Jul 23 2009

Fr. Dmitiri Dudko on faith and proof

Russian Orthodox priest Father Dmitri Dudko was both a heroic and a tragic figure in Communist Russia.  He was under constant scrutiny by the KGB, but continued to teach the truth of Christianity. While Christian dialog was prohibited, in 1972 and 73 he asked his congregation to submit questions they had, which he then addressed in his sermons. Many of these were written down by those in attendance, and distributed around Russia (not unlike the spread of the NT documents, or Luther’s 95 Theses).  In 1977 many of these were published outside of Russia in a volume entitled Our Hope, which reveals much about the church in Russia in the early 70’s, as well as providing some thoughtful questions and answers about the Christian faith in the context of an overtly atheistic culture.

Dudko was eventually broken by the KGB and coerced into recanting, which was apparently televised.  He later confessed how much he regretted his mistake, writing “Compared to the hell that I then brought into my soul, anything – even torture or execution – would have been easier to bear.”  He died in 2004.

The other night I picked up the book, and opened it to page 140:

Question: What proof is there in apologetics of Christ’s resurrection?

Answer: Proofs? Nowadays we’ve begun to prove everything. Prove that you love. Prove there’s a sun in the sky, or clouds. Prove you’re a man, not a camel…  So they ask me to produce proofs of Christ’s Resurrection.  We consider proofs to be an important argument, whereas in fact they’re no argument at all.  Proofs are the fruit of our weakness and not of our strength, the fruit of our unbelief.  Forgive me, but I don’t want to know any proofs, and I wouldn’t recommend that you seek them.  The fundamental proof is our faith. If we have no faith, no proofs will help.

But then, of course, the question arises:  Does this mean that we must believe blindly?  “Believe because it’s absurd,” like Tertullian?  I would like to address precisely this: the absurdity and the “blindness” of faith.  For in fact, faith is vision.  …  Faith, as one Russian philosopher said, is profound knowledge. The knowledge we glean from books is shallow, and with its help all we can learn are earthly laws.  But knowledge of the resurrection of Christ demands profound knowledge  – that is, not merely stuffing your head full of quotations and information, but transfiguring your entire being. That brings profound knowledge: faith.  Yes, faith often contradicts the shallow variety of knowledge, and shallow knowledge in turn considers faith to be absurdity.  It is for this reason that Tertullian said, “I believe because it is absurd” – not because faith itself is agsurd, but because shallow knowledge, the sinful world, considers it to be so.  I believe, not because it is absurd in general, but only because from your point of view it is absurd. In this way, we believe Christ’s Resurrection, but we don’t “prove” it. You have no faith?  That is your misfortune. …

… I know that there are people who doubt the Gospel, who insist that it’s not convincing. It is difficult to refute such people. They can only be pitied, for those who say such things are unable to believe; they have not yet acquired profound knowledge.

This is brilliant- this is an understanding of knowledge that can’t be comprehended from within a modernist framework, which by intent considers only “shallow” knowledge as reasonable.

Jul 20 2009

Credit where credit’s due

As most of you who read this know, one of my more frequent commenters is my friend, Mike.  Mike and I became friends years ago because we both liked John Prine and the Guess Who, among other things.  A few years ago, we got reacquainted on the web.  Wonderful thing, the web.

And, as most of you know, Mike and I disagree, a lot.  Mike is not only an atheist, he’s a liberal.  But, he’s a Bob Dylan fan, so he still has some redeeming qualities…

We have an understanding that allows us to attack each other’s positions without mercy, and I think we both profit from it (I do, anyway).  So, when Mike writes something I don’t disagree with, and which is quite good, it’s only right that I highlight that, too.

Mike is a contributor to an interesting little blog called Quiche Moraine (besides blogging on his own).  Today, he wrote a piece on QM entitled Atheism Evangelized, which discusses the mutual evangelism that takes place between atheists and Christians.  I think it’s a good post, and think many on both sides of the fence could profit from it.

So, go read it.

Jul 16 2009

Credo ut intelligam: an approach to modernism

Credo ut intelligam is Latin for “I believe so that I may understand,” St. Anselm’s famous quote, who also used the phrase fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.”  The full quote is actually, “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”

Anselm, like Augustine, believed that faith and belief preceded understanding, not exactly a respected position among modernists.  Ironically, an analysis of modernism would reveal that they, too, depend upon the credo ut intelligam formula.  For example, look at Hector Avalos, a good example of Romans 1:22.

Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, and author of a number of books, including The End of Biblical Studies. He is also a former Pentecostal child evangelist (meaning he was an evangelist as a child, not that he necessarily evangelized children).  He appears to have quite a large chip on his shoulder when it comes to Christianity.  In a current post at Debunking Christianity, he  restates his belief that “the field of biblical studies is still permeated by religionist biases.”  Yes, that’s a Romans 1:22 moment if ever I’ve heard one.

Now, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that the study of the Bible is permeated – even dominated – by “religionist” biases.  Avalos, however, seems to believe that it shouldn’t be.  He states:

I want to end THE WAY the Bible is studied. In fact, I provide three scenarios on that page:

1) Eliminate biblical studies completely from the modern world.

2) Retain biblical studies as is, but admit that it is a religionist enterprise.

3) Retain biblical studies, but redefine its purpose so that it is tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world.

Of these 3 options, he prefers the third.  One of his goals, as a professor of religion, is to eliminate the influence of the Bible in the modern world, so “there should be no function or value left to the Bible anymore than there is to Homer’s Iliad in modern society.”

Back to Epistemology

Here, I think, is a modernist example of Anselm’s maxim.  Avalos has chosen to believe – I would say ‘to have faith in’ – modernism, meaning a naturalist, materialist, rationalist worldview (there are other views of modernism, but his is prevalent within the scholastic community).  As I’ve argued elsewhere, atheism, scientism, materialism, etc. have to be taken on faith; at some point a Kierkegaardian leap made from whatever set of data he relied on, to a conclusion that modernism with all of it’s baggage is truth, as far as it can be known.  Epistemologically, this position cannot be proven; rationalism, science and the rest require belief in order to go anywhere.

Avalos cannot use the tools of modernism to show that modernism is superior to any other worldview; it is inconsistent even from within modernism.  He must start with a choice to believe; once he believes in modernism, in logic, in reason, then he can begin to understand. It does not – it cannot – work the other way.

Credo ut intelligam.  Understanding can indeed assist belief; but, in the beginning, we must believe.

Mar 26 2009

The Limitations of Reason

As I’ve reported once before, Jeff Carter at Sophie’s Ladder has recently published a series of posts summarizing the history of philosophy as it relates to the limitations of reason. As he states in the opening of his “summation” post,

This series has demonstrated the limitations – and therefore the inadequacy and failure – of reason not only in dealing with metaphysical / spiritual matters, but also in securing a foundation for reason itself. Every attempt to justify reason as a power superior to or even adequate for comprehending the metaphysical / spiritual has failed.

Now, I freely admit that I am not an expert, having bailed on my philosophy major fairly early on in my education.  However, I think a lot, so that counts for something.  One thing I did excel in was logic.  As I’ve spent the last twenty-something years analyzing and countering arguments, I do a pretty good job at it.  However, I have always been intrigued by the knowledge that not only are there limitations to reason, there are other logical systems. As Russell Shorto quotes Jonathan Ree in Descartes Bones – A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason:

“… the theory of knowledge and the theory of human nature which with it; the concepts of an idea, of mathematical laws of nature … are so fundamental to modern consciousness that it is hard no to regard them as part of the natural property of the human mind. But, in fact, they are a product of the seventeenth century, and above all in the work of Descartes.”

I am also aware that built into modernism – our current Western worldview that resulted from the Cartesian revolution – is the concept of progress, so we asume that our system of logic is necessarily better than anyone else’s; in fact, we cannot conceive of any other system of logic as having any merit whatsoever.

What the series at Sophie’s Ladder does is demonstrate that all attempts to prove the superiority of reason have failed; we believe our concept of reason has to be true, but we really have to accept it on faith.  As Jeff commented on my earlier post, this series is foundational to a response he is writing of John Loftus’ approach to atheism.  Recently John has been touting his “Outsider Test of Faith” (OTF), where he challenges Christians to give up their presuppositions in order to view Christianity as an outsider would.  However, his whole system is nothing more than a house built on sand, as he does not apply the same test to his own presuppositions, which he calls “control beliefs.”  I pointed this out to John, and one of his followers thought it ridiculous that I suggest such a thing.

Of course, his OTF is really just selective application of Godel’s Theorem, which in essence is that no logical (mathematical) system can prove itself – you have to prove it from outside the system.  I am really looking forward to Jeff’s response to Loftus (actually, I’m more interested in Loftus’ response to Jeff).

On the other hand, I believe that it is possible to disprove a system from within the system, in this case, using reason and logic to show the limitations of reason and logic.  The only reason that the New Atheists (I’ll include Loftus in that group, although he distinguishes himself) can continue is that they don’t understand the philosophical mess they are in; or else they do, but are in denial.

While I cannot prove this, at least yet, I am back to thinking that the real issue with most of the atheist apologists is not philosophy or lack of evidence or logic; rather, it is a moral issue, and a faith issue.  In other words, they have chosen to believe what they believe, so that they do not have to believe something else.

Again, I highly recommend the series at Sophie’s Ladder.  It’s very well-done, and concise enough to really provide a big-picture view of the issues related to faith and reason.