Archive for May, 2009

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May 23, 2009

Suppose I say, ‘I have this idea. Let’s climb up to the top of the cliffs and see if we can fly.’ Or:  I start to tell you an idea I have about setting up this investment company, but rather than invest the money we can use some of the new cash to give great returns to the old investors and skim off the rest, live high on the hog. It’s the perfect idea…

Aside from getting us killed and/ or put in jail, I’m advertising something here called an ‘idea’, and right now I’m giving you the idea that ideas are a bad thing (though look here before you cancel on the flying plan) but of course ideas always start out to be good—otherwise why have them, why say them, why write them down. ‘I have this stupid idea. Let’s climb…’

Some would say ideas are the province of philosophy; some would say ideas are the right of all free men and women, that they are in fact one of the things that makes us free; some would say ideas are the bane of mankind, the essential problem, that you can do just about anything with ideas—with the possible exception of eating them: It’s difficult to tell where ideas start and stop; it’s like the universe is pure mind generating impure thoughts: If mankind is the mind of the earth, ideas are like lightning in the night sky.

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A. C. Grayling has a new book out called Ideas that Matter: a Personal Guide for the 21st Century and The Edge has an ‘interview’ with him—actually he just talks for 10 minutes or so—where he sets out some ‘questions’ that are on his mind, ideas about science, liberal democracy, the mind, and information theory, and Memorial Day seems a good time to talk about them. For example: Science, he argues, is a the greatest achievement of mankind to date. We need to figure out a way to get more people interested in it. We need more scientists, more science education, more science awareness in general.

A.C. Grayling is a philosopher. That is his considered opinion; we can take it a fine example of an idea; we can even wonder if it is true.

Dr. Greg H. Bahnsen also has some videos on the web. Here he’s lecturing about ‘Problems for Unbelieving Worldviews’(sic), and even though he doesn’t earmark things as clearly as Grayling, he does have an idea we can talk about: You can’t actually do philosophy.

Dr. Bahnsen is a Christian apologist. This is his considered opinion; it too is a fine example of an idea; and while we would like to wonder if it’s true—I wonder if Dr. Bahnsen will let us, that wondering stuff being desperately close to doing philosophy.

Now Grayling seems pretty tame, maybe too tame:  We’ve got to get the kids into the lab. The more people that study science the better we will be. Sounds unexceptionable: it’s not like he’s drawing his cudgels to do battle with Dr. Bahnsen about philosophy: we’re talking science here, the science that gave us penicillin and the smallpox vaccine; that’s put a man on the moon; that’s given us evolution and the DNA molecule, has harnessed the power of electricity. Science has to be a good thing; so, it must be good to have more of it.  Right?

Let’s run a little thought experiment: these days the most popular major in college is business—finance, money and banking, economics, all that stuff—we’ve been putting the kids into the office, not the lab—so to draw a parallel with Professor Grayling’s thinking—if more science education will produce more and better science, we should be expecting a great flowering in our economic life right about now, a golden age: Third world countries finally getting the financial help they need, thoughtful and creative ways to provide universal health care, a true safety net for the old and infirm, economic stability for us all.

That’s not quite what’s happening, is it? Even if we don’t totter over the brink in to financial chaos, it seems fair to say that all we’ve produced lately is a lot of financial sharpies out trying to steal our money. And in a big way. Want to get a picture of just how much 700 billion dollars is? If you count a dollar a second, it will take you 31 years, 251 days, 7 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds to count one billion dollars. One billion. To count 700 billion we’re talking over 20,000 years: if you were just finishing your count today, you would have had to start in your cave during an ice age in the Pleistocene. You want a hot chocolate or anything?

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