The Counsel of Trent

writing is thinking

Monday, April 30, 2007

Truth, Rationality, Faith

A good friend struggling with some doubts emailed me recently and I expressed some thoughts I'd been wanting to express for awhile. Forthwith:

"I've begun to feel that either I go back to what I know or I go forward and lose my faith....I'm wondering if it's wise to seek knowledge particularly in matters of faith."

Seeking knowledge in matters of faith *is* the way of integrity in light of the false dilemma of going back or losing faith. There are no “scholars” who deny that Jesus walked on water in virtue what might constitute their status as scholars. Whether it’s rational to believe that Jesus walked on water is simply a matter of whether it’s rational to believe that there is a God and that the Apostles are to be trusted in their reports (granting that the Gospels are Apostolic reports). If there is a God then walking on water is nothing special, so if you think there’s a God it’s just a matter of whether the Gospels record the Apostles reports and whether they are to be trusted. If the reports we have are fairly accurate, then I think it’s clear that they are to be trusted. Since here is no good reason to doubt the accuracy of the reports, there’s no very good reason to doubt that Jesus walked on water. Like Lewis said, if there’s a God, then miracles are possible; if the Apostles are not liars, then miracles are actual.

My guess is that a lot of what’s going on here is that you are moving to a reasonable form of Christianity which is quite different from the Fundamentalist version you were trained in, and, sadly, the Fundamentalist arguments against the reasonable positions lacked intellectual integrity and so it was just stated that such positions were “heretical” or “implicitly atheistic” so that the untrained mind would simply be *scared* away from those positions (lacking any good rational argument against them). I take this to be the great tragedy of Fundamentalism. It has created more un-necessary self-professed unbelievers than I care to recall. Again and again I’ve seen it. The argument against evolution is:

1. Evolution is Godless.
2. We should not be Godless.
3. Thus, we should not accept evolution.

Premise 1 is not typically given any support. It is an axiom of fundamentalism. But then you come to see that the empirical evidence supports some kind of evolution including common ancestry and the argument gets stood on its head:

1. Evolution is Godless.
2. I believe in evolution.
3. Thus, I am Godless.

The same pattern is tragically instanced with Dancing, Rock Music, and a host of other things simply disapproved of by Fundamentalists.

And it certainly doesn’t help that many people take the even *worse* option of giving lip service to doctrinal propositions while draining them of any real meaning. The kind of fall from faith described above, while tragically unnecessary, at least has a patina of integrity.

The goal, as ever, is to hold center, to avoid the extremes of excess and defect, to follow the evidence where it leads and not accept the axioms of any system but that of Reason. This, I firmly believe, leads to a reasonable faith. A belief that God is behind the universe and in it in the work of Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy Spirit. These are the axioms of Christianity and I think they are reasonable. Beyond that there is a lot of room for details to adjust.

As far as the nature of Truth, it’s no good questioning that or putting it in scare quotes. It always comes back, it’s unavoidable. That which is, is, and that which is not, is not. No getting away from that. However, what many people who emphasize the objectivity of Truth have failed to emphasize is our *access* to truth in evidence and the *degree* to which we can apprehend it. This is why my work has focused on probability and evidence. You can affirm that Truth Itself is absolute and objective, but still hold that our access to it is subjective and tenuous. Rationality, though, consists in following the evidence as we encounter it and proportioning our degree of certainty to the strength of the evidence. This will leave us uncertain about nearly everything since incontrovertible evidence is very rare. However, as information comes in, we can adjust our rational confidence up and down accordingly. This is the path of rationality.

However, because of the all-important doctrine of the Transcendental Unity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty we can often come to see the truth in virtue of its Beauty and Goodness which is why Lewis and Tolkein are so valuable.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

This is cool.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dennett makes local stop

The class clown of neo-Darwinism (or is that Richard Dawkins) will be here in Rochester tomorrow.

I issued quite a bit of bloggage on Dennett (he's just so darned intertaining) in the past year. For several reviews of his books and audio files of interviews and transcripts of debates see the links here (not sure why the first item comes up in the search).

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If I were a South Park Character

Custom South Park Character Made Here

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Ontological Argument

Got a request today the reply to which readers might find interesting and helpful since the argument in question does tend to receive ratther abstruse presentation.

Hello! I've read Laurence Bonjour's In Defense of Pure Reason and I began to rethink my rejection of the Ontological Argument. I came across your paper on the Internet (A Defense of the Ontological Argument) and found it a little hard to follow. I'm just not able to follow all those letters and symbols. Can you please point me to something akin to The Ontological Argument for Dummies or something in plain old country boy English? I think I understand the argument, but I'm having a hard time with its defense. Thanks much, in advance!

Dear, XXXX, I’m glad to do what I can to help. Unfortunately, the onto arg is one which really lends itself to technical exposition (which is one reason why philosophers love it!). You might look at Alvin Plantinga’s little volume _The Ontological Argument” for some historical perspective and various traditional formulations. And actually, his presentation of the argument in his books _God, Freedom, and Evil_ and the longer version in _The Nature of Necessity_ is in fairly plain English. He’s a talented writer and so you might be surprised.

I think, though, that I can boil the state of the art down fairly simply.According to the standard form of modal logic—the logic of necessity and possibility—if a thing is such that if it exists it must necessarily exist, then if it doesn’t exist, it’s only because its impossible.A decent analogy can be had in mathematical truths. They have the property of being such that IF they are true THEN they are necessarily true. There are no contingently true mathematical truths, truths that would have been different if the world had gone differently (unlike, say, empirical facts about evolution). So if some mathematical statement is false, then it is *impossible*. There’s no way things could have gone that would have resulted in 2 + 2 = 5 (holding the definitions fixed, of course). Obviously a necessary being exists necessarily if at all, so if it doesn’t exist it’s impossible for it to do so. But it sure doesn’t look impossible, there’s no manifest contradiction in it.

The problem is that that also seems true for the following entity: a world in which there’s no necessary being. That doesn’t have any manifest contradiction in it either. But one or the other must be impossible, so we are left to decide which one we think has the best chance of truly being possible. I argue that the idea of a world with no necessary being is a world without a ground of being and I’m less confident that that is possible than that a necessary being is possible, so to that extent the onto arg adds some credence to theism for me. Of course academic philosophers want to find some general principle from which we can DEDUCE that one is possible and the other not and that is quite difficult (though I’d say of little importance). So we will each have to consult our intuitions about possibility and continue to reflect, but I think I’ve accurately presented the logic of the situation and my own attitude toward it.



Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I don't even know what to say...

From today's headlines:

""How can you justify seeing a mother away from her home, her children? Why don't they respect family values in the West?" he asked of the British government."

That from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republick of Iran.

There are interwoven ironies here and which will strike people in diametrically opposing ways.

There's also this from the same story:

"On the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet (Muhammad) ... and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic Republic government and the Iranian people — with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial — forgave those 15," he said, referring to the Muslim prophet's birthday last Saturday and Easter, next Sunday."

Keep in mind he denies the Holocaust took place. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch aren't too happy with him either.

He's clearly up to something though. Check out his blog here.

Finally, his birthday is a day after mine. That is all.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Nice new wiki gadget for Google home pages

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Funny URLs

The funniest URL I've seen in a long time:

And it's even a pretty interesting site.

Actually there's a longer sub-URL:

And there are longer one's generated by searches.

A long time ago I tried to register this domain

but it was already taken. It's actually got a funny page on it.