[image: text from 1984 by George Orwell]
The most effective way to gag an opponent is to refuse to listen to him/her, and then, within your own community, to redefine the words he/she uses. George Orwell illustrated this with great perception and power in his book, 1984, shown above.
No one is currently trying to say things like “freedom is slavery”, but a contemporary example of an attempt to change the meaning of an important word is the attempt to redefine the word “faith” to mean “belief without reasonable evidential basis”. In other words to define it as delusion or wishful thinking. I mention this here because I have now seen that nasty redefinition taken for granted not just in populist rhetoric but even in some academic philosophy. This is a clear example of a word with a perfectly good etymological basis in trust and loyalty, and which certainly does not and never did mean assent without a reasonable case based in evidence, now being forced into a very different meaning. I say very different, because it makes the difference between sense and nonsense.
I have been reading a paper by Peter van Inwagen, called “The problem of evil, the problem of air, and the problem of silence”. It is published in Philosophical Perspectives 5: 135-165 (1991) and you can find a copy at the following site, which gives a useful collection of van Inwagen’s papers:
Peter van Inwagen wrote the paper in response to Paul Draper, Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists, Nous 23, 331-50 (1989). It considers the argument that the nature of the world, with all its pain and suffering, indicates that the source of the world is indifferent to it, or, at least, that this is more likely than that such a source cares about the world.
Added note. This is a note added for readers in the Oxford area.
I am giving a lecture at Headington Baptist Church on 12 September. Doors open at 7:30pm; talk from 8:00pm, with questions and discussion afterwards. The subject is basically the theme of this blog and my book of the same name. The venue is the church building at 78 Old High Street, Headington, Oxford OX3 9HW; click here for a map.
Reading New Scientist magazine this week I came across a statement I very much like:
“Mathematics is not as much about finding proofs as it is about finding concepts.”