MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 58

Guests on Volume 58: Hubert Dreyfus, on the limits of artificial intelligence; Francis Fukuyama, on biotechnology and the arrogance of "participatory evolution"; Gordon Preece, on the underlying assumption of Peter Singer's ethical ideas; Gijs van Hensbergen, on the marvelous architecture of Antoni Gaudí; Ted Prescott, on why the idea of beauty was rejected in the 20th century, and how it is returning; and Bradley J. Birzer, on the mythic roots of Middle Earth in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion and on Tolkien's idea of myth.

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Part 1

  • Description

    Hubert Dreyfus on the limits of artificial intelligence

    On the Internet (Routledge, 2001)

    "A lot of what it is to have a body we know just by being one. We don't have to have a list of facts to know, for instance, that you can't whistle and chew gum at the same time . . . . Your body tells you whether you can do it."
    Hubert Dreyfus

    Professor Hubert Dreyfus discusses the similarities between those who believe in Christianity influenced by Platonic thought and those who research artificial intelligence. Dreyfus, author of On the Internet, explains that both groups deny the importance of the body. Their reasons are different, he says, but they both do a disservice to their vocations with their denial. Dreyfus attends to what Christianity actually believes about the body. He also notes why research about artificial intelligence would benefit from a favorable account of it.

  • Description

    Francis Fukuyama on biotechnology and the arrogance of "participatory evolution"

    Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002)

    Professor Francis Fukuyama discusses human nature and biotechnology's treatment of it. Fukuyama is author of Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution. He explains that many who advocate using biotechnology to alter human nature genetically believe that they are rightly promoting evolution. They are undertaking their experiments without a deep and rich understanding of what it is they are altering, however. Fukuyama mentions the complexity of human nature and why tampering with it is a problem.

  • Description

    Gordon Preece on the underlying assumption of Peter Singer's ethical ideas

    Rethinking Peter Singer: A Christian Critique (InterVarsity Press, 2002)

    Professor Gordon Preece discusses the premises of Peter Singer's bioethics and offers different guidelines for thinking about bioethics. Preece is author of Rethinking Peter Singer: A Christian Critique. He explains that Singer is a preference utilitarian, which means that he believes people are means rather than ends; in other words, that they have no intrinsic worth. Singer's arguments about people and bioethics appeal to many Americans because they are practiced in making other sorts of decisions based on utilitarian reasons. Preece describes an ethical framework that acknowledges the intrinsic worth of people.

  • Description

    Gijs van Hensbergen on the marvelous architecture of Antoni Gaudí

    Gaudí: A Biography (HarperCollins, 2001)

    "What he loved was organic forms and the way that we could learn from nature how to build. [He thought that] the nearer you come to nature, the nearer you come to God."
    Gijs van Hensbergen

    Architect Antonio Gaudí (1852-1926) drew the inspiration for his extravagant and playful designs from nature, says Gijs van Hensbergen. Van Hensbergen, author of Gaudí: A Biography, became familiar with Gaudí's work early in life; as a boy he spent time in Gaudí's native village in Spain. He describes Gaudí's buildings, which pepper Barcelona, as outrageous, daring, and sensual. Almost completely devoid of right angles, the buildings are an imitation of nature, injecting a "wonderful vulgarity of colors" into a period in art history dominated by modern coolness, rational geometry, and steel and glass. A devout Catholic, he believed that one's feelings and love should take physical form, and he poured his into his structures.

Part 2

  • Description

    Ted Prescott on why the idea of beauty was rejected in the 20th century, and how it is returning

    Selma Cross (galvanized steel, slate, alabaster) by Ted Prescott

    Sculptor and professor Ted Prescott discusses why many artists and critics in the twentieth century think that art and beauty are not complementary. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, says Prescott, art assumed responsibility for cultural redemption, and the rules for measuring beauty became nearly mathematical. These classifications, along with the enervation of Christianity's presence in culture, eventually encouraged the growth of the idea that art should be meaningful or socially useful rather than beautiful. Prescott explains how the (relatively) more recent understanding of art makes it difficult for students to discern or appreciate beauty. He notes that discipline, solitude, and time are essential for cultivating the ability to apprehend it.

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    Bradley J. Birzer on the mythic roots of Middle Earth in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion

    J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth (I.S.I. Books, 2002)

    Professor Bradley J. Birzer discusses J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion and how Tolkien wrote about the "problem of the Fall." Birzer is author of J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth. He explains that The Silmarillion, which Tolkien began in 1914 while he was serving in the British trenches, was Tolkien's life work; it remained incomplete until 1977 when his son finished it. It is the larger mythology into which The Lord of the Rings fits, says Birzer, and is referenced over 600 times in the trilogy. While the fall of Middle-earth sets the tone for The Lord of the Rings, it is in The Silmarillion that that fall is described and that Tolkien hints at its resolution.

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    Bradley J. Birzer from the bonus track of the CD edition, on Tolkien's idea of myth

    "To limit ourselves to just the five senses, [Tolkien] argued, was essentially to make us animals."
    Bradley J. Birzer

    Professor Bradley J. Birzer discusses J. R. R. Tolkien's understanding of how people know truth and compares it to modernity's understanding of the same. Birzer, author of J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth, explains that Tolkien believed people know truth through myth, which is a story that cannot be accounted for through facts. Myths relay some of the greatest truths people can know, such as the story of Christ and the Garden of Eden, truths which are beyond the knowledge supplied by people’s five senses. Modernity, however, asserts that truth can only be known through facts and the senses. Birzer explains Tolkien's perspective on why knowing truth through myth is helpful to people; being placed in the context of a story, he says, helps people to know who they are and enables them to play their part.