Jejudo, South Korea
I have no love for Blackburn either. His strategy is almost always a kind of 'now, of course, this is nonsense' approach that works wonders on many readers because it makes them feel intelligent. It's a common strategy for conservatives these days.
And, it works, it works.
But Polkinghorn doesn't do it for me either:
Are we to believe that some animals are self-conscious and some are not, and that's that? To take so dismissive and epiphenomenal a view of personhood seems to be tantamount to denying that there are any meaningful events in cosmic history at all. I cannot conceive of an occurrence in the universe's evolutionary development that is more astonishing and fraught with signs of fruitful significance than that it should have become aware of itself through the coming to be of humanity.
If we want to give it significance, there's no problem at all with doing so, but that means we give it significance, not because the significance is there to be found. To me, this is just a variation on Blackburn's rhetorical strategy, "Now, it is ridiculous to assume that this isn't important . . ."
In both cases, there is an appeal to a kind of 'common sense' (I mean this to be taken in multiple ways)and nothing else. What is interesting though is if Blackburn's God is reason and Polkinghorne's God is, well, God, why do they both presuppose a common sense in order to make their arguments?
Let me try to be clearer. Blackburn is using the rhetorical stategy, "You're stupid if you don't think like me." Polkinghorne is using, "It's unthinkable to imagine something other than I imagine."
In both cases, rebuttal is shut down.
I can almost hear Ron giggle at this moment, "But, Brad, they are talking to other people, they have to appeal to some kind of common ground in order to be understood," and I would agree, but if either Blackburn or Polkinghorne are correct then they wouldn't need to appeal to common sense, they would appeal to that common ground.
I may be being unfair to Polkinghorne, I haven't read his book(s) and I doubt if I'm going to, but this is what I see in the above quote at any rate. I accept that we should take responsibility for ourselves, but it seems to be that religion, or at least a certain kind of religion, and rationalism, or at least a certain kind of rationalism, defer this responsibility:
1. But those are the facts.
2. But that's what God says.
3. History dictates.
It seems to me that in each case, we appeal to an outside force (the usual suspects), but in each case we surrender our responsibility and thereby allow ourselves to do things that we wouldn't do otherwise. It's important to understand that by doing this we also surrender our responsibility to consequences regardless of whether those consequences are good or bad. I've touched on this elsewhere but humility is a tricky thing.
If I defer to God or to Reason (or to the Constitution), I free myself from taking responsibility for my actions whether they be good or bad, it allows me complete self-indulgence into whatever I believe without taking into account the presence of others.
The consequences of my actions need not be taken into consideration. Now, I've made much of the movie "Frailty", but if we don't take responsibility for the good things that happen in our lives, if we still chalk them up to following reason or God, we are, at the same time, blind to the consequences that may follow from good things happening. We party. And when we are attacked, we are unable to understand why they would attack 'us' since 'we' didn't do anything to 'them'.
Okay, that's a bit of a jump, but let me put it another way, the deferral of responsibility in any form leads to the mistaken view that we are innocent (again, meant in multiple ways). It is this innocence that hinders us from growing up. But, there is no difference in saying, "It's not me, it's God," and "It's just the way it is," and "I have my rights."
The question that bothers me is, honestly, that at times such a deferral may be absolutely necessary for us to survive. When presented with the responsibility that I'm suggesting here, a responsibility of such a magnitude, that we simply can't bear it.
Gee, kind of like the responsibility of a parent to a child? I guess, in the end, we all just muddle through.
But I think it's time to see ourselves as parents, not as children.