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Explore a range of examples and ideas for your Essays and Presentations and leave your comments.

By ToKTutor, Oct 8 2018 05:02PM

Example for Question 5:


Knowledge about Reincarnation


The case of the 3-year-old James Leininger is celebrated amongst believers in reincarnation as providing strong evidence to support the conclusion that souls or the individual consciousness of dead people can live on in other bodies. What sort of ‘evidence’ is this? And in reality, don’t such conclusions go ‘beyond the evidence for them’? In Natural Science, experts deal in empirical evidence; that is, evidence generated by means of experiment or observation based on measurable facts or data: quantitative evidence. In Ethics and Human Science, experts deal more in evidence such as eye witness accounts or surveys and polls; that is, evidence generated through human sources based on subjective responses: qualitative evidence. Where does the ‘evidence’ for knowledge about reincarnation or other paranormal events fit? Leininger’s parents initially offered evidence of the boy’s fascination with war planes and recurring nightmares about plane crashes for the conclusion that he was the reincarnation of a WW2 fighter pilot. Clearly, such evidence is hardly measurable beyond an anecdotal interest in a child’s early development. Subsequently, they researched books about children who had lived ‘past lives’ and built up a profile of James’s own past life. This hints at the possibility of the confirmation bias – searching for data to support one’s already preconceived idea of a situation. This was reinforced by the fact that also in their book, Leininger’s parents explain how they took advice from a past life regression specialist to make sense of their son’s situation: keep reassuring the boy that he was indeed a reincarnated WW2 fighter pilot. Now, when you apply the skeptical dictum ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, you’re saying that you’re willing to accept strange conclusions like Leininger’s but that you want something more concrete than the qualitative evidence provided by the parents. How am I to KNOW that the soul of a WW2 fighter pilot has been reborn in this child? Presumably, the boy should know how to fly a WW2 plane, so let’s test this by putting him in a flight simulator. But this raises some serious philosophical issues like how and when do inanimate souls actually find the right body to reincarnate themselves? Or, to what extent do such souls retain their original memories and experiences? The strange thing about the Leininger case is that, as the parent’s later explained, after the short period in which James’s case had caught the public’s eye, James’s memories of ‘past life’ experiences seemed to disappear altogether…

By ToKTutor, Feb 26 2018 09:25AM

Example for Question 1:


In the 21st Century, it’s almost clichéd to assert that Science and Religion don’t mix well. There is some overlapping of these disciplines, as evidenced in the debate between Creationists and Evolutionists, but on the whole, there seems to be a consensus that Science should keep a distance from any knowledge claims made about non-physical, non-empirical phenomena like the existence of divine beings, miracles and the afterlife. Of course, there are some exceptions, like John Polkinghorne, of scientists who are also deeply religious, and who use the scientific method to draw the limits of scientific knowledge. There have been numerous occasions, however, in which the discipline of the scientific method has been employed actively to ‘prove’ religious knowledge claims but have lead only to confusion. Consider, for example, Duncan MacDougall’s attempt to weigh the soul. Under the challenge to refine the evidence to support his claim that the soul weighed 21 grams, MacDougall set up an experiment to photograph the soul at the point it left the body. Ultimately, his ideas were never accepted fully into the body of scientific knowledge, owing to flaws in his methodology, the smallness of his sample size and imprecise measuring tools. However, if MacDougall’s approach to the overlapping of Science and Religion didn’t strictly lead to a ‘confusion of knowledge’, it highlights, much like Polkinghorne’s work, what it means to work at the boundaries of scientific knowledge. Even today, when we approach the edge of scientific knowledge about our universe, such as the existence of dark matter, we can be overwhelmed by the same kind of mysteriousness that we sense when contemplating a universe inhabited by a divine force...


By ToKTutor, Feb 11 2018 09:22AM

Example for Question 3:


What does an ethical ‘uniformity’ look like exactly? It means, presumably, that there are absolute standards of moral judgment like ‘Killing is wrong’ which can be applied equally to all real life situations of killing with the same result at the end: punishment for the perpetrators. Now this kind of absolutism might work in, for example a Christian context, in which the moral absolutes of the 10 Commandments are delivered by an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God, but such a view of morality has been undermined at least by the Euthyphro problem. What about other ethical theories like ‘consequentialism’ and ‘deontology’? Can the principles of these theories be applied uniformly to reach knowledge about ethical dilemmas? Take the notorious ‘trolley problem’ which tests the utilitarian principle ‘the happiness of the greatest number of people is to be maximised . Even here, it has been shown how many people who would pull a lever to save the five track workers and sacrifice the one track worker, therefore maximising the happiness of the many at the expense of the few, would fail to apply the same principle when posed with the choice of throwing a fat man over a bridge to save the five track workers. So if there’s no uniform application of principles, are we doomed to ethical relativism: what’s right for you is wrong for me? Moral Foundation theory suggests that we don’t actually apply ANY rational principles or standards in the face of ethical dilemmas, such as is it wrong to eat our dog after it dies? Or is it wrong to have sex with our sister? What we do is to express a moral emotion first. Often we can’t explain why we feel this way but end up constructing a post hoc rationalisation of why we feel like we do when pressed by some else to explain ourselves. Our moral emotions, according to this theory, are shaped by six fundamental types which make up the uniform moral landscape of our lives. The theory draws on evolutionary theory, suggesting that our moral emotions have a distinct survival value. The intensity of our moral feelings in different ethical dilemmas fluctuate between a spectrum of each binary emotion: care/harm; fairness/cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation and liberty/oppression…

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