Lectures start promptly at 7:30PM and are held on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of each month September through May

1-13-2015Do we Have Prudential Reason to Believe in God?

Justin Fisher, Ph.D., SMU

Blaise Pascal thought we didn't have enough evidence to determine whether or not God exists, but in his famous "Wager", he argued that we still have prudential reason to believe in God because this has higher expected utility than does disbelief.  We'll carefully consider Pascal's Wager and some of the problems with it.  We'll also consider some other more "down to earth" prudential arguments that might raise more compelling practical reasons for various people to (try to) believe or disbelieve in God.  My conclusion will be that some people do have quite compelling prudential reason to try to believe in God, while other people have quite compelling prudential reason to try to be atheists.  

1-27-2015Folk Metaphysics as Cultural Confound and Constraint in Mental Health Discourse

John Sadler, MD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School

I describe the concept of ‘folk metaphysics’ and its value in understanding key areas of confusion and conflict in mental health and the criminal justice system.  Folk metaphysics are taken-for-granted beliefs about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, and the sources of truth and morality.  Western culture today is dominated by variations on two kinds of folk metaphysics, both emerging from diverging strands of the Enlightenment; one based on medieval Catholic church teachings, and imbricated today in Western common and criminal law, and the other, based on elite Enlightenment formulations of science, complex causality, and secularism.

2-10-2015:  Super Models; Our Quest to Explain the Nature of Reality and the Reality of Nature

Skip Kilmer, M.S., Greenhill School, Retired

Since our detection of patterns in what we see and hear we have looked for coherent explanations for those patterns. At the same time we have tried to influence or even control forces in the world. This presentation will comprise a shamefully abridged, somewhat chronological exposition of some prominent milestones toward these theories.

2-24-2015: The Power of Brevity: The Role of Poetry in a World of Too Many Words

Nathan Brown, Ph. D., University of Oklahoma: Poet Laureate of Oklahoma

The Power of Brevity: The Role of Poetry in a world of Too Many Words. " In a world bogged down in masses and messes of text-- print,personal devices, the Web, and television, all filled with an endless array of useless, if not worthless information-- determining what is and isn't worth our time and brain space, is becoming an impossible task. To make matters worse, the amount of it grows exponentially every day. In direct contrast, the poet-- though he or she deals in words as well -- is focused on one central goal: finding and fitting only the best possible words into the smallest of spaces. Some of us fail. But Poetry as an art form is-- or at least should be-- an exercise in cutting the fluff and getting to the core of communication and storytelling. This specific goal, or work ethic, is worth our consideration as we face the growing problem of information overload."

3-10-2015: What Makes Jewish Thought Jewish?

David Patterson, Ph.D., UTD

The phrase Jewish thought is often used, but the question of exactly what makes Jewish thought Jewish is seldom raised.  Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim has said, “Nothing so powerfully makes a philosopher Jewish as ‘Torah,’” but what exactly does that mean?  As the presentation explains, his statement concerns not the content of belief but the categories that shape our thinking.  What is to be considered here are the categories of Hebraic thinking over against the categories of Hellenistic thought that make up the foundations of the Western speculative tradition.  Among the opposing categories are causation vs. creation, reason vs. revelation, reflection vs. responsibility, and autonomy vs. heteronomy.  The presentation elucidates the contrast by examining the opening line of Torah: Bereshit bara Elokim et ha-shamayim v’et ha-aretz (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”)  It will be shown that, inasmuch as it is grounded in Torah, Jewish thought thinks in terms of human relation and higher relation.  In order to make the argument, the discussion draws on Franz Rosenzweig’s and concept of “speaking thinking,” as well as Emmanuel Levinas and his accent on the connection between subjectivity and responsibility.  Briefly stated, Jewish thought is a way of thinking that answers, “Here I am” to a summons that already devolves upon us.

3-24-2015: Religion and Political Consciousness in a Post-Secular Age. 

Robert Hunt, SMU

It has been recognized over the last decade that the nations bordering the North Atlantic are entering into a post-secular age. In this age the role of religion in public life that had been negotiated during the rise of modernity and the birth of secularism is being re-negotiated. What Charles Taylor calls the “cross pressures” of secularity as a situation of the consciousness in modernity are leading to both a re-assertion of religion in public life, and increasingly vehement denials of even the roles it has played thus far. I will offer an overview of Taylor’s theory of secularization and Elaine Graham’s recent work on how the re-negotiated place of religion in secular society is taking place.

4-14-2015: Meditation, Neuroscience, and Ethics

Ken Wiliford, Ph.D., UTA

What is meditation?  What are the varieties of meditation?  What does meditation do to your brain, according to contemporary neuroscience?  What is the relationship between meditation and religious experience?  What is the relationship between meditation and philosophy?  Can mediation help to make a person more virtuous or ethical?  Why meditate?  In this talk, these questions will be considered from philosophical, neuroscientific, and socio-historical points of view.

4-28-2015: Miracles, Philosophy and Contemporary Science

Dr. Robert Sloan Lee

The 20th century (and beyond) has been especially hostile to the notion of the miraculous (at least in some circles).  Many seem to think that the force of the case against the miraculous is somehow tied to the enterprise of science.  This paper will examine the idea of how, exactly, miracles are supposed to be contrary to the principles of scientific investigation and explore arguments advancing that outlook.   In particular, we will focus on the arguments of Guy Robinson (namely, that appealing to the miraculous lies outside of the scope of science) and G. E. Moore (namely, that explanations appealing to the miraculous, unlike scientific explanations, are epistemologically unstable or capricious). 

5-12-2015: Montesquieu: The Conservative Liberalism of the Political Scientist

Frank Rohmer, Austin College

While Montesquieu was the political theorist most quoted by Federalists and Anti-Federalists in the debate over the ratification of the U. S. Constitution, his political thought has received less attention, except at the superficial level, from all but a few bold explorers who have been willing to brave the daunting task of discovering the subtle teachings concealed in the labyrinthine chapters of The Spirit of the Laws (1748). Those passages, as all have understood, reveal Montesquieu as a defender of liberty against oppressive forms of government. What those passages make less clear is that Montesquieu viewed human freedom differently from his philosophic predecessors Hobbes and Locke because Montesquieu viewed human nature differently and more complexly. Where Hobbes and Locke viewed human nature in the abstract and sought the legitimacy of government in the human consent to a government that secured basic natural rights, Montesquieu understood human nature not in the abstract but as refracted by the variety of human civilizations. This comparative approach to human nature and political life was, for Montesquieu, as it would also be for Edmund Burke and William Blackstone who read him carefully, more scientific because grounded in historical experience and more prudent because sensitive to the inclinations of real human beings. To seek political reform in a recurrence to first principles or by the importation of foreign improvements was, for Montesquieu, to risk the precarious foundations of civil order for the chimaera of truth.