Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Gnu Unicorn misses the point. (On faith.)

An atheist named Mike, who calls himself A-Unicornist, has taken some time recently to blog through our e- (and soon paper) book, True Reason, even though he calls it "terrible."  So let me take time to decontruct his critique of my second chapter, even though I didn't find that critique so hot, either.  After all, if atheists who define themselves as people who don't collect stamps or don't believe in unicorns, still expend hundreds of man-hours justifying themselves for not doing what they implicitly claim needs no justification, the least I can do is spend an hour or so rebutting a very bad argument by a gentleman who really does exist. 

At least I think he does.  Of course, I take Mike's existence on faith, in the Christian sense (the sense I am going to explain yet again, below), as I take most things that are real on faith. 

Faith is the subject of True Reason.  The main questions it attempts to answer are, what do Christians mean by the word "faith?"  Is Christian faith reasonable?  Is it even meant to be reasonable? 

I've explained my views on these questions often and as clearly as I could, for all the good it seems to have done.  I wrote a chapter on the subject already in Jesus and the Religions of Man (2000), another in The Truth Behind the New Atheism (2007), quite a few blog posts, a long anthology of what great Christian thinkers have said about faith and reason for the past two thousand years at, and then the chapter in True Reason that Mike is trying to refute. (Or, so we don't get the cart before the horse, trying to read.  Or allegedly trying to read.  As we will see, it is difficult to believe he is trying very hard.)

By "faith," I argue Christians have almost always meant something rational, and usually something supported by strong evidence.  I deliniate four species of faith: in the mind, senses, other people, and God.  I argue that faith in the Christian sense (sense four) is just a special case of, and in continuum with, the first three forms of rational faith.  And therefore not only can't one find God without faith, one also can't walk down the sidewalk, say "Good morning" to a friend, jump in a swimming hole on a hot summer day, or learn about fossils in pre-Cambrian shales.  One can almost never do science without faith, in the Christian sense. 

In his book The New Atheism, Victor Stenger quoted my chapter on faith in The Truth Behind the New Atheism ten times, and garbled it badly. 

Of course I'm not the only one explaining this to atheists.  It's become a cottage industry.  Alister McGrath, Oxford professor of theology, wrote a book large parts of which were dedicated to drilling the actual Christian concept into Richard Dawkins' thick skull, were it at all possible.  McGrath is Dawkins' colleague, and his expertise lies in historical Christian theology, so he ought to (and does) know what it teaches.  As I show in The Truth Behind the New Atheism, he might as well have saved his breath -- in one of Dawkin's ears, out the other. 

Pope John Paul wrote a whole book explaining the Christian idea of faith.  Some skeptics responded by essentially asking, "So what could the pope possibly know about Christianity?" 

Finally, a dozen or so of us got together to try to explain this once more to atheists.  The result was True Reason

My tentative hypothesis is that The Borg has planted a chip in the brains of Gnus that forces them to grasp for dear life with skinny cybernetic fingers a straw man version of Christian faith -- believing "not only without evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence" -- yes, in the teeth of almost all of the real historical evidence.  (Usually quoting random dollops of Kierkegard, Luther, or Tertullian that one has found on the Web, somewhere, as "proof texts.")

I'm sure all this communicable obtuseness has nothing whatsoever to do with arrogance. 

Which brings us to a-Unicornist. 

Brief Soliloquy on the Name  Whether this be whimsy or logic, let me begin by asking the obvious question.  Is it intellectually humble, or wise, to define oneself as denying the existence of unicorns?  If you are a Christian, how can you know God didn't create any unicorns, and put them in one of the worlds C. S. Lewis locates at the bottom of pools in the Wood Between the Worlds in his children's book The Magician's Nephew?  (A Christian multiverse already, in 1955!)  And if you are an atheist, the Anthropic Principle probably requires you to posit an infinite number of worlds, or so enormously large a number of worlds that the word "astronomical" is rendered quaint.  Then on what grounds, having visiting almost none of those worlds (I am not talking to New Agers), that there are no unicorns on a single one of them? 

One would think there must be. 

And let that serve to bias the reader's mind against Mike's critique of my chapter -- bias, in the sense of recognize that wherever Mike is standing, it is probably not on solid epistemological ground.  The question is what Christians, not atheists, mean by "faith."  And for two thousand years, up to and including all the authors of True Reason, we have patiently explained that we mean something very different from what the ignorant Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Victor Stenger, and yes even John Loftus (he knows better, but pretends he doesn't), claim we mean.  Anyway, someone who issues edicts about what animals do not exist in a universe with a minimum of 10^19th stars, is not in a good position to add to our understanding of how we "know what we know." 

The "Argument"  And with the well thus nicely poisoned, let us proceed to critique Mike's post itself.  We needed a long preface, because frankly, there's not a lot to critique, as you'll see.  So I'll quote almost the whole thing, including Mike's own quotes:

I'll be honest... this has gotten to be a bit of a slog. The best arguments this book has had to offer are ones that I've thought through, and found lacking, many times in the past. The worst arguments are responses to straw men – distortions or misunderstandings of the atheist point of view.

The question is how fairly or incisively Mike has thought through what he claims are the book's better arguments, or if he knows enough for his opinion to be worth reading.

Let his attempt to "think through" my argument be a test of that.  If he fails to accurately grasp the argument I make in this chapter, let's assume that he flubbed the other chapters, as well, until proven otherwise.

David Marshall, whose previous chapter left me unimpressed . . .

Since I know quite a bit about the subjects of that previous chapter, world religions and the history of Christianity, and Mike evidently does not (read my response in the comments section), let's just say, that his "thumbs down" critique does not entirely break my heart. 

 . . . is back for the tenth chapter which, similarly to the previous few chapters, tries to link Christianity and rationality to the degree that not only does the former follow from the latter, but the latter requires the former. And, it's pretty terrible. But I'll save the explanation for the post to follow.

If Gnus were really open to learning something gnu, shouldn't the fact that Christians keep denying the definition of faith New Atheism projects on us Christians, tell them something right there?

But here's Blatant Flub I: I never say, or imply, that rationality "requires" Christianity.  Not in this chapter, not anywhere. 

Marshall begins with the old canard that faith is just another way of knowing:
Faith is not some peculiar, mystical path to belief in things probably unreal. In fact, faith is simply one of two faculties (along with its close cousin, reason) by which we know all that we know.
Already, something doesn't smell right.

Indeed it doesn't! Here's Blatant Flub II: Mike quaffs his first quote!  (And what he calls an "old canard," at that!)

He glosses me as saying "faith is just another way of knowing."  But then what he quotes me as actually saying, is rather that faith (as Christians understand it) is the ONLY way of knowing anything!

Those are very different claims.  If I say, "She's the ONLY girl for me," does Mike think this means, "She's JUST ANOTHER girl?"  A startlingly in-your-face misreading.   

Also, the sub-text, Mike is admitting that he has often heard Christians say faith is reasonable.  This he calls an "old canard," because he has heard it so often.  Why, then (third and most important error so far) doesn't he allow Christians to explain what we believe for ourselves? 

If Christian after Christian says, "Faith is, by our understanding of the word, a function of reason," shouldn't our understanding of the word be normative for how we use it?  The question is, after all, what Christians think about faith, not what gnus or unicorns or hippogriffs think. 

And why does he read that "old canard" into what I say, rather than listening to what I actually do say -- which is no "canard" at all, or Mike might have repeated it accurately?  If I whistle Dixie, and you say, "Great!  One of my oldest and most favorite tunes!  Beethoven's Fifth!"  The presumption is you haven't really heard the melody that came out of my lips.

MY claim is not the "canard" Mike hears ("just another way of knowing") but something startlingly different: without faith, in the proper Christian sense, one cannot know anything!

But Mike has his ultimate weapon standing by: he's going to quote two Gnu scientists to debunk my chapter:

In case you missed my post on it the other day, Sean Carroll penned a great piece on the problem of faith as a means to knowledge, and had this to say:
Even if your faith is extremely strong in some particular proposition, e.g. that God loves you, it’s important to recognize that there’s a chance you are mistaken. That should be an important part of any respectable road to knowledge. So you are faced with (at least) two alternative ideas: first, that God exists and really does love you and has put that belief into your mind via the road of faith, and second, that God doesn’t exist and that you have just made a mistake.
The problem is that you haven’t given yourself any way to legitimately decide between these two alternatives. Once you say that you have faith, and that it comes directly from God, there is no self-correction mechanism. You can justify essentially any belief at all by claiming that God gave it to you directly, despite any logical or evidence-based arguments to the contrary. This isn’t just nit-picking; it’s precisely what you see in many religious believers. An evidence-based person might reason, “I am becoming skeptical that there exists an all-powerful and all-loving deity, given how much random suffering exists in the world.” But a faith-based person can always think, “I have faith that God exists, so when I see suffering, I need to think of a reason why God would let it happen.”   

Philosophy 101: Don't
bring a scientist to an
epistemology debate.
This is the sort of silliness one gets when one cites a scientist when a philosopher is needed, like bringing a knife to a gun fight. 

Who says faith is not backed up by evidence?  Who says Christians can't admit there is any chance they are wrong?  I've done that many times.  Carroll is just begging the question, and begging it wrongly.  Worse, he's just ignoring every Christian response to these genuinely old canards.

Christians have been CLAIMING for two thousand years that there are good reasons to believe in Jesus -- that's the point of True Reason, and ten thousand other books.  (Including five of mine.)  Maybe we're right, and maybe we're wrong.  But it's just ridiculous to claim that Christians don't offer evidence for our faith.  

Not even Alvin Plantinga's "reformed epistemology" can be reduced to this.  Plantinga claims it would be rational to believe even without positive evidence, but that in fact, there is much such evidence.  And of course that's the whole point of my chapter, and of the whole book.

But Mike's most fundamental(ist) and aggregious error is yet to come -- are we on Blatant Flub VIII or XI, yet?  Anyway, this flub is so blatant and so fundamental, that it prevents Mike (or anyone who commits it) from reading Chapter 10 of True Reason at all, let alone getting anything out of it:

I think Sean hits the nail on the head. But Marshall thinks that Christian faith and reason are inseparable. How does he plan to demonstrate this?
I intend, in this chapter, to describe how the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings about the “marriage of faith and reason.”
Yeah. He's gonna quote the Bible.

Snark should be smarter than that. 

The insinuation is that quoting the Bible is somehow the wrong way to support the point of the chapter.  And what is that point?  That there is life on the moon?  That the Earth is 6,000 years old?  That it is immoral to play strip poker? 

Well, let's see.  Just before the paragraph Mike quotes above, I refer to "faith, in the Christian sense," then again "the Christian view of faith."  So the goal of the chapter, clearly, is to explain what Christians -- not atheists, not Hindus, not the Sendero Luminoso or the Shokagakai sect -- mean by faith. 

Is it really so transparently obvious that reading the Bible is a bad way of figuring out what Christians mean by faith? 

"How is she going to prove her team is better than their opponents.  Yeah, she's going to quote the scoreboard."

"How is he going to prove there's life under the Antarctic ice cap?  Yeah, he's going to show pictures of the seabed under the icecap."

Of course.  If you want to show what Christians think faith means, quoting the Bible is exactly the right procedure, you numbskull. 

Read my books, or my blog posts, and you'll find that I almost never quote the Bible to prove points to skeptics that cannot in fact be demonstrated by quoting the Bible.  This is especially important because skeptics often quote the Bible to defend the "blind faith" meme, as does Richard Dawkins, for example.  So you can cut the cheap, thick-witted sarcasm. 

But he does a little better than that.

No, I don't.  That's the whole purpose the chapter: to show that the NT links faith and reason.  Appealing to the raw data of the NT is the ultimate, best possible, evidence that can be offered to support that point.  (Originally I was going to supplement that with dozens of citations from leading Christian thinkers down through the ages, but the editor, apparently recognizing that the NT data was most important, chose not to include that additional chapter.)

He starts out by claiming that reason requires faith:
Faith must be tested by reason. But reason relies on four levels of faith for all the facts that it holds dear: faith in the mind, senses, other people, and (the question at issue between theists and atheists) in God.
Sigh. No. Marshall is confusing assumptions, which are necessary in any epistemological framework, with 'faith'. It's at best a misunderstanding, and at worst it's outright equivocation. Assumptions are, by definition, provisional. They can be tested or amended.

When I cross a bridge, I assume it will not fall down.  If it does fall down, my assumption will have proven to be in error.  But the act of crossing the bridge is an act of faith, in the sense I am using the word, as is the act of praying to God. 

Of course in theory, my assumption that the Theory of Gravity exists, may some day be proven false.  But I do not expect that.  So confidence need not be unscientific, either -- not that "being scientific" is the end-all of proper reasoning. 

But I'm late to the party, because Sean Carroll already hit on that point, too:
Sometimes you will hear that “science requires faith,” for example faith that our sense data are reliable or that nature really obeys laws. That’s an abuse of language; science requires assumptions, just like anything else, but those assumptions are subject to testing and updating if necessary. If we built theories on the basis of our sense data, and those theories kept making predictions that turned out to be wrong, we would examine and possibly discard that assumption. If the universe exhibited a chaotic jumble of non-lawlike behavior, rather than falling into beautiful patterns, we would abandon that assumption as well. That’s the most compelling thing about science: it always stands ready to improve by casting out an old idea when the evidence demands it.
Carroll, being a Gnu scientist, worships science, by way of worshipping himself, and therefore fails to properly understand it. 

In reality, if the universe really were a "chaotic jumble of non-lawlike behavior," Carroll would have no sure way of understanding it.  Understanding, or at least confidence in understanding, would simply be impossible.   

How can Christians be "abusing" language for using the word "faith" consistently as we have used that word for thousands of years, and its ancestors, before the modern English language even evolved into being?  And isn't the issue, what Christians mean by "faith?"  Here is how so many Gnus retain the unsullied purity of their ignorance:  this simple and arrogant refusal to really listen. 

Faith, however, is not provisional. It has no self-correcting mechanism. It's the polar opposite of rationality or reason, and it should never be confused with provisional assumptions.

The purpose of True Reason was to explain the reality to Gnus like Mike and Sean, but being arrogant, "believing not only without reason, but in the teeth of the evidence," they retain their delusions.  It is a marvel to behold. 

Once again, the issue is what Christians think about "faith."  Since that is the issue, isn't the proper procedure for finding out, to ask them?  Beginning, of course, with the first Christians? 

So now, Marshall turns to the Bible.
In fact, the New Testament emphatically ties faith to reason in at least seven ways: historical investigation, rational argument, critical accounts of Jesus’ life, miraculous “signs” (which are not just psychosomatic— an anachronistic concept, anyway), prophecy, convincing depictions of Jesus’ character, and the resurrection.
I'm going to come right out and say that there's already a huge problem for Marshall, not the least of which is the fact that he's obviously gearing this toward Christians. Quoting the Bible is not generally a great way to persuade atheists about anything, because you're presuming that the Bible is actually, y'know, true.

I hate to be insulting, but this is incredibly, indefatigably dense.  Mike doesn't appear to be as dumb as he is acting here, so I'm tempted to simply respond, "Wise up!" 

The goal of this chapter is explicitly to explore and describe what Christians mean by "faith," in reference to our Scriptures.  I've tackled the same question from other angles, in other writings.  But skeptics often claim that the Bible itself teaches the "blind faith meme."  I am refuting their arguments!  In fact I cite their arguments at the beginning of the chapter, to make it as clear as possible that that is what I am doing:

Biologist Sheldon Gottlieb wrote, 'In the world of the supernatural, anything goes, and the only limitation is the extent of one's imagination.  No evidence is required to substantiate any claims' . . . Similarly, in her history of American freethinkers, Susan Jacoby remarked, 'The scientific method itself, with its demand to 'Prove it,' discourages the leaps of faith in the unverifiable that are the essence of any religion . . .
The works of atheist 'rock stars' as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, along with up-and-coming wannabes, is often explicitly founded on what we might call the 'blind faith meme,' the assumption that Christians view faith as the virtue of believing, as Dawkins put it, 'not only in the absense of evidence, but in the teeth of the evidence . . . '
I also cite my atheist friend "Dr. H" as referring to the "actual, biblical kind of faith where you get rebuked for asking for proof other than circular logic . . . AND you get rewarded for checking your brain at the door (Blessed are those who do not see, and yet believe.)" 
Now how can one possibly respond to a challenge about "what the Bible teaches," and what Christians believe, except by citing the Bible?   

The sheer inanity of Mike's response is depressing.  Can any Gnu even learn anything on this subject?  Are all they all simply too brain-washed to see the most obvious facts, and deal with the evidence in an honest and straightforward manner without such silly sophistry?  At times like these, I begin to lose hope. 

I'm a bit torn about how to deal with the rest of this chapter, then. I dealt with a lot of the reasons why I think the New Testament is a work of fiction in my review of the movie The Case for Christ, and I've touched on various issues over the years throughout the blog. Since I was hoping this book would present something I hadn't considered before, I'm not just going to repeat myself when there's a perfectly functional search bar on the right side of the page.

There is no sign that Mike has come within a thousand miles of the actual argument in what I thought, while writing it, was a pretty simple chapter. 

Marshall quotes the Bible as though we should simply take it all at face value, even repeating the dubious claim by Paul that many living Christians had actually met the resurrected Jesus, which I talked about in the previous post (see the subsection "Reason and the Resurrection"). But unless you actually do take the Bible at face value, which you most definitely should not (again, see the movie review linked above), you're not going to be persuaded by his arguments.

Again, Mike is completely missing the point of this chapter.  It is not to prove that the Bible is accurate -- I wrote two books arguing that the gospels are essentially historical, but those arguments are completely irrelevent to what I am saying here. 

And that's pretty much the chapter. He does manage to throw in one especially asinine piece of equivocation though:

Scientists, too, are blessed because “they have not seen, and yet believe.” Scientists incessantly appeal to human testimony: read Dawkins or Darwin and underline their citations of scientific work other people have done. Without faith in other people, it is impossible to do and advanced science. And even to reach and maintain conclusions from one’s own dabblings, one trusts one’s own memory, which is also human and therefore fallible.
I almost feel like it should go without saying that there are vital differences between scientific research – performed by people with years of training in their respective fields – which is open to peer review and replication (or the attempt thereof), and the kind of religious faith that David Marshall is talking about. Science rests on provisional assumptions (not 'faith' in one's senses) and is open to review and revision; faith is, by definition, not amenable to evidence.

Amazing!  Mike still hasn't gotten it into his thick skull that I am challenging that definition. 

Talk about blind faith. 

To quote William Lane Craig:
...even in the face of evidence against God which we cannot refute, we ought to believe in God on the basis of His Spirit's witness.
Mike is forgetting that Craig regularly clobbers atheists in debates about the evidence for Christianity, persuading even uncommitted audiences that the evidence for Christianity is strong.  He is also forgetting that for Craig, the witness of God's spirit IS evidence, of a "properly basic" kind, as Plantinga puts it.  He may be wrong, but he is certainly not advocating faith without reason to believe. 

Of course, when the arrows point in different directions, one has to choose which piece of evidence we should lend the most weight.  I may agree with Mike that Craig's choice here is open to question.  I've heard too much about "burning in the bossom" from Mormons, Moonies and Hindu cultists to like it when I hear the same sort of argument from Christians.  But direct experience of God, or experience thought to be of God, is obviously a world away from believing without reason.  And both Craig and Plantinga maintain that there is a whole lot of evidence for faith, and do so convincingly.  (Though that, again let me stress, is an entirely different argument from the subject at hand.) 

Contrast that with what Sean Carroll said above, as well as this excerpt by Richard Dawkins, from The God Delusion:

Another philosophically-illiterate Gnu scientist.  Lord preserve us. 
Fundamentalists know they are right because they have read the truth in a holy book and know, in advance, that nothing will budge them from their belief. The truth of the holy book is an axiom, not an end product of a process of reasoning. The book is true, and if the evidence seems to contradict it, it is the evidence, not the book, that must be thrown out. By contrast, what I, as a scientist, believe (for example, evolution) I believe not because of reading a holy book but because I have studied the evidence. It really is a very different matter. Books about evolution are believed not because they are holy. They are believed because they present overwhelming quantities of mutually buttressed evidence. In principle, any reader can go and check that evidence. When a science book is wrong, someone eventually discovers the mistake and it is corrected in subsequent books. That conspicuously doesn't happen with holy books. [p.319]

This is, of course, a perfect description of the Gnu position.  Note that Mike has read an entire book by many informed Christians who carefully explain that for us, faith does NOT mean what Dawkins thinks it does -- and he has blown that evidence off.  He reads the present chapter on what the NT means by faith, fails to really interact with a word of it, and makes the absurd argument: "But why should atheists believe the Bible?"  As if that had anything to do with the point. 

When a Gnu is wrong, and his or her errors are corrected in books (as Dawkins' error here was corrected by Alister McGrath, in a book Dawkins read and IGNORED) -- in fact they never seem to learn, because they have dug a deep hole, jumped in, and piled dirt over their own silly heads. 

"The sun has perished!" 

Indeed, for some people, it does indeed seem to have been extinguished, at least temporarily. 


Crude said...

I think part of the reason atheists discussing 'faith' ends up being mangled so often is straightforward: the cult of Gnu specializes exclusively in counter-arguments that can be given in 10 seconds. To define faith as it's been defined by you and (of course) the vast majority of the Christian intellectual tradition is to lose the argument straightaway.

I actually wish Carroll would get in a public debate about this, be called on it, and not be allowed to change the subject. I'd love to see a prominent Gnu be forced to admit the point you're offering here on faith. It's an easy one, it's a major one, and I get the feeling it's one they prefer for blog comments and articles, not debates, precisely because mentioning it in a space where someone can give a prominent reply would unsettle them.

David B Marshall said...

Kilo: Has it ever occurred to you that the reason you merely spout obscene blasphemies and puerile insults when you try to post here, rather than any actual arguments, is because in your heart you know God is real, and that knowledge bothers you? God's blessings be upon you, and may you gain His peace some day.

David B Marshall said...

Mike has "responded." Rather than answer my arguments -- he implies there are none to respond to -- he and another poster on his site answer in two ways:

(1) Claiming I pull rank on him, in terms of qualifications.

(2) Claiming I engage in "vitriol" because I call him "thick" and (get ready) a "numbskull."

Here are their rebuttals:

Mike: "His whole post was like that. Bragging about how he's an expert and I'm not, saying that I'm "arrogant" and a "numbskull", that Sean Carroll "worships science", that I have a "thick skull".... the dude's certifiable. And a pretty major (novel obscenity -- DM). If his arguments had a leg to stand on, he wouldn't be steeped in that kind of vitriol."

This seems a bit peculiar, because just a few posts earlier, Mike had been calling William Lane Craig a "hypocrit," "dishonest," and an "f-ing theologian." And in this post he uses stronger language than "numbskull" about me. So is this a concession that his own arguments have no leg to stand on?

Prime Number: "Christ the Tao's response of faith really shows that for a book that was about convincing atheists, the author doesn't even understand atheists. He also forgets that vast numbers of us used to be Christians before our atheism and have a very good idea of what Christianity is about."

I responded on Mike's site as follows:

Mike: Your attempted rebuttal of my Chapter 10 was one of the silliest things I've read in a long time. No wonder you won't try to defend it.

The issue is what Christians mean by "faith." The skeptical arguments I cite early in the chapter make that clear, also that atheists themselves cite the Bible to back up what I call the "blind faith meme" -- the historically and theologically ignorant conceit that Christians define faith as something unrelated to reason or evidence.

So I cite the Bible to show what is really normative FOR CHRISTIANS -- in response to atheists -- and you have the temerity, or perhaps silliness, to dismiss my argument because I cite the Bible! Well no kidding! Christian theology is the issue in question! To demonstrate that the Bible teaches reasonable faith, what am I supposed to quote -- the Rig Veda? The New Hampshire (Voters' Guide)?

If you knew how I normally argue with skeptics (yes, on Debunking Christianity, or anywhere else), you'd know citing the Bible to prove a point was the rare exception, because it was warranted in this case, and not say so much embarrassingly ridiculous nonsense in your attempted rebuttal.

Calling someone "thick" is hardly "vitriol." You should hang around PZ Myers or Jerry Coyne -- or read your own nasty comments about William Lane Craig ('hypocrite" "charlatan" "x-ing theologian") or me (obscenity deleted) -- and see what vitriol really looks like. I also said I thought you were smarter than your utterly ridiculous attempt to rebut Chapter 10 implies. Wise up, put your specs on Mike, and try to really read the chapter -- and the book -- reasonably. I can understand if you feel humiliated, but if you can swallow your pride and allow yourself to learn from an opponent, it will make you a stronger thinker in the future.

Crude said...

The vitriol line is priceless, to say nothing of the thin skin it exposes. The guy curses and rants, but being called a numbskull makes him crack like an egg?

Hopefully onlookers on that site are reading the two accounts, because there's no way for Mike to come out of that looking any way other than how you aptly describe him.

XAtheistX said...

I don't think this post was appropriate. There wasn't any need for all of the name calling. He did not insult you. Other than that I agree with Mike. You responded to NOTHING. You made assertion after assertion without a speck of evidence. Maybe you ought to rewrite it without the insults and actually respond to Mike's arguments. Just my two cents.

David B Marshall said...

X: I didn't engage in what you imply was a lot of name-calling. In a long post, I accused him of being "thick" and a "numbskull." But I also said, at the end of my rebuttal, that I thought Mike was smarter than the argument he gave, implying that even that mild insult was mainly rhetorical rather than a genuine dismissal of Mike's intelligence.

Mike, by contrast, used much harsher language about both Craig and myself. Isn't it hypocritical for Mike to critize me for such a mild and rhetorical insult -- making it plain I didn't genuinely intend to insult his intelligence -- while he throws real obscenities around freely at the two of us, accuses Craig of dishonesty, denigrates Craig's profession (aside from a "blanking theologian," he's also an eminent philosopher, with many scholarly articles on related topics in top journals), and offers no hint that he is anything but serious?

A saying about splinters and beams and eyes comes to mind.

As for "responding to nothing," that's just delusional. Or do you also assert that it's some sort of grave epistemological error to respond to skeptics who say the Bible affirms "blind faith," by citing the Bible in return? That's his only real argument, his excuse for simply not responding to the weight of evidence in my chapter. And it's obviously absurd. Surely you can see that.

Crude said...

Again, there's that thin skin.

And the claim that David 'didn't respond to anything' is ridiculous. The idea that faith is 'believing with no evidence' is demonstrably false, according to Christians themselves historically. The proper think for Mike to do would be to owe up to that, and maybe say he was targeting fideists, who happen to be a tremendously small niche in the Christian tradition.

I don't expect Mike to do the proper thing.

Brian Barrington said...

“Who says faith is not backed up by evidence?” If a view is backed by the evidence, or justified by the evidence, then there is no need for faith. The more a view is backed up by the evidence or reason, then the less need there is for faith. Conversely, the less evidence there is for a certain view, then the more faith is required in order to believe it. This is the view of Aquinas.

If reason (i.e. evidence, proof, argument) on its own was sufficient to justify belief in God, the Resurrection, the Incarnation, the Trinity and so forth then it is difficult to see why faith would be considered by Christians as demonstrating the specifically theological virtue of faith. Christians think that believing in Christianity requires and demonstrates a high degree of faith - and this faith is praised by Christians as a specifically theological virtue that will be rewarded by God.

If it was the case that belief in God, the Resurrection, Incarnation, Trinity etc. is justified by the evidence, and without faith, then belief in God etc. would just demonstrate a superior ability to evaluate evidence and a superior ability to think rationally. In other words, belief in Christianity would just demonstrate superior intelligence – but Christians do not believe that those who believe in God, Resurrection etc. are rewarded by God as a result of having superior intelligence, and that those who do not believe it are punished for being stupid! Or have I got this wrong?!

Southern Anglican said...

I liked this post. Reminded me of Luther!

David B Marshall said...

Brian: The question is, when Christians say we are justified by faith, what we MEAN by the word "faith." Is it what you assume it to mean, something unrelated to reason or evidence? Or is it, as I define it, "Holding to and acting upon what you have good reason to believe is true." It is the whole point of Chapter 10 of True Reason, and to some extent the whole book, to answer that question. I suggest you read this e-book -- it only costs a few dollars.

To answer your question, it should be clear why faith in the Christian sense is still needed, even when there is evidence. Your knees may knock as you get on an airplane, even though you know the pilot is experienced and good mechanics have checked the craft. The act of "stepping out in faith" involves risk, though, and perseverence, and trust in something or Someone you have reason to trust -- like holding out your hand to another mountain climber to pull you up over the ledge. This is quite distinct from mere intellectual assurance.

Ephirius said...

"The more a view is backed up by the evidence or reason, then the less need there is for faith."

Not entirely accurate.

"Faith" comes from the Latin "Fides", which means to put one's trust in another. It has to do with truth, not facts, unless of course you are trusting someone as factual.

This would have been the meaning of the term 2000 years ago. It remains the accurate meaning today. Faith is merely trust. Science cannot "prove" anything, as it is not in the business of doing so. What it can do is predict with some level of accuracy. We have to "trust" this prediction, which is an act of faith.

I don't know when atheists decided to divorce philosophy from science, but they look like fools when they try to keep the separation going.

SteveK said...

Mike says personal judgement will settle the issue (he will "let the readers decide") so I guess his argument isn't obviously a good one. I think you pointed that out, yet he insists it really, truly is a good one and that your personal judgement is wrong. I guess you cannot win.

Brian Barrington said...

All the evidence demonstrates that commercial air travel is the safest way to travel - therefore one is justified in having a rational expectation that the aeroplane will arrive safely at its destination. Little or no faith is required to justify calmly getting on the plane - reason alone justifies it.

Similarly, if the evidence demonstrates that Christianity is true, or probably true, then little or no faith is required in order to be a Christian, since reason alone justifies it.

If reason alone is sufficient to justify the rational expectation that Christianity will turn out to be true, then faith is basically unnecessary, and being a Christian would demonstrate little more than an ability to correctly evaluate evidence. Similarly, being a non-Christian would demonstrate little more than an inability to correctly evaluate evidence.

I do not think this is how most Christians have traditionally seen it. They think that something much more than mere evidence or reason is required to be a Christian - namely faith, which is a gift given to them by God's grace.

We are all hanging from a cliff with the certain knowledge that one day our grip will give way and we shall plunge to our deaths. This is our existential situation. The theist has the faith to reach his hand upwards towards the heavens in the hope that there is someone there who will take his hand and bring him home to safety. And it can be plausibly argued that, given our existential situation, one is fully justified in reaching one’s hand upward even if there is no evidence whatsoever that there is someone up there who will respond. Again, if the evidence alone justifies the rational expectation that those who reach out their hands will be saved, then no faith is required in order to reach out one's hand - all that is required is that one be a rational, scientifically minded person who can objectively evaluate evidence!

In my view, the difference between how the theist and atheist evaluates evidence is in truth surprisingly small - both theist and atheist are on average equally rational, or equally "intelligent". On average they both possess reason in more-or-less equal measure - what sets them apart is that the theist has religious hope and religious faith, but the atheist is without this hope and without this faith.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: You're just ignoring my explanation above (and those other Christians have added). In fact, it DOES take faith for people to get on an airplane, IN THE CHRISTIAN SENSE. You're free to use the word "faith" in a different sense, but not when you talk about Christian theology.

One of the most arrogant habits of some atheists is the tendency to think they have a right to define our faith for us, in the face of repeated disavowals on our part. You don't strike me as a particularly arrogant person. Please don't adopt this bad habit.

Crude said...


I'm probably just repeating what you and others have said, but maybe one way to put it would be that evidence provides a reason to have faith.

Brian Barrington said...

I am basically using the word “faith” in the way that Aquinas uses it, and he is the primary Christian theologian at least for Catholics, who make up the majority of Christians. So your claim that Christian theology does not use the word “faith” in this way is clearly total rubbish, since many Christian theologians do - including one of the most influential Christian theologians of all time, if not the most influential. Aquinas, if he were still with us, would not think it requires any faith at all to believe that aeroplanes are safe, since reason alone justifies believing it.

Aquinas is clear that the central doctrines of orthodox Christianity (the Trinity, the Incarnation etc.) are based on Faith rather than Reason. These doctrines cannot be demonstrated by argument or evidence and hence must be accepted based on faith (authority, special revelation), according to Aquinas. As Aquinas says, “arguments from human reason cannot avail to prove what must be received on faith”. He also says: “what is of faith cannot be demonstrated, because a demonstration produces scientific knowledge; whereas faith is of the unseen” and faith is “concerned with invisible things, that exceed human reason”. He also cautions “we must not attempt to prove what is of faith, except by authority alone”.

Now, perhaps other Christians, including yourself, use the word “faith” to mean something else than this. In fact, as far as I can see, you mean something very similar to what is meant by reason i.e. believing something based on evidence, argument, proof, demonstration etc. The opposite of faith for you is what Aquinas meant by faith, and also pretty-much the opposite of one of the dictionary definitions, which defines faith as “belief that is not based on proof”.

Well, fair enough – although to my mind this renders the word “faith” virtually redundant since faith just means rationally justified belief i.e. reason – and it’s difficult to see why Christians have traditionally regarded faith as a very special specifically theological virtue if that is all they have meant by the word.

David B Marshall said...

Brian: I appreciate an actual and reasonable challenge, which you have provided. In response:

(1) Aquinas certainly is an authoritative Christian thinker, and his views should indeed be taken into account. I will therefore (if I have time) explain in a separate post why his views are in agreement with what I say above. (Though your reading seems plausible on the surface.)

(2) Aquinas is not the only important Christian thinker, and not even the only on that level whom I quote. Note that I also quote Justin, Clement, Augustine, and Pope John Paul II, also very important thinkers in what would become the Catholic tradition. And this post is about what the NT says, which is more authoritative still. The Blind Faith Meme is, at best, a small minority position, as I show.

(3) Anyway, if there is dispute, atheists should not take it upon themselves to resolve a dispute between Christians.

Crude said...

Aquinas is clear that the central doctrines of orthodox Christianity (the Trinity, the Incarnation etc.) are based on Faith rather than Reason.

No, that's not true without qualification. God's existence, omnipotence, etc are central doctrines of orthodox Christianity - and Aquinas is adamant that these can be known by reason. To acknowledge this is to destroy the atheist charge being leveled against theism in this thread. Instead it becomes 'Okay, well, Christianity relies on a mix of faith and reason'.

Second, when Aquinas talks about using reason in this case, he's talking about reasoning from first principles to a certain conclusion - and he's saying that there's no way to reason from first principles to conclude the trinity. He is not advocating a fideist view where something is believed detached from reason - instead, something can be believed because it comes from a trustworthy authority, and reason can play a role in ascertaining the trustworthiness of said authority.

Third, Aquinas would not say that believing that airplanes are safe 'doesn't require faith' in the sense you're using it - again, Aquinas' talk of 'reasoning' in those passages was reference to reasoning from first principles, and by 'faith' he specifically was making reference to revelation by God or relevant religious authorities. But faith in the sense that the knowledge is uncertain? Faith in the sense that assumptions are being made about the reliability of data, or that the conclusions are at best probably rather than strictly proven? Then absolutely Aquinas would agree that faith plays a role.

The context of the words is important.

Brian Barrington said...

Right, Aquinas thinks that the existence of God can be proven by reason, and that belief in God therefore does not require faith. But specifically Christian doctrines such as the Incarnation and the Trinity cannot be demonstrated by reason and therefore they require faith.

He uses the words "reason" and "faith" in a very clear, technical, coherent and consistent way, and as far as I can see he sticks to using those words in that way all through the Summa Theologica - in fact, the clarity and consistency of his thought is frankly astounding. But I'm open to being corrected on this if there are examples of him using "reason" in the more informal, contextual sense indicated at the end of your second point, or using "faith" in the vaguer sense indicated at the end of your third point?

David B Marshall said...

Both of you may have read more of Aquinas than I have to date, I'm ashamed to admit. But I'm wondering if what Aquinas means by faith can't be reconciled to what I call "the fourth step of faith." In that sense, trusting God's revelation would contrast with the first three steps of faith -- in mind, senses, and people -- yet also be reasonable and supportable by evidence.

For instance, it may be that God has revealed His character is trinitarian. There is, indeed, no merely empirical way of proving this. If it is a revelation, though, it still reasonable and believable on established evidence -- the reasoning that established that there is a God, and the historical, experiential reasoning that established that Jesus is divine.

Is that a plausible understanding of Aquinas? If not, can you point to any passages that seem to undermine it?

I may ask other people who know Aquinas well for their input, until I have time to read the most relevant passages again myself. I had been wondering about this, even before Brian brought it up, and have seen different opinions.

Brian Barrington said...

Aquinas says that in this world we cannot see God, but in the next world we shall see the essence of God directly  and therefore we shall have no need of faith in the next world. Similarly, Aquinas says that neither Jesus nor the angels have faith, because they see God directly, unlike us, which is why we need faith to even have an imperfect, clouded vision of God.

He says "Thus among the articles of faith not only are those things set forth to which reason cannot reach, such as the Trinity of the Godhead; but also those to which right reason can attain, such as the Unity of the Godhead."

So the Trinity is one of those things that "reason cannot reach". It is beyond reason, so it must be accepted on faith - however, I think Aquinas would say that the Trinity is neither supported nor rejected by reason, since it is simply beyond the comprehension of human reason in this life.

Here are four more relevant quotes:

1 - the Apostle says (2 Cor. 5:6): "While we are in the body, we are absent from the Lord"; and he points out the reason of this absence, saying: "For we walk by faith and not by sight." Now from this it is clear that so long as we walk by faith and not by sight, bereft of the vision of the Divine Essence, we are not present to the Lord. But the souls of the saints, separated from their bodies, are in God's presence; wherefore the text continues: "But we are confident and have a good will to be absent . . . from the body, and to be present with the Lord." Whence it is evident that the souls of the saints, separated from their bodies, "walk by sight," seeing the Essence of God, wherein is true Happiness.

2 - It is written (Heb. 11:1): "Faith is the evidence of things that appear not." But there was nothing that did not appear to Christ, according to what Peter said to Him (John 21:17): "Thou knowest all things." Therefore there was no faith in Christ

3 - In the angels there is no faith, for they do not "walk by faith" but "by sight,"

4 - By faith we gaze on heavenly things which surpass the senses and human reason.

Crude said...

But I'm open to being corrected on this if there are examples of him using "reason" in the more informal, contextual sense indicated at the end of your second point, or using "faith" in the vaguer sense indicated at the end of your third point?

It's not a question of Aquinas using 'reason' in another sense - the point is the very restricted sense that Aquinas is using 'faith' and 'reason' both. With 'reason', he is talking about metaphysical reasoning from first principles (and he does mention that it's possible for God to reveal some things that reason could, in principle, also reveal.) With 'faith' he is talking about revealed truths from an appropriate authority.

As I pointed out, using Aquinas kills the point atheists want to make in David's OP - Aquinas believed God's existence, and much more about Him, was discovered by reason (yes, including various orthodox teachings.) Which means that Aquinas is yet another example of Christianity where reason and evidence play a tremendous role. Meanwhile, you said...

Conversely, the less evidence there is for a certain view, then the more faith is required in order to believe it. This is the view of Aquinas.

But you're simply wrong. Aquinas doesn't treat 'reason' and 'faith' as two points on a sliding scale such that the more reason you have, the less faith you need. What he did was distinguish between two kinds of knowledge: knowledge acquired from the logical examination of first principles, and knowledge acquired from revelation or an appropriate authority. First of all, notice something: these are not exhaustive summaries of knowledge. Scientific knowledge, theories and estimations of probabilities, are explicitly *further down the line from metaphysical reasoning* in Aquinas' own view. Second, Aquinas also held that something could in principle be revealed by revelation that was also knowable by reason - so knowledge acquired by revelation did not rule out acquiring that same knowledge by reason.

Moreover, evidence still could and would play a role in knowledge from an authority or revelation, since investigating evidence for that authority would still be possible, even necessary.

I want to stress, again, that for Aquinas there was a gulf between metaphysical knowledge, and knowledge gained from 'lesser sciences'. Knowledge that flowed from first principles was fundamental and more certain than any knowledge gained by, say, empirical science.

So no, Aquinas' statements about knowledge through reason do not amount to 'Aquinas would say we don't need faith to believe such-and-such about planes'.

More than that, think it over. How do you 'know' what you claim to know about plane travel? Did you perform experiments, do data analysis, and come to a conclusion? Or are you relying on others' knowledge and authority to come to your conclusion about that and much more? Think about how Aquinas classifies knowledge from authority - even if the knowledge in question is in principle attainable by reason on the part of an individual. All while realizing, again, that such knowledge was classified as a less perfect/reliable form by Aquinas than metaphysical.

pers said...
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Southern Anglican said...

Here is what St. Thomas says in the Compendium theologiae:

"The truths about God thus far proposed [those of his unity and simplicity] have been subtly discussed by a number of pagan philosophers, although some of them erred concerning these matters. And those who propounded true doctrine in this respect were scarcely able to arrive at such truths even after a long and painstaking investigation.

"But there are other truths about God revealed to us in the teachings of the Christian religion, which were beyond the reach of the philosophers. These are truths about which we are instructed, in accord with the norm of Christian faith, in a way that transcends human perception.

"The teaching is that although God is one and simple, as has been explained above, God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. And these are not three gods, but are one God. We now turn to a consideration of this truth, so far as is possible to us."

Now this may seem to support the idea that 'the Trinity is neither supported nor rejected by reason, since it is simply beyond the comprehension of human reason in this life.' But I don't think that is quite right. St. Thomas goes on:

"We take from the doctrine previously laid down that God understands and loves himself; likewise, that understanding and willing in him are not something distinct from his essence. Since God understands himself, and since all that is understood is in the person who understands, God must be in himself as the object understood is in the person understanding.

"But the object understood, so far as it is in the one who understands, is a certain word of the intellect. We signify by an exterior word what we comprehend interiorly in our intellect. For words, according to the Philosopher, are signs of intellectual concepts. Hence we must acknowledge in God the existence of his Word.

"...what the intellect comprehends is formed in the intellect, the intelligible object being, as it were, the active principle, and the intellect the passive principle. That which is thus comprehended by the intellect, existing as it does within the intellect, is conformed both to the moving intelligible object (of which it is a certain likeness) and the quasi-passive intellect (which confers on it the intelligible existence. Hence what is comprehended by the intellect is not unfittingly called the conception of the intellect.

"But here a point of difference must be noted. What is conceived in the intellect is a likeness of the thing understood and represents its species; and so it seems to be a sort of offspring of the intellect. Therefore when the intellect understands something other than itself, the thing understood is, so to speak, the father of the word conceived in the intellect, and the intellect itself resembles rather a mother, whose function is such that conception takes place in her. But when the intellect understands itself, the word conceived is related to the understanding person as offspring to father. Consequently, since we are using the term word in the latter sense (that is, according as God understands himself) the word itself must be related to God, from whom the Word proceeds, as Son to Father."

St. Thomas then goes through a similar reasoning process with the Holy Spirit as beloved-in-lover. I think it's pretty clear that while St. Thomas regarded some of the truths revealed by faith as of a kind unreachable through reason alone, many of them, even the reality of the Trinity, are nevertheless demonstrable. It is more that the Trinity is just the sort of thing nobody would guess or come to on their own; but it still follows naturally from the idea that God is one, simple, intelligent, etc. As St. Thomas says, "If the teacher settles the question by merely citing authorities, the student will, indeed, by assured that the matter is so, but he will gain nothing of science or understanding, and will depart empty-minded."

Darrin said...

//If the universe exhibited a chaotic jumble of non-lawlike behavior, rather than falling into beautiful patterns, we would abandon that assumption as well. That’s the most compelling thing about science: it always stands ready to improve by casting out an old idea when the evidence demands it.//


Darrin said...

... sorry, I lost my temper before continuing in the article and realizing you pointed this out, as well. ;)

David B Marshall said...

SA: Thanks for the quotes! One thing Brian has convinced me of, ironically, is that I need to read Aquinas more seriously, and soon.

David B Marshall said...

Darrin: COL. (Chuckle Out Loud.)

One can be sure Dr. McCoy would be accused of "vitriol" if he were posting on-line.

Patrick said...

As for the relationship between faith and reason from a Thomist point of view the following contribution, written by a Thomist philosopher, is very informative:

Brian Barrington said...

Crude, “Aquinas is yet another example of Christianity where reason and evidence play a tremendous role”. I agree enitrely that most Christians, including Aquinas, think that their religion is based on reason and evidence, as well as on faith. And even someone like Kierkegaard thinks he has good “reasons” (i.e. justifications) for being a Christian, even if those justifications do not take the form of positive, publicly available evidence.

Regarding Aquinas on faith and reason in general. Aquinas says that “human reason cannot avail to prove what must be received on faith”. He even says that if reason was used to prove sacred doctrine “the merit of faith would come to an end”. He does say “there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated.” Here he is talking specifically about the existence of God – a matter he thinks is demonstrable by reason alone – but he says that if someone is incapable of understanding the reasons in this instance, then faith will do the work for him.

Further he says “It was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation” “Scripture, inspired of God, is no part of philosophical science” and “there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason.” “Those things which are beyond man's knowledge may not be sought for by man through his reason, nevertheless, once they are revealed by God, they must be accepted by faith.”

Regarding whether Aquinas would regard the safety of air travel as a matter of faith - Aquinas clearly says that “faith is about God” and that it is a specifically theological virtue. He says that “by faith we gaze on heavenly things which surpass the senses and human reason.” He says “what is of faith cannot be demonstrated, because a demonstration produces scientific knowledge; whereas faith is of the unseen” and faith is “concerned with invisible things, that exceed human reason”.

Now, I do not think the question of air travel safety is one that surpasses the human sense and human reason, or that it is a theological issue, or that determining the safety or otherwise of air travel is ultimately a matter of religious faith concerning things unseen.

Brian Barrington said...

Southern Anglican, concerning the Trinity and reason - the most relevant chapter in Aquinas is the one entitled: “Whether the Trinity of the Divine Persons Can Be Known by Natural Reason?” FIRST ARTICLE [I, Q. 32, Art. 1]

Aquinas’s conclusion is: “It is impossible to attain to the knowledge of the Trinity by natural reason.” He says: “Whoever, then, tries to prove the trinity of persons by natural reason, derogates from faith in two ways. Firstly, as regards the dignity of faith itself, which consists in its being concerned with invisible things, that exceed human reason wherefore the Apostle says that "faith is of things that appear not" (Heb. 11:1), and the same Apostle says also, "We speak wisdom among the perfect, but not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world; but we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery which is hidden" (1 Cor. 2:6, 7). Secondly, as regards the utility of drawing others to the faith. For when anyone in the endeavor to prove the faith brings forward reasons which are not cogent, he falls under the ridicule of the unbelievers: since they suppose that we stand upon such reasons, and that we believe on such grounds.”

David B Marshall said...

Brian: But what you say fits in perfectly with my explanation, above. When Aquinas speaks of faith, he seems to be limiting himself to what I call the "fourth step of faith" -- faith in God. And just as faith in human beings depends on prior trust in the mind and the senses, RATIONAL trust, so Clement or Origen said not everyone has time or intellectual capabilities to do all the research that is necessary, for ANY worldview they chose -- that's just the nature of things. So we take reasonable intellectual shortcuts, such as trusting people we find trustworthy about matters they seem to understand -- preeminently, for Christians, Jesus Christ. But his trustworthiness can be and should be established intellectually, even if sometimes inchoately.

The source Patrick cites above, the philosopher Edward Feser, while not quoting Thomas Aquinas directly, does explain Catholic thinking very much in the terms I give in the OP:

"But what is faith? It is NOT what most people think it is; in particular, it is NOT a matter of believing something without any grounds for believing it, or believing it simply because you've taken a fancy to it, or because through sheer will you've worked yourself into a state of belief in defiance of all the evidence. In short, faith, rightly understood, is in no way at odds with reason. On the contrary, faith is, in a sense, GROUNDED in reason . . . "

Feser then gives an example from what I call the "third step of faith" -- faith in other people.

"You trust him (a quantum physicist friend), because he knows what he is talking about and wouldn't lie to you . . . "

"Faith in the religious context -- or at least in the Catholic theological context -- is like that . . . faith involves believing some proposition we could not have discovered on our own and perhaps cannot even fully understand, but which we know must be true because God, who is omniscient and cannot lie, has revealed it. But . . .the claim that the proposition in quesiton HAS in fact been revealed by God is something that can and should be independently rationally justified. In short, reason tells us that there is a God and that he has revealed such-and-such a truth: faith is then a matter of believing what reason has shown God to have revealed. In that sense faith is not only not at odds with reason but is grounded in reason."

The analogy here is that we have grounds for trusting the physicist (step 3), as we have grounds for trusting God (step 4).

Feser cites authoritative Catholic texts to support his explanation, especially from the Vatican Council. I won't give those quotes at the moment.

There is some different between Feser's Catholic definition of faith, and my own. In my view, faith should be defined to include an existential component, thus the airplane analogy. Also, in this sense, even belief in God is a matter of faith, since we must rationally trust our minds even if we think, say, the Ontological Argument is sound. And that also involves the same kind of faith, at Step 1.

Brian Barrington said...

Well physics is not a good example for me because in my view many contemporary physicists are absolute bluffers who have very little notion what they are talking about - they take advantage of the fact that no one else knows what they are talking about either in order to convey the impression that they have some sort of inside knowledge concerning string theory, dark matter, quantum indeterminism, cosmology and so on - many of these theories are highly speculative and the probability that they are correct is pretty small. Did you see all the recent palaver about scientists “discovering” the Higgs-Boson in CERN in Switzerland? If you look more closely at the results, you find that they have not discovered the Higgs-Boson at all – all they did was run some tests where the observed results are consistent with the existence of the Higgs-Boson. Well, that is bluffing of the highest order – I mean, ALL existing observations are consistent with the existence of Higgs-Boson, as well as dark matter etc. so paying a few gazillion euro to find another few observations that are “consistent” with its existence does not strike me as particularly good value. So I would be very sceptical of contemporary physicists.

Anyway, rant over 

David B Marshall said...

Don Page, an eminent Christian quantum physicist, wrote a chapter for my new book, Faith Seeking Understanding, arguing for a Many Worlds interpretation of quantum physics. True enough, I find it pretty hard to buy. But if he tells me less controversial facts about quantum fields and particles, I'll probably believe that -- at least, I hope his students will. My son is taking physics right now, and he'd better be taking notes in class.

I think you'd enjoy that book. I hope you'll read it some time, though it might be hard to get in Ireland right now, since you have to order it from William Carey Library.

Crude said...

I agree enitrely that most Christians, including Aquinas, think that their religion is based on reason and evidence, as well as on faith. And even someone like Kierkegaard thinks he has good “reasons” (i.e. justifications) for being a Christian, even if those justifications do not take the form of positive, publicly available evidence.

I think the Kierkegaard comparison, without adequate qualification, is a case of severe equivocation on your part. If you're trying to imply that Aquinas' reason is like Kierkegaard's reason.

He says “what is of faith cannot be demonstrated, because a demonstration produces scientific knowledge; whereas faith is of the unseen” and faith is “concerned with invisible things, that exceed human reason”

Again, what you keep missing here is that Aquinas, when talking about reason, is talking about a form that is distinct from what we know as modern science - he's talking about metaphysical demonstration proceeding from first principles, and he explicitly says that 'lesser' sciences are overruled by metaphysics. Likewise, when he talks about faith, he's talking with regards to God specifically.

But both of those definitions are too narrow to do what you're trying to do here, and apply these terms to modern science. I'm pointing out, this simply isn't what Aquinas was talking about - neither word, used by Aquinas, applies to the scientific examples you're dealing with.

Regarding the Higgs-Boson, I believe you're mistaken. My understanding is that the results discovered at the lab were consistent with a positive result of the Higgs - the right kind of signal, at a high level of confidence, in the right scope of results. It was a live option that they would not find this signature at the labs, and if so, this would have been a fatal blow to standard Higgs searches precisely because that result would have been inconsistent with the Higgs search.

Southern Anglican said...
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Southern Anglican said...

Brian, from the section you quoted:

"Reason may be employed in two ways to establish a point: firstly, for the purpose of furnishing sufficient proof of some principle, as in natural science, where sufficient proof can be brought to show that the movement of the heavens is always of uniform velocity. Reason is employed in another way, not as furnishing a sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained; not, however, as if this proof were sufficient, forasmuch as some other theory might explain them. In the first way, we can prove that God is one; and the like. In the second way, reasons avail to prove the Trinity; as, when assumed to be true, such reasons confirm it. We must not, however, think that the trinity of persons is adequately proved by such reasons. This becomes evident when we consider each point; for the infinite goodness of God is manifested also in creation, because to produce from nothing is an act of infinite power. For if God communicates Himself by His infinite goodness, it is not necessary that an infinite effect should proceed from God: but that according to its own mode and capacity it should receive the divine goodness. Likewise, when it is said that joyous possession of good requires partnership, this holds in the case of one not having perfect goodness: hence it needs to share some other's good, in order to have the goodness of complete happiness. Nor is the image in our mind an adequate proof in the case of God, forasmuch as the intellect is not in God and ourselves univocally. Hence, Augustine says (Tract. xxvii. in Joan.) that by faith we arrive at knowledge, and not conversely."

Let me clarify my claim. My claim is that for St. Thomas the Trinity is amenable to reason. Reason is not 'neutral' on the issue; the Trinity is a more coherent picture of God than almost any other I know. Nevertheless this is not sufficient to prove that God is, in fact, a Trinity of Persons. But reason can show that it is a natural and consistent step from monism and not a brain-bending aberration totally beyond rationality. In other words St. Thomas doesn't draw a parenthesis around the Trinity and say, 'On this subject, fideism is okay.' He accepts the authority of the Church for what he thinks are pretty good reasons, and he applies reason to her claims.

David B Marshall said...

Brian's challenges on Aquinas are more worthy of attention, but other posters here have offered helpful perspectives, now. So today, John Loftus posted on faith again, including a challenge to myself and the philosophers Victor Reppert and Randal Rauser.

Only Loftus flipped A-Unicornists' argument. Incredibly, just as we finish rebutting Mike, who says Christians should not cite the Bible to prove their notion of what Christianity says about faith, one week later, Loftus makes exactly the opposite argument. What are these Christian apologists doing, defining "faith" without citing the Bible?

Heaven has such a wonderful sense of irony.

Anyway, I've just posted a reply to Loftus. Hopefully I'll find time to read Aquinas more fully, and see in more detail how he does or does not fit into the model I am arguing for, and most Christians seem to agree with.

Unknown said...

I took a quick look at Mike's critique. It made me tired. I have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with faith, myself. But Mike makes me feel tired, because of his enormous amount of faith in himself. It takes an unimaginable amount of faith in self, to live a life that is pretty much dedicated to the criticism of religious people.

I feel sort of sorry for him. His belief that religion is responsible for his unhappy worldview, has left him with nothing but a fervent faith in his self, and an intolerance for others.

Sure, we know that religious people do this, too. They have an intolerance for other beliefs, that they become obsessed with. It's an awful thing. But some atheists exhibit exactly the same sort of intolerance. It's exactly the same sort of reasoning. And yet, Mike probably imagines that, not only is he not intolerant, but that he is immune to such intolerance.

How tiresome!

I don't really have any deep observations to make, tonight. Too tired!

Brian, it's good to see a discussion with you in it, again. I feel a little wierd going to a Jesus blog, though. :)

Brian Barrington said...

Hey there Jen! Great to hear from you. I guess that’s the amazing thing about Jesus – he has the power to bring even orthodox Jews and atheists together :-)

Unknown said...

We've never been all that far apart, ideologically, Brian. I think that you sort of have a god-concept with the universe, itself being G-d. My concept isn't all that different. I simply accept that G-d has interacted with man, on a personal level, and you don't.

I don't think that I had any 'one' reason, for suddenly becoming religious. I pretty much accept that G-d simply became a bit insistent about it. But among my 'reasons' was the feeling that there was up against a spiritual threshold that I simply couldn't cross, without believing that the worlds really do have a master.

I think that we probably both have the same concern about creeds that are intolerant of the beliefs of others, including when atheism becomes a creed of intolerance.