Sunday, February 28, 2010

"Church and State"

Reason, we're often told, is something opposed to religion, and therefore anything which falls beneath the banner of the latter has no place in public discourse and should remain an object of purely private interest. Secularists tell us this, atheists tell us this, and sometimes even people of faith tell us this -- there's to be no establishment of religion after all, which seems a reasonable compromise. This formula, however, contains a now subtle but historically glaring fallacy, which is simply the assumption that religion is solely a matter of faith to the exclusion of reason.

When Thomas Jefferson spoke - and in a public capacity - about things like liberty as the "gift of God", was he, to his mind, speaking in the language of faith? Absolutely not. He was, instead, making a philosophical point. To Thomas Jefferson, to Thomas Paine, to Benjamin Franklin, etc., philosophy was a mode of rational inquiry, and reason applied to the data of the senses concluded in a "Law of Nature and of Nature's God."

Consult, for example, the diatribe against faith called the Age of Reason and you'll find its author, Thomas Paine, making a distinction that in fact Christendom used to make - and Catholics still do. Giving a commentary in the First Part of his book on a passage from the book of Job, Paine makes the point that reason can discover God's existence, but is incapable of revealing the whole of His attributes. In this all but forgotten distinction, the first "object" (God's existence) falls under the heading of natural theology, a subject of rational inquiry - reason; the second (God's attributes) under revealed theology, as articles believed by faith - the Incarnation and the Trinity are instances of the second. This distinction, however, seems to have vanished from our discourse; thus we now have gross misunderstanding, propagandist redefinitions, and, frankly, the wrongful tipping of the scales in disfavor of religion - wrongful at least to the extent a religion is natural.

This faded distinction applies also to ethics and to a particular view of man's nature. Why, for instance, won't schools teach the cardinal (natural) virtues? The supernatural virtues of faith, hope and love certainly fall to a given student's church to inculcate, but temperance, fortitude, justice and prudence are well within the purview of natural reason, thus of a teachable universal ethic. No less important, the Western conception of man's nature, the view that man is a "rational animal" - the only view upon which to predicate the conviction that "all men are created equal" - seems a curiously antiquated notion. Though this view may supplement the Christian view that man, through adoption, can become divinized, it also sets him apart at a philosophical level from mere animal impulses, granting him some degree of freedom and dignity from mere material causation; that fact is not an article of faith, it's potential compatibility with a given religion should not make a difference.

However, to some people compatibilities, which are favorable to religion, do make a difference. From ethics to a particular view of man's nature to the existence of God, secularists, atheists, and even some Christians have pulled out their broad brush; they've broad brushed all talk of God and morality with the colors of faith. Thus, in effect, they've camouflaged the fact that some religions claim to be grounded in reason, upon certain rational pillars; and camouflaged, moreover, the fact that these same rational pillars were established as the very bulwark of a free Republic, the blessings of which, at least to this day, we as a nation have inherited.

Pull out your copy of the Declaration of Independence -- our Founders used the golden pillars of natural theology, natural ethics, and a rational view of man's nature to erect a philosophy of freedom. We have great precedent, therefore, for reclaiming these preambles to freedom in the public domain, even if they happen to be preambles to faith in the private.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Five Faulty Arguments Against (Orthodox) Christianity (A Repost)

1. “Miracles are, by definition, impossible, so Christians will believe 1+1=3 if ‘God’ tells them to.”

Reply: Miracles are not, by definition, impossible. There’s a distinction between the Ideal Order and the Existential Order. The first deals with thought laws, like the principle of non-contradiction (a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same way), and mathematical propositions; the second deals with physical matters of fact, like rocks, water, insects, plants, planets, and human beings. The Ideal Order deals with why causes that are self evident, they cannot be denied. The Existential Order deals with that causes, causes we see that occur (we see that rocks fall according to what we call gravity), but the why of which we do not see, and can therefore see no reason they should continue to hold. The Christian miracles concern the Existential Order, and contain no inherent “why” cause contradictions in the Ideal Order. (For more on the difference between orders see David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, SECTION IV PART 1: .
See also G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter IV--The Ethics of Elfland, beginning at the ninth paragraph: )

2. “If the Universe needs God as a cause, then why doesn’t God need a cause?”

Peter Kreeft points out “the argument does not use the premise that everything needs a cause… Everything in motion needs a cause, everything dependent needs a cause, everything imperfect needs a cause.” (See , near the bottom of the page, with a dot by it, starting out “Third, it is sometimes argued…”)

3. “Asking me to prove the non-existence of God is forcing me to prove a universal negative, which is like me asking you to prove that unicorns don’t exist when you’re not looking, or that the spaghetti monster isn’t flying about on some distant planet.”

First, you CAN prove a universal negative if it contains an inherent contradiction, but that’s beside the point. The comparison between God as the logical conclusion of various proofs (like the Cosmological Argument, the Argument From Desire, and the Argument From Reason) and the randomly devised spaghetti monster, Santa Clause or Easter Bunny, is a comparison of apples and oranges. The former conclusion is a construct of the intellect, a concept, which is
inherently un-picture-able (unimaginable), like the concept of a triangle, which contains the un-picture-able essence of all imaginable triangles, or, in the realm of the existential order, like the concepts of a black hole and a quark, both of which are inferred by effects, yet are none the less unimaginable. (See William Buckley’s interview with philosopher Mortimer Adler for more on intellect vs. imagination: ).

4. “Faith is blind, irrational; it is believing without evidence.”

A.) Faith is trust in reliable authority. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York… The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority-because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority… A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.” (Full quote from Mere Christianity, Book II, Chapter 5, third paragraph: )

B.) Christianity has what are called preambles to faith, also called motives of faith; for instance, God is knowable by reason with the attributes of goodness and truth; and Jesus, who was crucified for claiming to be God (for blasphemy) was indeed what he said he was. A reliable authority is one who has knowledge and veracity (moral integrity): God known by reason together with Jesus of Nazareth who claimed to be God provides us a reliable authority.

C.)“It is only in the waiting, thirsting spirit that revelation can find a reply.” --George Brantl

The need for faith in the Christian God is the result of an attempt to live according to conscience, according to what one knows is right, and the subsequent failure to do so -- in other words, it involves the recognition that one needs a savior who has a direct relationship to his will, not his abstract intellect alone (i.e., not to mental assent to propositions alone). Christianity, says Lewis, "is addressed only to penitents, only to those who admit their disobedience to the known moral law… [i]t offers forgiveness for having broken, and supernatural help towards keeping, that law."

5. “The Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin didn’t see God anywhere, nor does the Hubble; so show me scientific proof that God exists -- till then I’m a skeptic…”

God is known by His effects, and in two different realms.

First, in the descriptive realm, the realm with which science deals where we describe what is, not what ought to be, we can come to a philosophical understanding of God. One way we (the traditional "we") rationally come to the intellectual construct "God," is a posteriori (after experience). It's method is no different than that by which we arrive at scientific "constructs," the only difference is the particular explanation of observable phenomena for which it is used to account. We start with the empirical world, and see a necessity to explain it's various aspects: science deals with becoming, with what philosophers term secondary causes; philosophy deals with existence, with ontology and metaphysics. It's either bias or misunderstanding, which would discount the one, arrived at by the same method as the other, for the mere fact that it is used to explain a different aspect of observable phenomena. Therefore, if you ask for empirically discoverable evidence for God's existence in favor of the scientific method to the exclusion of the philosophical, you are simply asking to affirm and deny the same method at the same time. In other words neither Yuri Gagarin nor the Hubble can, in principle, see a black hole, and we shouldn’t expect them to – the same goes for God.

Second, in the prescriptive realm, with which personal relations and morality deal; this is the realm of the will, and is really the more important and, as it concerns the existence of God, the relevant realm. Peter Kreeft notes that science operates on the principle of mistrust, but personal relations are just the opposite. If God is not a being with whom we can have a personal relationship, then He’s largely irrelevant in our practical lives; if He is then we need, like all relationships, to trust. But what idea of God do we trust? First, if God exists He is all good, and we must do our best to follow the moral law, which we can never completely uphold. Second, there is only one claim that God has actually come to us and we need to trust Him, and that we need his help to keep the law, and to transcend it in order to find ultimate fulfillment – that claim is made by Jesus Christ. Therefore, when you understand the Christian God to be the only source of the forgiveness and help we need, then it's quite clear that it’s our desperation stemming from the most important and basic attribute of our humanity -- our moral and relational experience, that drives us towards trust, towards a relationship with that "source"; a relationship which beckons: "taste and see," for the evidence will be a transformation of that deepest and most important part of yourself.

(For more on the distinction between descriptive and prescriptive, visit: )

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Response to Mike

(I posted this to Mike - see last blog post - about a week ago, I'm posting it here because he hasn't ok'd it yet so it's not showing up on his blog, to which I have a link in the last post)

Mike, sorry for the long delay. Let me begin by addressing what I think are some misunderstandings that need clarification.

1.) The approach I take, the angle at which proponents of the AfD see the issue, is not to say, just because I can imagine something and desire it (speaking with deceased loved ones, for example) means that desire can be fulfilled; it is, rather, to note that desires have a cause (loved ones that were once alive). Yes, I can imagine speaking with loved ones again, and though that might be impossible, it is explainable - it has a cause in an object, which caused it. Likewise, with any desire you can name: To see a flying unicorn? Horses, horns and flight exist. To live forever? Life and time exist. To see the Indians win the World Series? The Indians and the World Series exist. In this sense, therefore, all desire is a type of knowledge.

2.) Desires are natural desires if they correspond to the needs of human nature (which everyone has), not according to whether or not everyone has them (as felt desires) - as I pointed out with the fact that human nature needs nourishment; that doesn't mean everyone desires to nourish themselves properly. The implication here is that one doesn't need to be aware of a felt desire in order for a need actually to exist within his nature as a desire in potency - I'm certain that Kreeft would agree with me here.

Now, you and others, basically, argue that the desire for God is a projection of things like wanting to live forever, seeing our loved ones again, and looking to some form of Cosmic Justice. Though I believe this all may point to other arguments, I agree that if this is all it is then the AfD doesn't have the impact its proponents think it does. However, I think the beauty of Lewis' particular illustrations of this argument is that they show there's some "mysterious x" that we cannot account for in our spatio-temporal experience as we can for everlasting life, justice, etc. But before I get to some of his illustrations, I'd like to re-visit one more thing, which actually splits into two related arguments.

A.) Just as we can point out that a person who feels no desire to eat still has a need to eat, and such a person can know that negatively (since he doesn't have a positive desire), so can we have the negative knowledge of the AfD by formulating, as Aristotle did, a fact of our inner, first person experience: We desire something purely as an end in itself, and that something we call happiness, or supreme contentment. We can then go through and examine all the things within our experience and see that, by their very nature they cannot be that thing we desire, which will give us supreme contentment, a.k.a., happiness we need, and which we desire in every desire (we know we desire it in every desire because every other desire, though an end, is also a means). This thing, by its very nature, would have to transcend time, and be worthy of fulfilling us for eternity, otherwise it could not be an end in itself.

B.) Moreover, since this happiness principle is a concrete principle of our conscious existence, a principle which we cannot deny; since, as Ralph Cudworth put it, "this love and desire of good, as good in general, and of happiness, traversing the soul continually, and actuating and provoking it continually, is not a mere passion…but a settled resolved principle, and the very source, and fountain, and center of life", then to deny its root in an eternal reality is to contradict a self-evident principle. In other words, to affirm a position which denies an eternal (transcending time) existence in which this desire is rooted is to say this principle, which we cannot deny, is deniable. Such a position - like atheism - is therefore untenable.

But back to the AfD itself. Here are some observations from Lewis, which I'll follow up with those of other well known men:

"The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject which excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy." -CS Lewis

"Other grand ideas-homecoming, reunion with a beloved-similarly elude our grasp. Suppose there is no disappointment; even so-well, you are here. But now, something must happen, and after that something else. All that happens may be delightful: but can any such series quite embody the sheer state of being which was what we wanted?" --Lewis

"You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words . . . Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction . . . - something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat's side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires . . . you are looking for, watching for, listening for?" --Lewis

"In speaking of this desire…which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you -- the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot tell because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience." --Lewis

"...for I thus understood that in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any states of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective. Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (though our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired." -Lewis

“...the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of spatiotemporal experience.” -Lewis

“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain-a curious wild pain-a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite-the beatific vision-God.” -Bertrand Russell (was an atheist and philosopher)

“The origin of poetry lies in a thirst for a wilder beauty than earth supplies.” --Edgar Allan Poe

“…certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy Earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at it's best and least corrupted, it's gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of 'exile'.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

“We are exiled from our homeland - but it's memories haunt us.” --St. Augustine

Here then we have a longing, a desire, for something for which our experience cannot account. Like I said before, any other desire or longing you can account for – in your example your loved ones whom you wish to speak to again have caused your longing. But here no finite thing will suffice, so that the only other route besides affirming the AfD is to say it’s a desire for nothing. That, however, is to say we desire nothing, which, logically, is to say we have no desire! This is completely different than an imaginary desire, for though Santa doesn’t exist the things of which he’s composed do, thus it is a desire for certain things in a certain relation – not for nothing, which is the absence of something.

You wrote:
::Finally, I still don’t see why you assume that this desire is for something outside of space and time. If there is such a natural desire, I doubt it’s that specific. Due to society, we may come to see it as a desire for the non-spatial and non-temporal, but I don’t see any reason to think that this is natural, especially given the many societies that have conceived of gods that were within both time and space.

Of course the Christian response is that’s precisely why they were idols! And precisely why images were not to be associated with God.

Again, you’re understanding the word “natural” here in a way it’s not intended to be used. I mean, it is natural for man to seek to know about the universe, isn’t it? But simply because he’s been wrong most of the time doesn’t mean everything we’ve learned, will learn, or can learn is wrong – nor does it mean science is not natural. It’s quite reasonable to expect that just as Democritus was wrong with his particular theory of atoms so others were and are wrong in their particular ideas of God. Or should we not believe in atoms :-) ?

Lastly, concerning why this desire is for something outside space and time, Lewis writes, “All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. And that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind or body at all. In a way, I had proved this by elimination. I had tried everything in my own mind and body; as it were, asking myself, ‘Is it this you want? Is it this?’ Last of all I had asked if Joy itself is what I wanted; and, labeling it ‘aesthetic experience,’ had pretended I could answer Yes. But that answer too had broken down. Inexorably Joy proclaimed, ‘You want—I myself am your want of—something other, outside, not you nor any state of you.’”