Saturday, May 26, 2012

And Now, for Something Slightly Different

HYFR, My Mutha-Phrukkin Throng!

We'll get back to Kreeft and Tacelli next time. (Or will we? See the cliff-hanger below!) But for now, I'd like to respond to David Mayeux, who provided some interesting feedback for my most recent post. (Thanks David! Shout-out, woop woop!) I've reproduced his comments here, with each paragraph isolated and my garrulous replies following immediately there-after. Does that make sense? Oh, you're all so smart, you'll figure it out.

"Your observations are spot on that reason cannot prove (in both senses of "test" and "verify") the existence of God or any phenomenon transcendent of the created order. Anything within the created order will be unable to apprehend or comprehend anything outside of created cosmos. Therefore, faith in the existence of God must be a matter of revelation from that God to a social group ("church") or individual ("believer") by channels of grace--which likewise is a transcendent concept, so there's bound to be the endless circular logic applied. But that's just the point, there's is no logical reasoning that can be applied to matters of faith."

While it may be the case that reason cannot "prove" the existence of God, (precious little can be proven by reason alone), I'm operating from the position that it is, in principle, at least possible to provide a rational defense of the existence of God with the use of reason and evidence. That's pretty much what this whole "Ultimate Truth-Seeker Challenge" and reflecting on my atheism in an open-minded, honest manner thing is all about. (There should probably be hyphens in a lot of that, but it would look silly. So, for all the grammar-Nazis out there, I'm sacrificing what I know to be grammatically correct for what I feel to be aesthetically pleasing. Sucketh upon it!)

Footbridge at dawnFor the sake of this journey, this noble quest, this righteous odyssey, this saintly sojourn, this honorable voyage into the very depths of my atheistic (non-existent) soul, I'm taking those theists who claim to be able to present a reasonable case for the existence of God cereally. I'm taking them at their word. And I'm attempting, to the best of my ability, doing the best I can with what the good Lawd gave me, to assess the rationality of their arguments and the soundness of their evidence. And I'll try to do the same when I get to the atheistical books. 

Furthermore, I take issue with the notion that, "Anything within the created order will be unable to apprehend or comprehend anything outside of created cosmos." Perhaps. But if this is the case, anyone having trouble proving (or convincing others to believe) a particular claim can make a similar appeal and get off scot-free. "Don't believe in leprechauns? Well, you see, we exist within this natural order do-hickey, while mysterious leprechauns are from a supernatural realmy thingamabob far beyond ours. Surely no mortal human can expect to apprehend or comprehend that which is outside our natural realmification." This doesn't pass the smell-test. It sets off skeptical alarm bells on my bullshizzle detector kit.

Likewise the assertion that, " in the existence of God must be a matter of revelation from that God to a social group ('church') or individual ('believer') by channels of grace..." This makes theism haphazard, based on the whims and caprice of a seemingly fickle and unpredictable God. Which creates worse problems for theists. If you are correct, then why doesn't God reveal himself to atheists? And if you believe in hell, why would God punish atheists for our atheism if we're only atheists because God didn't reveal himself to us? (I may have just broken my own brain with that last sentence.) 

"The compatibility of faith and reason cannot, and should not, be the purview of apologetics aimed toward the nonbeliever. That believers should couple their faith WITH reason should be the argument of Christian apologists, or rather the argument of right-thinking pastors to the faithful. The thinking Christian knows faith can concern only that which transcends creation, so any rational thought within creation will be unable to comprehend and apply reason to matters of faith. However, it is necessary that believers practice reason when dealing with matters of created or existing phenomena ("existing" & "nonexisting" are meaningless as applied to a transcendent creator, as all labels would), and realize that anything understood by reason about creation cannot be used to prove or disprove the existence of God, but is only meaning as applied to God's creation." 

What should be the purview of apologetics geared toward atheists? It's a little unclear, but are you saying here that theists shouldn't attempt to offer arguments and evidence in favor of God's existence to atheists? (If I've misunderstood you, please correct me.) If this is indeed what you're saying, how can theists and atheists engage in meaningful discourse about God? There needs to be some common ground, which I submit ought to be reason and evidence. While I currently disagree with their conclusion, I think theists are on the right track in attempting to bring reason and evidence to bear in the discussion. 

people seriesElseways, it seems to me that appeals to faith are merely conversation-stoppers. Theists and atheists must agree to disagree on this important matter and, in mutual disappointment, go their separate ways. With this understanding, there is nothing that can prove one right or the other wrong. Conversation on the topic of religion would then be perfectly meaningless. That's not a world I want to live in. Or even freakin die in. (Cue dramatic music. No, not Aqua's "Barbie Girl"! Though I do so love that song.)

It is also unclear as to why "'existing' & 'nonexisting' are meaningless as applied to a transcendent creator..." Seems to me that if there is a God, then the term "existent" is perfectly applicable. And if there is no God, the term "non-existent" is equally applicable. Perhaps you're attempting to suggest something like the via negativa, whereby we cannot say anything positive about God at all, as our language is so profoundly incapable of expressing his true nature. We're better off in saying what God is not, rather than trying to say what God is. However, if this is what you mean (and it's not clear that this is what you mean; you haven't said so explicitly, but there are similarities), the via negativa runs into at least two problems. First of all, saying what God isn't is just as problematic as saying what God is. We're still using limited, fallible human language that places God into some box or other. The via negativa merely makes it appear as if something else, something more profound is taking place. Secondly, if you follow the via negativa to its logical conclusion, you wind up with atheism. Once you slice away all the positive attributes that can no longer be applied to God, you wind up with nothing at all, no God at all, or at best, a God that is indistinguishable from no God at all. The via negativa is de facto atheism. 

I guess what I'm saying is...I support the via negativa?!

"Marriage of faith and reason only makes sense in the context of faithful acknowledgement of the revealed truth that the universe is according to the Creator's will. Since Creation functions according to logic, reasonable understanding of that universe is how we are meant to function in understanding how God intended the universe to be, not allowing us to know of or about that creator God. Arguing then, for a marriage of faith and reason applies only to believers, and is a meaningless conversation to those who do not yet believe."

On the one hand, I agree that a discussion of the marriage of faith and reason only makes a kind of sense to those who are already faithful. On the other hand, what you're saying here seems to pre-suppose the existence of God, as Kreeft and Tacelli have been doing so far in their book. Must we accept the existence of God as axiomatic? Must we all become presuppositionalists?

G. vs E. 2Howevs, I'm still not sure why faith needs to be brought into the discussion at all, given that we're discussing whether or not we have good reasons to believe various propositions. If we have good reasons to believe in God, there's no need to invoke faith. If we don't have good reasons to believe in God, appeals to faith don't add anything to our understanding. Such appeals certainly don't (pace the definition of faith in Hebrews) provide us with the "substance of things hoped for" or "the evidence of things not seen."

Put yourself in the atheist's shoes for a moment. Ignore the smell. Imagine you're having a conversation with someone concerning some issue, your interlocutor defending a proposition or entity about which you are skeptical. And just as a wildly hypothetical example, suppose they begin invoking faith when it becomes clear that they can't support their contention on reason and evidence alone.

Does this invocation make you any less skeptical? Does it make you any more inclined to believe their claim? I srsly doubt it. Rather, in this situation, you'd probably (justifiably and with good reason) call faith some sort of cop-out, a glaring attempt to gloss over the fact that there is no substance to the proposition in question.

"So I do have faith and believe, and I try to be an analytical person, but my motivation to attempt being analytical, reasoning and logical comes from my faith because I accept the authority of revelation that the creator ordered Creaion according to logic, and thus logic is the way that I should approach the universe. But when it comes to God, though I am hardly one to talk from experience, there is a level of spiritual maturity at which the believer stops trying to prove the existence of God, to the self or others, and starts focusing on forming a relationship with God. Reason cannot and shall never prove the existence of God only allow us to function as we ought within God's creation. The sooner believers of any faith come to that conclusion, the sooner we'll actually be able to engage in meaningful dialogue with you, Good Reverend, and all right reasoning and logical atheists. The sooner the faithful stop trying to rationalize God and start forming a relationship, the better their spiritual life will be, to the benefit of all."

Cheeky Monkeys 1Unfortunately, I have clearly not yet reached the level of spiritual maturity you describe here. In fact, I kinda hope I never do. I don't see how I can have a relationship with someone if I don't first know for sure that they exist. What does it even mean to have a personal relationship with a non-personal being who is so completely unfathomable to us as to be incomprehensible to human logic and beyond our empirical grasp? How do we know that having a personal relationship with the divine is the hallmark of spiritual maturity? In my humble estimation, proclamations of personal relationships with God are merely the chic, trendy, faddish, fashionable, oh-so-sexy faith-speak du jour, one of the more popular Christian talking points, rather than being part of a genuine spiritual maturation process.

Maybe autonomy and independence from the deity represent true spiritual maturity. Perhaps the development of intellectual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific maturity (and inquiry) are more valuable, more important, and more worthy of our time than supposed spiritual maturity. Perhaps atheism, the realization that God and other supernatural monsters don't exist, is the culmination of authentic spiritual maturity.

Does this line of questioning reveal my spiritual immaturity? Is it immature to follow logic and evidence wherever they lead, even if our eventual, tentative, provisional conclusion is the polar opposite of what we want and/or expect it to be? If so, I happily plead guilty of logic in the first degree. (You have to read that last line with an over-the-top, melodramatic, flamboyant flare. And maybe shake your head a bit, or wag your finger, or slam your fist down on a sturdy table.)

We seem to be at a bit of an impasse here. If atheists want proof, sound arguments, and solid evidence for the existence of God, and if you're right that none of this can be provided, where does that leave us? What is the meaningful dialogue you envision spiritually mature theists and right-reasoning atheists having? What would such a conversation look like?

Finally, you keep pressing the point that reason can't prove the existence of God. Are you, kind sir, suggesting that my virtuous project is doomed to failure from the very start? How dare ye?!

I am Jack's frownie-face emoticon. 

Well, it's a good thing I'm only one book in! I guess that about wraps things up. It's been a pleasure. This is my official resignation. I can no longer, in good conscience, serve as your devoted Reverend. 

Is this really the end? Has the Reverend been defrocked? Did he enjoy the defrockery? How many dead hookers did they find in his trunk? Who shot JR? Was all of this just the dream of a precocious child, hopped up on coffee and candy. The answer to only one of these questions will be provided in the next post. Oh my, what a splendid cliff-hanger! Does anyone know how to conduct a glissade?


  1. Reverend,

    so my response to your response was so long that it more than doubled the character limitations in comments, and I don't like to excise my own writing (even as I'm vicious with excisions when editing for friends), so I take the opportunity for blatant self-promotion and posted the response at Our Lady of Ashes.

    Is this really the end? Has the Reverend been defrocked? Did he enjoy the defrockery? How many dead hookers did they find in his trunk?

    I fervently desire that this is not the end! I enjoy your writing too much for this all to be over! My meagre and insipid thoughts could hardly be considered worthy of inciting the de-frocking of the great Reverend. As to how many hookers in the trunk ... well, I'll never tell.

  2. Cheerios again, David!

    Wow, you're fast with the typing and the thing. Color me impressed! Thanks man, for the discussion and for your kind words over at your blog! (Which looks really nice, by the way. Can't wait to read more of it.) You rock!

    I swear on the watery grave of my favorite hooker that I will respond to you. Eventually. Both your previous comment (defining faith, hope, and love) and what you posted on your blog. But it might take a while.

    Please keep in mind that I'm like real real dumb and real real lazy and real real slow. And I gotta try to find time to read and write for the blog. Plus I'm involved in several other on-line debates/discussions. And many other lame-ass excuses. Uphill both ways and whatnots.

    Oh, and spoiler alert: No, this isn't really the end. I'm gonna see this through to the bloody end. I'll blog my way through all of these golly-dinged books or dye my hair trying.

    Thanks again man! Sincerely a pleasure to meet you, sort of. Take care!

    E-Z Rev