Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Analytic, Schmanalytic

I just read this little gem in the Wikipedia definition of Analytic Philosophy:
The method of Analytic philosophy is a generalized approach to philosophy. Originally associated with the very limited projects of logical analysis, it nowadays emphasizes (merely) a clear, precise approach with particular weight being placed upon argumentation and evidence, avoidance of ambiguity, and attention to detail. This has made many philosophical subjects more suited to specialization and precision work, and also less accessible than they were in the past. Arguably it has also resulted in philosophy having less of the sweeping "meaning of life" scope that is popularly associated with the term, and the critics of analytic philosophy sometimes level this point against it.
See, this is what ticks me off. One's distaste for the conclusion of a line of reasoning isn't a valid criticism of the reasoning itself. If it were, I could criticise thermodynamics on the basis that I don't much like cold weather: Thermodynamics, Schmermodynamics, Q.E.D.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Election Made Simple

A concise and eloquent proposition from Abu Aardvark:

Vote for this or against it.

It really isn't that complicated.

The world is watching. The world wants to know which America is the real America: the one which offers a vision of a better world, a more liberal and free world, a safer and more just world... or the one in this picture, a world brought to you by George Bush and his administration and for which no-one of any consequence has been held accountable.

Vote for one.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Apparently, I've reached 1917

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the function of logic.

At the suggestion of my friend robin, I investigated the works of the philosopher Josiah Royce.

Royce wrote an interesting essay on the subject of "Order." In this essay written in 1917, Royce appears to come to conclusions similar to mine:

We may sum up with the observation that, if we had no exact idea of what inference is, we should have no exact idea of what order is, while our very idea of what inference is depends in all cases where an inference relates to classes and to general law, upon our idea of what constitutes the negative of a defined class of objects or cases. Without negation there is no inference. Without inference there is no order, in the strictly logical sense of the word. The fundamentally significant position of the idea of negation in determining and controlling our idea of the orderliness of both the ideal and the real world, of both the natural and the spiritual order, becomes, in the light of all these considerations, as momentous as it is, in our ordinary popular views of this subject, neglected. To the article NEGATION we must, therefore, refer as furnishing some account of the logical basis upon which the idea of order depends. From this point of view, in fact, negation appears as one of the most significant of all the ideas that lie at the base of all the exact sciences. By virtue of the idea of negation we are able to define processes of inference – processes which, in their abstract form, the purely mathematical sciences illustrate, and which, in their natural expression, the laws of the physical world, as known to our inductive science, exemplify. Serial order is the simplest instance of that orderly arraying of facts, inferences, and laws upon which, on the theoretical side of its work, science depends; while, as we have seen, in the practical world, the arraying, the organizing, of individual and social life constantly illustrates, justifies, and renders spiritually precious this type of connexion, which makes our lives consecutive and progressive, instead of incoherent and broken.

As an aside, notice how Royce mixes discussions about propositional logic (the rigorous) with discussions about natural language and religion (the informal). I'm not saying Royce was confused on these issues, I'm just saying that his papers don't seem organized in a logical fashion considering the distinctions involved.

Anyway, I interpret Royce's analysis as consistent with my own: logic is vital for comprehension and perception of structure, and that negation in logic is even more fundamental, negation being necessary for knowledge, even of the most simple facts.

So there you have it. I might just have deduced something that Royce figured out more than 50 years before I was born!

I agree with Royce: without logic there can be no knowledge or structure.

Why was I never taught about the nature of logic in high school or college? Is this conclusion obscure or controversial?

Here's why I think this is an important issue.

Ask your friends this question: "Can we have knowledge without logic?"

I think most people would say yes. However, they are not answering the question literally. They read the question as: "Can a person obtain knowledge without using speech, inner monologue or symbol manipulation?"

Of course, we can know something from intuition or gut feeling without using reason explicitly. Let's look closely at an example. Suppose you work as a security guard at an airport, and a passenger tells you "Yes, I packed my own suitcase." Your gut tells you the person is lying, even though you have little conscious evidence that this is the case. Plausible, right? It is well known that people can subconsciously pick up on small details in a person's body language, speech or facial expressions. However, even this intuitive inference would be impossible if we could not distinguish between one proposition, "The passenger is lying," and its negation, "The passenger is not lying."

This is the one of the pillars of logical positivism: in a domain where logic does not apply, there can be no knowledge or perception. Since causality is itself a form of order (it implies structure in time), there can be no causality without logic.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Newsflash: Bush supporters delusional

Why does Bush get so much support despite the Iraq war debacle? The new survey from the Program on International Policy Attitudes explains a lot.

Perceptions of Bush supporters:
72% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq had actual WMD (47%) or a major program for developing them (25%).

75% of Bush supporters continue to believe that Iraq was providing substantial support to al Qaeda, and 63% believe that clear evidence of this support has been found.

Eighty-two percent of Bush supporters perceive the Bush administration as saying that Iraq had WMD (63%) or that Iraq had a major WMD program (19%).

...only 31% of Bush supporters recognize that the majority of people in the world oppose the US having gone to war with Iraq.

The Facts:
Iraq had no WMD, no programs to build WMD, a waning capacity to start programs for WMD, and no connection to al Qaeda. The majority of people in the world opposed the invasion of Iraq and oppose the reelection of Bush.

Bush's strength in the polls is due to the high level of ignorance of his supporters.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

The function of logic

What is logic? Until last night I believed that the sole purpose of logic was to guarantee consistency. Suppose we have a set of propositions (statements that are either true or false):

{Pi, i = 1..N}

We then assign each proposition a truth value:

{Pi = Ti, i = 1..N}

where Ti is true or false. Logic is the tool we use to determine whether or not the assigned truth values lead to a contradiction.

For example, if P1 = ~ P2 then logic tells us that T1 = ~ T2. If T1 = T2 then there is a contradiction.

If we forego logic, we must accept that for any proposition, P, we regard as true, its negative, ~P, might also be true. Clearly, in this case, knowledge would be impossible.

However, last night I wondered what would happen if we weakened logic so that the only logical operation was the NOT (~) operator. This allows us to meaningfully accept propositions as true without the fear that the negated proposition would also be true. But does it make knowledge possible?

My conclusion is that it allows facts, but does not permit comprehension or perception of structure. This is because structure is a relationship between facts. I may declare that "A > B", and its negation is "A <= B", but this is not the same thing as "A < B".

Another example: visually, a line is a sequence of points. In some sense we are saying that in a 2-D coordinate system (point P1 has no Y component) AND (point P2 has no Y component) AND (point P3 has no Y component) AND... If logical AND does not apply, we cannot even perceive structure.

This is not surprising since, as Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell proved, all mathematics can be derived from logic. Set theory (classification) and sorting are all consequences of logic, and without these we can have no perception.

If one gives up on logic, one sacrifices structure and perception.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Congratulations, George W!

Newsweek reports in Cash From Chaos:

The hard-line mullahs of Iran, however, are awash in cash. "Up through last year, they had come up with something like $20 billion extra they did not have to spend [on the regular budget]," says Azadeh Kian-Thiebaut, author of several studies of modern Iran. "They are rich," she says. And prices have jumped dramatically since then. At the same time, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his close allies have marginalized, brutalized and eliminated whatever was left of the democratic and reformist spirit that flourished in the country during the late 1990s.

Resentment of the mullahs' corruption is still widespread. But money helps buy quiet. A reign of fear is returning under the Revolutionary Guard Corps, or Pasdaran, now in de facto control of all major ministries. But protest and unrest are also subdued because of patronage: windfall billions channeled through the mullahs' charitable foundations. "The major problem is Iran's youth unemployment," says Kian-Thiebaut. The Iranian leadership can pump money into the black economy, where little is accounted for, but where most young people earn their living. In rural areas and in many slums, says Kian-Thiebaut, "there are people who really do survive only because of what they get from the government."

If Iran has a medal for service to its cause, George W. Bush should win it.

I wrote this post for a laugh. Then I read this.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Why philosophy is important

I find it surprising that most people don't have any interest in philosophy. True, there are many people who have concerns about day-to-day survival that trump their curiosities, but I think that accounts for a minority of philosophic apathists. Maybe it's the fact that the high school education system spends no time studying the subject. Who knows?*

Well, here's why I think philosophy is important.

Among other things, philosophy tries to answer the following questions:

How can I know things about the world?

How can I tell if I'm deluding myself?

What is good behavior?

Are each of my activities consistent with one another, or are they canceling each other out?

If the answers to these questions aren't interesting to you, read no further!

How can I know things about the world?
If I tell you that there will be an earthquake tomorrow because I "feel it in my bones," do you believe me? Can people know things by feeling them? Most people would say so, even though science disagrees.

What happens when two people, independent of any objective evidence, make contradictory predictions because they both "feel" they are right? What if Bob feels that God will appoint George W. Bush to a second term, and Bill feels that God must sway the election to Kerry? This kind of "feeling for the truth" happens all the time, and inevitably one of them is wrong. It's not unusual for a person to feel something is true when it isn't. If this happens so frequently, isn't it possible that "feeling the truth" isn't any better than a blind guess? Of course, with millions of people "feeling" reality with their emotions, eventually someone feels something to be true that actually is. Then you hear about it in the know-nothing media.

So how can we know things? For that matter, what is knowledge? This is an important branch of philosophy known as epistemology.

Can we use reason to prove that science is the only way to know anything?

Seems kind of important to me.

Ideological Consistency
I've discussed this issue previously in my blog, vis-a-vis Christian philosophy: who would Jesus bomb? Don't let me give you the impression that only religious people have consistency problems. We all do. It's not an easy problem to solve.

Here's a more lucid description of the issue. A person generally subscribes to the truth of certain propositions, like one should do unto others as you would have done to yourself, or kill them all and let God sort them out. But what happens if the propositions are contradictory? In that case, our good works cancel out our evil/bad works, e.g., the good work we do by following the Golden Rule might be undone by careless application of the death penalty.

On these matters, we must never proceed by blindly taking instructions from someone else. We must always question the philosophical bases of our actions.

The way to approach this problem is to carefully examine the logical relationships between your principles. What do our words really mean? If we can't even define the meaning of our words and our principles, how can we possibly know if they're contradictory?

What is good?
It is absolutely vital that we each try to answer this question. I think it is totally irresponsible to simply accept a definition of what is good without due contemplation and without reason. You might doubt whether reason and experience are enough to answer such philosophical questions. This is a reasonable starting point, but it's not an excuse not to try.

"Most of philosophy is bunk"
As a subscriber to one particular philosophy, logical positivism, I think this statement is actually quite true. Nonetheless, the great abundance of balderdash isn't a justification to ignore philosophical questions. You can't just say something is bunk without just cause.

Feeling alive
Some people get their thrills by bungee-jumping off a thousand-foot bridge. It's a way of making contact with reality, of feeling alive. For me, philosophy has the same effect. By studying reality and coming to terms with the cosmos in the most honest way possible, I feel as if I'm making an almost spiritual connection with the universe.

*Am I supposed to use a question mark after a rhetorical question? Maybe I need a new symbol...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Logical Positivism

Logical positivism is a beautiful, naturalistic philosophy that forms the foundation of my thinking.

Logical positivism can basically be summed up by the principle of verifiability:

The meaning of a proposition is its method of verification.

It's a little hard to grasp at first, but it's elegantly simple. A proposition is a statement that is either true or false. Not all statements are propositions, e.g.,

Squiggle juggles dimetrodon squared.

is neither true nor false, it is simply nonsensical. One of the primary goals of philosophy is to identify meaning. It is the central claim of logical positivism that a statement only makes sense if it says something concrete about experience. In other words, given a proposition, its meaning consists of all the experiments you might do to disprove the proposition. This does not mean that all meaningful propositions are false, it just means that it should be possible to show the proposition is false if it were indeed false.

If a proposition can never be falsified, not even in principle, then the proposition says nothing about experience, past, present or future. Such propositions are neither true nor false. They say nothing.

In natural language, we often say things that don't meet the strict requirements of logical positivism. Most of the time, our natural language is a shorthand for meaningful propositions. Unfortunately, sometimes we're simply confused. We may say something that sounds meaningful, but is really just poetic. Here are some examples:

God exists.

God is good.

I have free will.

Typically, the person expressing these propositions intends them to be beyond verification (or falsification). If you ask a person who believes in traditional theology whether it is possible to falsify the proposition God is good, they will tell you that it is not possible in principle ("there is nothing you can show me that will convince me God isn't good..."). If that is the case, then we cannot even define the terms "good" or "God". If the proposition was falsifiable, at least we could deduce the effective meaning of the statement.

To a logical positivist, such propositions are intrinsically dissociated from all possible experience. As such, one can claim the exact opposite, e.g., God is evil, with equal validation from experience.

One ploy used by metaphysicians to try to escape the clutches of logical positivism is to claim that the principle of verifiability is itself not falsifiable. This is true, but irrelevant. The principle of verifiability is just a heuristic.

What is a heuristic? A heuristic is a way to identify the useful subset of solutions to a given problem. Example: if you reach the rim of a volcanic crater and realize you've dropped your Geiger counter, where do you search? Answer: on the cooler, solid rocks and not in the lava pools, for if your Geiger counter fell into a lava pool you don't really want it back. The heuristic does not tell you the solution, it only tells you which solutions are useful to you.

The heuristic principle of verifiability is just a demarcation between those propositions that do and do not relate to experience. A priori (independent of experience), we may posit that propositions that are not verifiable are allowed to have definite truth values (by our analogy, the Geiger counter fell into a lava pool). Alas, such propositions will never have anything to do with our experience.

The function of logic is to determine whether a given set of propositions can have a given set of truth values without contradiction. That is the sole function of logic: to guarantee consistency.

Mathematics is derived from a set of axioms (a set of propositions we declare to be true in order to establish a given context). In other words, mathematics is synthesized based on certain foundational assumptions. Mathematical propositions are not true independent of these assumptions. Nonetheless, mathematics turns out to be a useful for modeling the world.

Causality is the principle that events are preceded by causes. More accurately, the principle of causality is that the universe is arranged into consistent logical patterns that are constrained by laws of physics. If the universe were acausal, the universe would have no structure at all, and the cosmos would be utterly incomprehensible.

If the universe follows physical laws, then it must be possible to deduce those laws from observation. In order to understand any structure in the universe (temporal, spatial or otherwise) we need to construct a mathematical model of that structure. Yet, for any finite set of observations, there are an infinite number of possible models that will be consistent with emprical evidence. We select models based on their ability to predict future observations (and, consequently, their ability to be falsified).

Language and Mental Processes
A priori, we might expect that our ability to reason is limited by our language. This was in some sense the position of Ludwig Wittgenstein and W. V. Quine. Similarly, one might call upon similar arguments about the nature and limitations of human thought to find loopholes in logical positivist arguments.

However, a posteriori (in light of experience) we know that we are thinking machines subject to physical laws. As such, there is no longer room for speculation about language or mental processes that might give sanctuary to superstition.

There are no absolute ethical principles that can be decided a priori. In other words, life is what we make of it. Rules for ethical behavior are dependent on our goals. What we commonly define as "good" is a consequence of our goal of a safe, stable society that maximizes individual liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Coming soon: Why is philosophy important?

Sunday, October 10, 2004


"Clearly, the US has had its credibility diminished. The real issue is going to be on November the 2nd when, if this country re-elects George Bush, animosity towards the Bush administration will become a questioning of America's judgement. I think that will shift if George Bush gets re-elected."
-James Harding, Financial Times appearing on The McLaughlin Group

On Saturday afternoon, I was feeling rather uneasy. I think it was the results of some non-scientific, online polls about Friday's debate. One poll had clearly been tampered with in George Bush's favor. That's not really surprising. After all, the Democrats have staged an organized and successful campaign to skew these polls in Kerry's favor.

Although, the importance of that poll was not very high, it had an emotional effect on me. I realized I had not given enough thought to the consequences of four more years of Republican governance (or lack thereof). I also hadn't thought about what it would mean that we would elect someone so clearly incompetent to a second term.

James Harding's quote sums up one of my major concerns. As long as America was strong, thoughtful, just and benevolent, my pride in our nation was indomitable. Now that Bush has made America weak, thoughtless, unjust and uncaring, my pride is wearing thin. George W. Bush's re-election would say a lot about Americans. When the world turns its hatred of the Bush administration into criticism America's citizenry, I won't flee to Canada. I'll just have to give the excuse that I campaigned for John Kerry.

I would like to think that we Americans always come through when we have to, but we have to be realistic. America's golden age may soon fade with its people's intellects. Americans are too lazy to face up to their civic duty and study the American political system. They are too lazy to study history, geography, mathematics and science. We've all heard the statistics about kids who can't locate their country on a map, or name the Chief Justics of the Supreme Court. What about the adults?

Almost 50% of Americans believe in creationism. Many Americans believe that a single fertilized egg cell is equivalent in value to a thinking, feeling, sentient woman. Many Americans think that gigantic tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans are okay as long as they get a little $300 refund from Uncle Sam (never mind the increased property taxes that will more than offset their refund check).

I think that, emotionally, I have the predisposition to say that a Republican victory in November would prove something is wrong with Americans. That's silly. It's obvious that there's something wrong even before the election. Despite the fact that the Republicans are openly anti-intellectual, they still seem to have the support of about 45% of voting Americans. Ergo, a large segment of the American people think that thinking is bad. If that's not a problem, I don't know what is.

I don't want to give the impression that John Kerry is losing. He isn't. The debates make him seem more presidential. Even when the press calls a debate a draw, the American people get to know Kerry and feel more comfortable with him. On this basis, Bush has lost both debates so far.

As things stand, Kerry will win in November. Democratic turnout will be very high. Only a big October surprise can save Bush (though Karl Rove says he has surprises planned).

If Kerry wins, our work really begins. We have to open people's eyes and show them the folly of the Bush administration. In 2008, people (liberals and conservatives) must say "never again."

Friday, October 08, 2004

Bush's brain (and other mythological entities)

What was going on inside Bush's head when he decided to invade Iraq?

Mike Pridmore at the DailyKos gives a plausible answer.

Simply put, George Bush invaded Iraq when he did because he realized his case for war was about to fall apart.

Bush had many reasons to invade, not all of them good:

  1. Capture and hold existing WMD assets

  2. Terminate WMD programs

  3. Put Hussein out of power

  4. Create Israel-friendly Arab state

  5. Punish Hussein for attempted assassination of Bush 41 in the early 90's

  6. Finish what Bush 41 started and was criticized for not finishing

  7. Capture and effectively own Iraqi oil

  8. Provide huge contracts for friends at Halliburton and Bechtel

  9. Generate public support and a chance at winning the 04 election

Rationales 1 - 4 are well-intentioned, the others are not. Unfortunately, the rationale for the WMD-related goals were obviously false. Bush deliberately undermined the UN weapons inspectors. On the eve of the war, the UN inspectors believed Hussein had no nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. As we now know, the UN inspectors were right and Bush was wrong.

Does that mean that Bush was just delusional before the war? Or did the lure of personal gain override his judgment?

Fact: Bush and Cheney created the Office of Special Plans (headed by Douglas Feith) in the Pentagon to cherry-pick intelligence that favored the invasion. Was this just to err on the safe side? Or a deliberate plan to perpetrate a war that was unjustified?

Bush is either incompetent, corrupt or really, really, really unlucky.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Strict Father vs. Nurturing Parent

I was sent a link to this fascinating interview with George Lakoff, the UC Berkeley professor. This is a must-read article. Not only does the article describe an important political tactic, it also gives you a glimpse into how the other side thinks.

Lakoff describes the way that conservatives have been learning to use language very carefully. Right-wingers use expressions like "tax relief", "voter revolt" and "gay marriage". These expressions look harmless enough at first, but they contain subtle and effective emotional messages within them.

For example, the term "relief" suggests relief from pain. What kind of person would be against relief? Only a villain. Hence, anyone against "tax relief" is a villain. When the press repeats these loaded political terms, they only serve to promote the right wing agenda. It's really quite diabolical.

In addition to outlining these tactics for moderates and liberals, Lakoff describes the psychology of the left and the right.

Conservatives subscribe to the "strict father" system:
The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong. The only way to do that is through painful discipline — physical punishment that by adulthood will become internal discipline. The good people are the disciplined people. Once grown, the self-reliant, disciplined children are on their own. Those children who remain dependent (who were spoiled, overly willful, or recalcitrant) should be forced to undergo further discipline or be cut free with no support to face the discipline of the outside world.

Meanwhile, the liberal worldview could be described by the "nurturing parent model":
...it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that. Children are born good; parents can make them better. Nurturing involves empathy, and the responsibility to take care of oneself and others for whom we are responsible. On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net and government regulation, universal education (to ensure competence, fairness), civil liberties and equal treatment (fairness and freedom), accountability (derived from trust), public service (from responsibility), open government (from open communication), and the promotion of an economy that benefits all and functions to promote these values, which are traditional progressive values in American politics.

Perhaps few people fit neatly into either category, but most people (who aren't apathetic) probably lean heavily towards one worldview or the other. Is it possible that this simple psychological test can determine which party you will support? It's not implausible. Moreover, what does it say that the country is fairly evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats and apathetic people? Is there some social dynamic that explains the balance between these forces?

Neither psychological profile has all the answers. Liberals: though a man may simply be the result of his environment and his DNA, we cannot absolve him of responsibility for actions that are wrong. Conservatives: pure social darwinism is counterproductive, uncivilized and just plain unfair (wealth alone is not a virtue).

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Faith, Christ and War

As a child growing up in the UK, I was fed a consistent diet of Anglican Christianity. Every day we had an "assembly" where announcements were made, prayers were said and hymns sung. I even had a religion class that taught creationism. To some extent, this force-feeding helped me become the atheist I am today. That's not to say that my atheism is a rebellion against childhood authority per se. It's not just that I was made to feel like a second class citizen. It's that, when you are forced to do something pointless as a child, the more you'll question doing it voluntarily as an adult. Sometimes I wonder whether putting religion in schools might actually do us atheists a favor. Thanks to state-sponsored religion, Europe is refreshingly free of religion these days (though not necessarily atheist).

Anyway, the practical upshot of my English upbringing is that I know a bit about Christianity. I don't believe in the literal truth of the Gospels, and I'm not even convinced that Jesus even existed. What surprises me is that so few Christians are critical of religious dogma. You can sum up the key Christian dilemma as "Who would Jesus bomb?"

Like Christianity, Islam has various sects with different views and degrees of fanaticism. Terrorists who commit suicide attacks clearly have total faith in their fanatical form of Islam. The leaders of their particular brand of religion have cherry-picked the themes and passages from the Koran that will inspire and motivate their campaign of murder and destruction.

I think you can make the argument that this is much harder to do with the Gospels of Jesus Christ. From my perspective, the Gospels are a portrait of Jesus, the man. Jesus would not condone harming anyone. Jesus would not kill anyone for any reason. If he was attacked, he would turn the other cheek. In the end (at least according to the story), he allowed himself to be put to death as a form of civil disobedience. Mystically, there's a lot more to the crucifixion of Jesus, but sticking to reality for the moment, it was civil disobedience.

There's evidence that early Christians followed in the mythical footsteps of Jesus. They fought Roman oppression with civil disobedience, not with military power or terrorist attacks.

When the Roman emperor Constantine became the first sponsor of Roman Christianity, the reasons for his conversion were less than ideal: Constantine was said to have seen a Christian omen of victory on the eve of a great battle in 312 CE. From that day forward, Christianity merged the Roman devotion to war with Jesus's principles of peace and love. Unfortunately, very few Christians have been willing to concede that the two philosophies are diametrically opposed.

If we were a truly Christian nation, we would have no guns, no death penalty, no military and no security forces. Yet Christian fundamentalists are most likely to support the use of military force and the death penalty (and don't even think about taking away their guns). The only lame excuse I've heard from Christians in support these "choose death" policies is a single passage from Matthew 22:21:
They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

Talk about cherry-picking. Instead of seeing the Jesus of the Gospels as a Gandhi-like figure, most Christians (fundamentalist or otherwise) prefer to blindly follow their religious leaders in the opposite direction.

Is Christianity consistent with killing people, even in self-defense? Until Christianity resolves this little dilemma, it won't even be internally consistent, let alone philosophically persuasive to reasonable people. I suspect that most Christians have never given this question a second thought. From here on, I shall refer to those Christians who favor the way of the gun as "Romans".

To me, the answers to the deep questions of philosophy are pre-requisites for life itself. No doubt, if I lived in the Dark Ages, I would probably have been a friar or something. You may have no interest in philosophy. To the extent that your life is brimming over with the business of day-to-day survival, that's excusable. But when someone else offers to do your philosophical thinking for you, please decline.