Nov 20 2009

Martin Luther is still my hero

Therefore a distinction must be made between reason left to itself without restriction, which runs about unbridled and is carried around by its reckonings, which judges and decides on the basis of its own principles, which are common notions, perceptions, experience, etc., and reason restrained by God’s Word and kept in obedience to Christ. This judges and decides on the basis of the proper principle of theology, that is, on the basis of God’s Word, which has been set forth in the Holy Scriptures. The mysteries of faith are not contrary to reason considered in the latter respect, but they are contrary to reason considered in the former respect. (from a yet-unpublished translation of Luther, as posted by Paul T. McCain)

Martin Luther is still my hero.   While Luther’s comments on reason (a longer quote is posted on McCain’s site) have been ridiculed by atheists as showing the irrelevance of Christianity, it is only because they are not understood in context.  Obviously, Luther relies on well-reasoned logic in this very analysis.

This quote by Luther, I think, reveals an area of protest with regard to the Roman Catholic Church that is often overlooked, and which I’ll be writing more about soon in my series on “Exploring the Twain“: The Roman Church’s theology was being subjected to a philosophy that was more and more governed by man’s ability to make things appear logical.  While Luther saw and opposed this direction, the rest of the protestants – Calvin and Zwingli, for example – continued to embrace a reason-driven theology, which paved the way for our modern evangelicalism.  Luther’s position here places him more in like with the Eastern Church, which had and has a different approach to theology and philosophy.

Luther probably doesn’t get all the credit he deserves for his remarkable insights, I think primarily due to his patently unmodern commitment to apostolic Christianity.

Luther is still my hero.

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.

Jan 26 2009

The Inane Atheists

The “New Atheists” – people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and of late, Christopher Hitchens – have been making the news now for a couple of years, as their books promoting their strain of anti-theism can be found on endcap displays and best-seller lists everywhere. While some of you who are arguably wiser than myself may not be familiar with these guys, I’m sure many of you are.  I started paying attention to them initially due to my old friend Mike who, when we reconnected after many years, advised me that he had become an atheist. I’ve never been big on apologetics, but found some of the debates – much of which involved the creation-evolution issue – somewhat stimulating. However, I think that the term “New Atheists” should be changed to “Inane Atheists.”  While some of them at times can sound wise and philosophical (apparently, at least, to other atheists) the majority of their arguments have proven to be little more than atheistic bedtime stories, concocted to provide the same type of comfort they charge religions with fabricating.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes is correct: There is nothing new under the sun.  While the packaging has changed, there is nothing new about the disbelief in God, and the Biblical advice on the subject is still sound. The Psalmist is on point as is Paul.  Today, atheism, the belief that there is no god of any kind, also includes the belief that nothing supernatural or non-material exists. This, of course, describes a lack of belief, or a negative belief, if you will. The positive – what they do believe – would be called philosophical materialism, or sometimes naturalism. As I’ve described before many times, materialists are merely myopic; they have chosen to believe only in what they think has physical properties.  Atheism is, in many ways, epitomized by the Golden Calf, and yes, it is a form of idolatry, exchanging the worship of the Creator for the worship of the creation. I’m sure the argument would be made that they do not worship anything, but of course that is foolishness as well; the natural processes of the universe and reason itself are put in the place of God.

If anything is new about today’s atheists, it is that they are moderns (as are we all in the West).  As I’ve set forth in my Teacup Analogy, their arguments (for example, lately I’ve read a ridiculous series of posts trying to apply IDQ principles to Christianity and the Bible) must be brought completely within modernism in order to function. If you hold to a philosophy that is skeptical of their epistemology, they sound quite ridiculous.  They succeed only when they manage to trap some poor soul into adopting their presuppositions; as we in the West are all moderns to a degree, it is occasionally possible to suck some unsuspecting Christian into believing that Christianity is properly understood only within a modern context. John Loftus, at Debunking Christianity, is at least honest about that point when he says that modernism is the Achilles’ Heel of Christianity. Of course, John presumes modernism, and at least to my knowledge he hasn’t presented any argument for why modernism is the only true philosophical position; his point is that modernism and Christianity are incompatible, and that if you adopt a purely modernist worldview, Christianity will be undone.

However, as Alister McGrath has written (“I Believe” – Exploring the Apostles Creed, pp 26):

Reason runs into difficulties when trying to cope with God. Alfred, Lord Tennyson made this point perfectly in his poem “The Ancient Sage”:

For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven.

Belief in God, it need hardly be added, rests on solid foundations- even if paradoxically, as Tennyson suggests, it cannot be proved. Atheists and Christians alike take their positions as matters of faith. The former may like to try and represent their position as objective and scientific, but it is actually nothing of the sort.

Modern atheists, of course, will see this thinking as malarkey, as it is an argument based outside of the modernist teacup, or at least removes the argument from the materialist epistemology that they rely on. The “New” Atheists cannot seem to function outside of modernism or outside of materialism, because that simply is the box in which they have put themselves in. To interact with them on any meaningful way, you have to get in their box (or teacup).

And why would I want to do that?

You see, I’ve encountered God. It’s not just that I’ve had some spiritual experience, but that I know and have relationship with God.  A modern atheist will, of course, toss this in the pile of non-observable claims and demand “evidence.” However, this presumes a Kantian or Platonic kind of dualism, which is certainly not a given.  Classifying God and all experiences of God into the large category of Noumena in order to dismiss it entirely is, I think, to commit serious philosophical error; but for one who is committed to atheism, it is convenient, pragmatic error.  Again, it requires a commitment to stay within the modernist teacup and to close your eyes should you ever attempt to look over the rim.

Modern atheists, however, are almost always not committed to requiring objective evidence in all areas of their lives; if they did, they would become “Spock”-like in their assessment of everything, including politics and relationships. Love would cease to be a many-splendored thing, and family life would have to be based on pragmatism rather than any emotional bond. It is contradictory for a materialist to claim “I know that I love my wife,” for he can know nothing of the kind; it is simply an unprovable claim by his own standards.  However, materialism becomes essential when fending off any claims of God (although it has been shown many times how internally inconsistent these arguments against God are).

Operating from a more consistent approach in which you accept that there are ways of knowing that are not limited to that which is observable and measurable – that is, living outside of the teacup and taking in the banquet that surrounds it – we can look to the arguments, claims, challenges and ridicule of modern atheism and see how inane they really are. While I believe it is possible to climb in the teacup and expose the errors from within modernism, for the Christian to “prove” his own faith, it is simply not necessary.

Jul 15 2008

Epistemology: faith and reason

In keeping with my series of posts dealing with epistemology and worldview, BarryA over at Uncommon Descent has – almost as if on cue – written an excellent piece discussing how both Theists and materialists rely on a combination of faith and reason.  He makes a number of points that I had planned on making in upcoming posts, so rather than duplicate efforts, I will direct you over there to read the full article.  I will revisit these points in a future post.  Just to whet your appetite:

Materialist believe that a real world exists outside of themselves and that they have trustworthy perceptions of this real world from their senses. Surprise. Those two beliefs are not based upon any evidence. Materialists hold the beliefs based on pure faith, a frequently unacknowledged faith to be sure, but faith nevertheless.

If we accept the rules of basic logic (which is itself a presupposition), we have to agree that when it comes to accepting either evidence or the methodology for evaluating evidence, we eventually come to a point where we must take a leap to faith (or at least, a leap to presupposition). At this point, the materialist typically calls the philosopher names and walks away.  But, I think the arguments tha BarryA makes are valid; either we must agree that we lack evidence for materialistic presuppositions, or else we must call into question logic itself, at which point modernism and all that comes with it implodes.

Once again, isn’t epistemology fun?