Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Charles Rice: Question and Answer Session

There was a brief question-and-answer session after the main talk, which was unfortunately dominated by two questioners. I didn't take detailed notes. Again, my comments in brackets.

First questioner: "So, isn't the Enlightenment really another Dark Age for Catholics"?
Rice: Yes. Our culture has lost its mind. You should pray the rosary. One of the things we are missing is an appreciation of spiritual reality. We are more than material beings. We know this because we can do two things that a material being cannot: abstraction and reflection. An abstract idea does not exist in the material world. [Pure assertion. There is no reason why a "material being" could not abstract or reflect, and there is good evidence that some animals can do abstraction and reflection.]

Another questioner: The bible approves of slavery. Doesn't that make God unjust?
Rice: Slavery in the bible means something different from the slavery we think of today.

After the lecture was over, Rice suggested he would take additional questions informally. I approached him and tried to ask about a passage in his book, 50 Questions on the Natural Law. The passage in question reads:

"It would make no more sense to force a day-care center to hire an acknowledged or practicing homosexual than it would to make a bank hire an acknowledged or practicing thief."

Holding a copy of the book, I said, "I understand why a bank would want to not hire a thief, because a thief might steal from the bank. But why would a day-care center want to not hire a gay person?"

Rice responded, "Read the book." I replied, "I have. But it's not clear. What is the rationale you are implying?"

Rice said, "Look, I already said I'm not going to answer any questions on that topic." I replied, "It's a shame you don't have the courage of your convictions to defend your views." Rice began to look rather annoyed.

Rice said, "At least you bought my book." I said, "No, I borrowed it from the library." And that was that.

[In my view, a scholar has an obligation to defend his published views in his area of expertise. I don't know why Rice refused to do so; perhaps it is because the passage is indefensible. Even if he didn't want to do so last night, Rice could have said something like, "I don't want to get into that here, but if you give me your e-mail address, I'll address your question later." But he didn't. In my mind, he has spectacularly failed his obligation as a scholar.]

By the way, news reports say that Rice will give a secret, by-invitation-only seminar for faculty today and teach a philosophy class. In the past, these additional seminars have been publicized and available for everyone who is interested. But not this year. I guess the Pascal lecture committee would rather have secret seminars away from people who might dare to ask inconvenient questions - which Rice probably would refuse to answer, anyway.


R+R said...

<3 Thanks so much for doing this, taking all the effort to suffer through his book, and asking the question.

KeithB said...

Hey, what do you know, someone asked my question. His answer was a lie, but oh, well.

Anonymous said...

Not defending him or anything but he might have had a logical reason for not answering your question. Not necessarily that he cannot defend his argument.
Probably could be because he was told not to discuss that topic in this lecture and he was merely abiding by it.

Anonymous said...

Jeff your musing (below) about the Pascal lecture committee's motives may be accurate;
"I guess the Pascal lecture committee would rather have secret seminars away from people who might dare to ask inconvenient questions..."

OR, it may be that the secret, invitation only meeting is essentially Rice preaching to the choir. Fine way to spend donor dollars -- NOT.

Anonymous said...

Jeff I echo the comments below from this link

RL Says:
March 20, 2012 10:45 PM

@44: I meant the guy's supporters. Shallit is a very sharp guy, I greatly enjoyed reading his blog and the one class I had with him.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Probably could be because he was told not to discuss that topic in this lecture and he was merely abiding by it.

Sure, that's possible. But then why did he seem so aggressive about it? Why not just say, "That's a good question; give me your e-mail and I'll respond next week"?

Anonymous said...

This was great! Rice is an example of a moron talking out of his ass. I do not understand how this guy managed to get invited to speak at the university at all. A law degree does not equal a degree in philosophy or sociology and in this case, it really shows!

Christine said...

An actual scholar would have been gratified not that you had purchased his book but that you had read it.

Anonymous said...

Why remain at your current university given its commitment to this lecture series? Make a stand and quit. If others follow your lead the university may drop the lectures. You have enough of a reputation to at least get a job as a community college instructor without too much trouble.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The lecture series is not run by the University, but rather by the Pascal Lectures committee, and is funded with private funds. My resignation would not affect them in any way at all.