouse, whom he cannot live without. The prison guards then realise John’s amazing gift and sneak him out of the prison to heal one of their friends’ wife who was terminally ill, which he does. So why would a man who performs such miracles be responsible for the cruel and heartless death of two young girls? After all, although John Coffey seems like a gentle giant who performs these amazing miracles to save others, he is on death row for murder. The audience’s suspicions that John may not be guilty of such a crime are confirmed with the introduction of, ‘Wild Bill’ a violent psychopathic prisoner. The moment in which John’s arm is seized by Bill, John senses that it is him who committed this crime.

As John took the illness away from the terminally ill wife, he gives this illness to ‘Wild Bill’, stating that he is punishing him himself for what he had done. The prison officer Paul then interrogates John, as it is thought that he has believed in his innocence all along. John takes Pauls hand to show him what really happened, as he gives Paul a part of himself.

The ultimate twist in the film is that John is innocent. He was found lying next to the girls’ bodies, clutching them tightly and crying; not because he killed them, but because he was trying to use his powers to save their lives after finding their bodies abandoned, however it was too late to save them.

Paul asks John what he should do; if he should open the door and let John walk away. John tells him that there is too much pain in the world, to which he is sensitive, and says he is "rightly tired of the pain" and is ready to rest. For his last request on the night before his execution, John watches the film Top Hat. When John is put in the electric chair, he asks Paul not to put the traditional black hood over his head because he is afraid of the dark. Paul agrees, shakes his hand, and John is executed.

One aspect of John’s amazing powers is that he can naturally live forever, therefore he is sick and tired of how the world is and accepts death for a crime that he did not do. At the end of the film however, we see Paul, (the elderly ex prison guard) taking long walks daily to an abandoned shed in the forest. The audience are then shown the very mouse that John Coffey saved and are also informed that Paul will live forever also, as John gave each of them a part of him due to the miracles he performed on each of them.

Overall, the film cleverly shows the common belief about miracles being mystical events that simply cannot be explained, whilst putting a twist by giving these powers to someone like John Coffey, who would not typically be seen as one who performs such miracles. I believe this shows that the belief in miracles still exists today as it is explored through the moral dilemmas in this film.