Interview with New Director of Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity

An informative interview by Christianity Today with the new director of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity (CBHD), Paige Cunningham.  The CBHD website has a great collection of resources on bioethical issues from an evangelical perspective.

Here’s an excerpt:

What new bioethical challenges are you considering?

We’ve been talking with people from India and Africa about issues like the black market in organ transplantation. Crossing animals and humans has been approved in the U.K. There is a shortage of human eggs, so they want to use animal eggs. The reality is that these bioethical issues are not just an American or a Western concern; they are significant frontline issues around the world.

We recently saw news that New York will begin paying women to donate eggs for research.

People who are outside evangelicalism share real concerns about the impact on women’s health and the potential exploitation of women. It’s an irony that a young, white, smart, beautiful Ivy League college student can get up to $50,000 to donate her eggs, but in New York State, the limit is $5,000. They’re not really interested in the eggs for their genetic qualities. They just want eggs to create embryos. The issue shows real potential for exploitation of women who are trying to pay off a credit card bill or a mortgage. She’ll get one-tenth of what the Ivy League woman gets, and she may risk serious impact on her health.

What are other bioethical issues Christians need to be better educated about?

Adult stem cell research, which is using stem cells from anything other than embryos, is very successful. There are people walking around today who are alive because they had an adult stem cell treatment, using their own stem cells. There are also other alternatives to produce embryonic stem cell lines that don’t involve the destruction of an embryo: Altered Nuclear Transfer, which is still in active research, and IPS, Induced Pluripotent Stem cells. If Christians were going to pick one to be well informed on, stem cell research is probably the one I would encourage them to spend a little time with. (continue)


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Philosophy Word of the Day – Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, and regarded by some as the most important since Immanuel Kant. His early work was influenced by that of Arthur Schopenhauer and, especially, by his teacher Bertrand Russell and by Gottlob Frege, who became something of a friend. This work culminated in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only philosophy book that Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. It claimed to solve all the major problems of philosophy and was held in especially high esteem by the anti-metaphysical logical positivists. The Tractatus is based on the idea that philosophical problems arise from misunderstandings of the logic of language, and it tries to show what this logic is.

Wittgenstein’s later work, principally his Philosophical Investigations, shares this concern with logic and language, but takes a different, less technical, approach to philosophical problems. This book helped to inspire so-called ordinary language philosophy. This style of doing philosophy has fallen somewhat out of favor, but Wittgenstein’s work on rule-following and private language is still considered important, and his later philosophy is influential in a growing number of fields outside philosophy.

On religion and ethics:

Wittgenstein had a lifelong interest in religion and claimed to see every problem from a religious point of view, but never committed himself to any formal religion. His various remarks on ethics also suggest a particular point of view, and Wittgenstein often spoke of ethics and religion together. This point of view or attitude can be seen in the four main themes that run through Wittgenstein’s writings on ethics and religion: goodness, value or meaning are not to be found in the world; living the right way involves acceptance of or agreement with the world, or life, or God’s will, or fate; one who lives this way will see the world as a miracle; there is no answer to the problem of life–the solution is the disappearance of the problem.

(Via Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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Online Encyclopedia of Western Theology

Boston University
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I just discovered this nice-looking resource on the blogroll of A Time to Think – the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology.  According to the site, it “contains articles written mainly by students of Boston University Modern Western Theology seminars.”

There’s a great list of articles on important figures in theology such as Augustine, Barth, Jonathan Edwards, Carl Henry, and Niebuhr, as well as significant topics like evangelical theology, Protestant liberalism, Pietism, and the social gospel movement.

Some important figures in philosophy make the list too:  John Hick, Kierkegaard, John Locke, Richard Swinburne, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Looks like a fine resource for and by students of theology.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Problem of Universals

Universals are features (e.g., redness or tallness) shared by many individuals, each of which is said to instantiate or exemplify the universal. Although it began with dispute over the status of Platonic Forms, the problem of universals became a central concern during the middle ages. The metaphysical issue is whether or not these features exist independently of the particular things that have them: realists hold that they do; nominalists hold that they do not; conceptualists hold that they do so only mentally.

(via Philosophical Dictionary)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)

Sartre (1905-1980) is arguably the best known philosopher of the twentieth century. His indefatigable pursuit of philosophical reflection, literary creativity and, in the second half of his life, active political commitment gained him worldwide renown, if not an admiration. He is commonly considered the father of Existentialist philosophy, whose writings set the tone for intellectual life in the decade immediately following the Second World War. Among the many ironies that permeate his life, not the least is the immense popularity of his scandalous public lecture “Existentialism and Humanism,” delivered to an enthusiastic Parisian crowd October 28, 1945.

Though taken as a quasi manifesto for the Existentialist movement, the transcript of this lecture was the only publication that Sartre openly regretted seeing in print. And yet it continues to be the major introduction to his philosophy for the general public. One of the reasons both for its popularity and for his discomfort is the clarity with which it exhibits the major tenets of existentialist thought while revealing Sartre’s attempt to broaden its social application in response to his Communist and Catholic critics. In other words, it offers us a glimpse of Sartre’s thought “on the wing.”

(Via Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy)

The main idea of Jean-Paul Sartre is that we are, as humans, “condemned to be free.”[26] This theory relies upon his atheism, and is formed using the example of the paper-knife. Sartre says that if one considered a paper-knife, one would assume that the creator would have had a plan for it: an essence. Sartre said that human beings have no essence before their existence because, there is no Creator. Thus: “existence precedes essence”.[27] So, and just for that, the Sartrian man with his freedom will become a god, but he will remain always only a bankrupt god.

(Via Wikipedia)

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872)

Ludwig Feuerbach
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Ludwig Feuerbach, along with Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Marx, and Nietzsche, must be counted among those philosophical outsiders who rebelled against the academic philosophy of the 19th century and thought of themselves as reformers and prophets of a new culture. Although he began his career as an enthusiastic follower of Hegel, he emerged in the 1840s as a leader of a group of radicals called the Young Hegelians who, inspired by the revolutionary political spirit sweeping over Europe, employed the critical side of Hegel’s philosophy to undermine the reactionary alliance of philosophy, State, and Christianity in Prussia. But confronted by censorship, the police, and reprisals against them in the universities they turned against Hegel’s philosophy altogether. Expelled from the faculties for which they were trained, many of them became pamphleteers, journalists, revolutionaries, and independent scholars.

Feuerbach is best known for his criticism of Idealism and religion, especially Christianity, written in the early forties. He believed that any progress in human culture and civilization required the repudiation of both. His later writings were concerned with developing a materialistic humanism and an ethics of human solidarity. These writings have been more or less ignored until recently because most scholars have regarded him primarily as the bridge between Hegel and Marx. With the recent publication of a new critical edition of his works, however, a new generation of scholars have argued that his mature views are philosophically interesting in their own right. (Continue reading)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

in his most important work, Das Wesen des Christentums (1841; The Essence of Christianity), Feuerbach posited the notion that man is to himself his own object of thought and religion nothing more than a consciousness of the infinite. The result of this view is the notion that God is merely the outward projection of man’s inward nature.

In the first part of his book, which strongly influenced Marx, Feuerbach analyzed the “true or anthropological essence of religion.” Discussing God’s aspects “as a being of the understanding,” “as a moral being or law,” “as love,” and others, he argued that they correspond to different needs in human nature.

In the second section he analyzed the “false or theological essence of religion,” contending that the view that God has an existence independent of human existence leads to a belief in revelation and sacraments, which are items of an undesirable religious materialism.


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Ancient History on Mp3

Ruins of Greek Theater in the colony at Taormi...
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Open Culture compiles a nice list of university lectures on ancient Greek and Roman history.

Last fall, Yale University introduced a new round of open courses that included Donald Kagan’s Introduction to Ancient Greek History. A leading figure in the field, Kagan takes students from the Greek Dark Ages, through the rise of Sparta and Athens, The Peloponnesian War, and beyond. You’ll cover more than a millennium in 24 lectures. As I’ve noted elsewhere, Yale’s courses are high touch. And what’s particularly nice is that the course can be downloaded in one of five formats (text, audio, flash video, low bandwidth quicktime video, and high bandwidth quicktime video). Simply choose the format that works for you, and you’re good to go.

When you’ve completed the arc of Greek history, you can move next to the UC Berkeley course, The Roman Empire. The course taught by Isabelle Pafford moves from Julius Caesar to Constantine (roughly 40 BC to 300 AD) in 42 lectures. And the audio comes straight from the classroom, which means that you’ll get solid information but you’ll also have to endure some extraneous talk about homework assignments and exams. (It’s free, so don’t complain.) You can download this course in one of three ways: iTunes or  streamed audio. Lastly, I should note that Pafford has taught another related course at Berkeley – The Ancient Mediterranean World (iTunesFeed – MP3s).

Once you have the big survey courses under your belt, you can switch to some more focused courses coming out of Stanford. Let’s start with Patrick Hunt’s course Hannibal (iTunes). As I’ve noted in a previous post, this podcasted course takes you inside the life and adventures of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian military tactician who maneuvered his way across the Alps and stunned Roman armies in 218 BC. The course also gives you glimpses into cutting-edge trends in modern archaeology. Because Hannibal still remains a figure of intense historical interest, it’s not surprising that this course has ranked as one of the more popular courses on iTunesU. (more)

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