Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Nov/08

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Ilana Counterblogs

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Ilana Mercer counterblogs (read down a bit) to my post on “Theology Outside the Tribe.”

To her points:

Yes, indeed, Islamic theology is interesting to a lot of people, as the excellent sales of Robert
Spencer’s books
show. That is a clinical interest, though — a hostile one, in fact.  Psychiatrists are interested in insanity, but they don’t want to be insane. 

When I said that “Any given theology is of zero interest to anyone outside the tribe,” I meant of interest in the way that a real intellectual discipline — math, biology, history — is of general interest. From the fact that a person wants to study microbiology, I can deduce nothing about his tribe or fictive tribe (e.g. religion). From the fact that a person wants to make a serious, engaged, non-hostile study of Islamic theology, I can deduce with high probability that he is a Muslim.

Talmudic study “involves logic and law.” Sure it does. As I said, it is intellectually formidable, as are the other high and ancient theologies. However, my space-program analogy applies:  If you want non-stick frying pans, go develop them — the Saturn V rocket is not a necessary piece of equipment. If you want to train kids in law and logic, go train ‘em. The Gods and the Afterlives aren’t necessary parts of it.

(You can make a case that they might once have been.  Perhaps you can’t, in the historical development of a culture, get to law and logic without going through theology.  I think that’s possible.  As an argument for persisting with theology, though, it falls to the midwife counter-argument.  You need a midwife to deliver a baby, but she’s no use to you thereafter, and just gets in the way.  Pay her off gratefully and send her home.)

Now, a conservative might say to that:  “Well, the religious-based teaching is our customary approach. It’s worked well for us in the past, and we can’t see why we should change it.” I’m sympathetic to that. I’ll only note that properly theological study is founded on supernatural precepts — on fantastic and miraculous things that are supposed to have happened in the remote past. That has to subtract something from a student’s appreciation of logic and natural science.

(Though from what Ilana says, the Talmud she studied seems to have had the supernatural stuff taken out, like Jefferson’s Bible. That doesn’t remove the tribal element — nobody not Jewish is going to learn logic and law in just that way — but it makes it pretty innocuous.)

Ilana quotes Paul Johnson: “The Bible is essentially a historical work from start to finish.”

If that were true, every Jewish and Christian theology course would really be a history course. Which is not the case. The Bible is a religious document, with lots of history (and some really good stories, beautiful verse and prose, and first-rate expositions of ethics.) Paul Johnson is a committed old-school RC:  see his book of apologetics. His opinions about the Bible are correspondingly colored. If you think that Christianity is all true, then of course the Bible will, for you, be as factual as an auto-repair handbook. And if not, not. 

“The central error of anti-religion crusaders is that they consider the Jewish and Christian traditions systems of ideas, denuded of historical context, to be accepted or rejected on the strength or weakness of their intrinsic logic (or lack thereof). Judaism and Christianity, however, are who we are historically (the same is true, unfortunately, of followers of Islam). One can no sooner denounce them than one can disavow history itself.”

Ilana loses me here. From the point of view I was applying — i.e. casting a critical eye on the claims of theologians to have anything useful to tell us about non-theological topics — the Jewish and Christian traditions are systems of ideas. What else are they?

“What we are historically” is a mess of stuff:  Jewish and Christian religion, Greek philosophy, Roman law, Enlightenment science, and all sorts of lesser tribal threads — the moots and parliaments of the Teutonic forests, their religion (I am at this moment listening to Das Rheingold ), Arabic numerals, and so on. No thoughtful person accepts the whole shebang uncritically. Probably I’d find Wagner more thrilling if I actually believed in Wotan and Fricka. Alas, I don’t. You can cast a wistful, even loving, eye back on the traditions of
humanity while rejecting some of them as untenable in light of later understanding.  You may even “denounce” aspects of our tradition without having “disavowed history.”

I must say, though, I think Ilana would make a splendid Rheinmaiden; and if she mocked me, I’d be just as upset as the Nibelung dude.

41 comments

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Classic. You admit (in your previous post, linked above) that you have never studied theology at all and have no desire to do so, yet feel comfortable dismissing it as not a ‘real’ intellectual discipline. Even better, you go on to admit that, well, theology did birth law and logic through its formidable intellectual rigor.

    Your critical view of theologians having anything to say about non-theological topics ignores your own admission: the law codes, ethical concepts, even core anthropology (i.e., understanding of the nature of Man) is *derived from* theology. In short, your argument is stating ‘well, theologians are highly trained in logic, ethics, law, human nature, and history, but how on EARTH can they have any insight into the modern world?!’

    Kinda’ funny, really.

  • DYSPEPSIA GENERATION » Blog Archive » Secular Right · November 30, 2008 at 10:46 am

    [...] John Derbyshire, Patron Saint of Dyspepsia, has started a new blog for the non-religious right. The linked article is a fine example of what you can find there. When I said that “Any given theology is of zero interest to anyone outside the tribe,” I meant of interest in the way that a real intellectual discipline — math, biology, history — is of general interest. From the fact that a person wants to study microbiology, I can deduce nothing about his tribe or fictive tribe (e.g. religion). From the fact that a person wants to make a serious, engaged, non-hostile study of Islamic theology, I can deduce with high probability that he is a Muslim. [...]

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 10:52 am

    sorry for the dropped word in an edit : that should have been “…nature of Man) of the West are *derived…”

    Thanks

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · November 30, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Please don’t put words in my mouth. That’s rude. I did not “go on to admit that…” I entertained the possibility. Come to think of it, isn’t the Confucian tradition (“Heaven does not speak…” — Analects 17.xix) a counterexample?

    And to my original point: How much interest do you have in the theology of other tribes? Are you well-read in Hindu theology? Zoroastrian theology? Have you heard all that the Taoists have to say?

    As citizens, of course, theologians may indeed have good things to say about law, etc. So might physicists, historians, or dentists. The fact remains that Physics, History, and Dentistry are real subjects, while theology is … tribal chanting.

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Deep Thought: Aquinas’s masterpeice, the Summa Theologica, was originally on the Index of Forbidden Books. I’m assuming you know this, and know that it was placed there because Thomistic thinking, with its reliance on Arstitotelian precepts, was so anathema to the reigning theology of the day (Neo-Platonic/Augustinian) as to render it heretical.

    The Summa was eventually taken off the Index, was then placed into the canon and was mandatory reading for seminarians. Finally, it was hoisted up to the status it holds now: That of the “official” philosophy of the RC Church.

    Do you think it was just a coincidence that the treatment of the Summa – the intial banishment, the loosening to acceptable status, and the elevation of it to the “party-line” roughly coincided with the slow end of the dark ages, the Renaissance and finally the Enlightenment? Do you think it is mere coincidence that Aristotelain thinking was so obviously superior to Platonic in so many fields OUTSIDE of theology, but at the Church changed it’s mind about these things on it’s own?

    My point is that Theology itself changes, and changes considerably, in reaction to what is going on in the rest of the culture. And in the RC case, it lags far behind, often by centuries. Indeed, RC thinking lags so far behind that it still clings to a Thomistic (read: Aristotelian) sense of natural philosophy, one that excludes a role for experimentation in assesing the nature of the world. (As Galileo found out the hard way.)

    Along with “tribal chanting”, as Bradlaugh puts it, I would call Theology “tribal navel-gazing”. The RC church loved neo-platonic thought throughout the first millenium, in part because it allowed the Church to describe the earthly-realm as “less real” than the world of their collecitive fantasy, and it made navel-gazing (the “one-eye inward” of Swift’s Laputans) to be equivalent to study of “the real” (the “one-eye upward” of those same ficitve people).

    It was only when Aristotle’s thought was recovered by the West, and went on to demolish Platonism in general (with the former’s insistence on the primacy of facts, not ideas), that the Church took pause in its chanting to learn a new song. And once that song was learned, the inwardness and stubbornness continued, with the RC church feeling threatend by anything that challenged ARISTOTLE’s view of the world (geo-centrism a few hundred years ago, rational-animal today.)

    Bottom line: If theology is to be taken seriously, it can only be found to be insular and reactionary….it is not itself a driving intellectual force, but merely a tidying up of advancement from other quarters.

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Bradlaugh :
    Please don’t put words in my mouth. That’s rude. I did not “go on to admit that…” I entertained the possibility. Come to think of it, isn’t the Confucian tradition (”Heaven does not speak…” — Analects 17.xix) a counterexample?

    Confucian thought is not a religion, but a philosophy so the example is a little weak, IMO.

    And to my original point: How much interest do you have in the theology of other tribes? Are you well-read in Hindu theology? Zoroastrian theology? Have you heard all that the Taoists have to say?

    I have studied jewish, Hindu, Islamic, Zoroastrian, Sikh, and Buddhist theology extensively. Also Confucian thought, Aristotlean philosophy, Socratic thought, etc. As a Catholic theologian I am *required* to have a very solid grounding in Aristotlean metaphysics, logic, and such.

    As citizens, of course, theologians may indeed have good things to say about law, etc. So might physicists, historians, or dentists. The fact remains that Physics, History, and Dentistry are real subjects, while theology is … tribal chanting.

    Well, how would you know? As you mentioned, you’ve never studied it for yourself.

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    A-Bax :
    Deep Thought: Aquinas’s masterpeice, the Summa Theologica, was originally on the Index of Forbidden Books. I’m assuming you know this, and know that it was placed there because Thomistic thinking, with its reliance on Arstitotelian precepts, was so anathema to the reigning theology of the day (Neo-Platonic/Augustinian) as to render it heretical.

    St. Thomas finished the Summa Theologica in 1274. He was canonized a Saint in 1323. The Index Liborum Prohibitorum was first issued in 1559 – long after Thomism was well accepted, if not universal.

    So this is flat out wrong. While certain bishops opposed his teachings his works were never on the Index!

    The Summa was eventually taken off the Index, was then placed into the canon and was mandatory reading for seminarians. Finally, it was hoisted up to the status it holds now: That of the “official” philosophy of the RC Church.
    Do you think it was just a coincidence that the treatment of the Summa – the intial banishment, the loosening to acceptable status, and the elevation of it to the “party-line” roughly coincided with the slow end of the dark ages, the Renaissance and finally the Enlightenment? Do you think it is mere coincidence that Aristotelain thinking was so obviously superior to Platonic in so many fields OUTSIDE of theology, but at the Church changed it’s mind about these things on it’s own?

    Or, since you were a few hundred years off on your timeline, maybe the influence of Scholasticism and Thomism led to the Enlightenment? That jibes more closely with history.

    My point is that Theology itself changes, and changes considerably, in reaction to what is going on in the rest of the culture. And in the RC case, it lags far behind, often by centuries. Indeed, RC thinking lags so far behind that it still clings to a Thomistic (read: Aristotelian) sense of natural philosophy, one that excludes a role for experimentation in assesing the nature of the world. (As Galileo found out the hard way.)

    Bit this again. Copernicus was a Catholic cleric! Galileo was in trouble for insisting that the Church change to adopt his views vis a vis the bible, not the other way around. Further, the Jesuits who developed seismology and the legions of Catholic thinkers and scientists that developed science would be surprised by your assertions.

    Along with “tribal chanting”, as Bradlaugh puts it, I would call Theology “tribal navel-gazing”. The RC church loved neo-platonic thought throughout the first millenium, in part because it allowed the Church to describe the earthly-realm as “less real” than the world of their collecitive fantasy, and it made navel-gazing (the “one-eye inward” of Swift’s Laputans) to be equivalent to study of “the real” (the “one-eye upward” of those same ficitve people).
    It was only when Aristotle’s thought was recovered by the West, and went on to demolish Platonism in general (with the former’s insistence on the primacy of facts, not ideas), that the Church took pause in its chanting to learn a new song. And once that song was learned, the inwardness and stubbornness continued, with the RC church feeling threatend by anything that challenged ARISTOTLE’s view of the world (geo-centrism a few hundred years ago, rational-animal today.)
    Bottom line: If theology is to be taken seriously, it can only be found to be insular and reactionary….it is not itself a driving intellectual force, but merely a tidying up of advancement from other quarters.

    So – what do you think of Plantinga’s Ontological argument? Or Godel’s version of the same?

  • Andrew T. · November 30, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    So – what do you think of Plantinga’s Ontological argument? Or Godel’s version of the same?

    Well, I’m not A-Bax, but speaking just for me: they’re garbage.

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    Andrew,
    I was more tryng to point out that theological thought can be quite broad, but I’ll bite – huh?

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · November 30, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    DT: You miss my point about Confucius. I entertained the possibility that you may not be able, in cultural development across history, to get to law and logic without passing through theology. Then, responding to you, it occurred to me that Confucianism might be a counterexample: i.e. a case of a culture getting to those things without passing through theology — since, as you note, Confucianism does not deal with the supernatural. That’s what “counterexample” means.

    To your other point: Since ten years of weekly Religious Instruction in English schools, supplemented by daily acts of worship and an aggregate of several years’ church attendance failed to convince me of the existence of the supernatural, why would I give any further regard to a study that is premised on the supernatural? You can know about a subject, and have an opinion about its epistemological status, without immersing yourself in it. I know that geology is about rocks; and, believing in the existence of rocks, judge it a worthy study, though I know very little else about it.

    Though, supposing I were to take up theological studies, but had time for only one, which would you recommend as the most convincing, based on your own very comprehensive studies of all theologies? Wait, don’t tell me — let me guess …

  • Donna B. · November 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    A bit too much b&w linear thinking here to suit me. For example, “You need a midwife to deliver a baby, but she’s no use to you thereafter, and just gets in the way.”

    I doubt you’ve studied midwifery as much as you have theology :-)

    Your space analogy suffers too. We went to the moon because we wanted to go to the moon, and it was political in nature, not because we wanted non-stick pans. Teflon was invented in the 1930s well before the space program got off the ground.

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    DeepThought:

    1) You’re right about the Index…my bad. I was confusing it with the Condemnation of 1277. (I find it difficult to keep track of the myriad instances of Catholic heavy-handedness).

    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Condemnation-of-1277

    (The last bit about the Condemnations leading to a direct attack on the works of Aquinas gets me out of the fire a bit, I think. But I will admit when I’m mistaken, as I was about the Index in particular).

    2) As far as Galileo goes, there’s been too much ink spilt on this controversy for us to resolve it the comments section here. I would only note that if the issue with Galileo was as simple as his wanting the Church to “adopt his views vis a vis the bible” it is odd that they would formally and publicy clear him of any wrongdoing:

    http://4thefirsttime.blogspot.com/2007/09/1992-catholic-church-apologizes-to.html

    Or erect a statue of him inside the Vatican walls:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3478943.ece

    One senses perhaps a canonization in the coming decades perhaps? :-) Just kidding….he has no miracles to his name (or wait, does he? Getting the Church to apologize is a bit of a miracle in itself).

    3) This last bit about Platinga and Godel are cute. Yes, yes I got the bit about the Index confused with the Condemnation and thus my whole sense of history is screwed up. At least though, I can admit to my errors and mistakes within my own lifetime (within the same day even!) As for the Church, it seems to be “off” in recognizing its own error by at least a few hundred years, no? I mean, the Inquisition was a while back, as was Galileo and the Crusades.

    What’s a good over/under for the Vatican’s apology for their Bishops harboring, protecting, and keeping from justice the pederasts and child rapists within their midst? Give it 200 years maybe? I’m thinking about 250.

    It’s going to be at least 150 years or so before the Church refers to the widespread rape of young boys by their “celibate” shamans as anything other than a nebulous “scandal”. Then another 100 years to admit that maybe, just maybe, the institutional Church should’ve taken active steps to take the mote out of their own eye instead of shuffling these child-rapists around and buying off their victims’ silence when pushed into a corner.

    Yeah, about 250 I’d say…the Church is getting quicker about the old soul-searching, and more humble in its infallibility.

    Something to reflect on for this first Sunday of Advent: the Church’s complicity in the horrible, horrible suffering of young boys at the “hands” of those who would presume to hold magical powers over them via their status of priests.

    Cheers.

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 4:34 pm

    DeepThought:

    1) You’re right about the Index…my bad. I was confusing it with the Condemnation of 1277. (I find it difficult to keep track of the myriad instances of Catholic heavy-handedness).

    http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Condemnation-of-1277

    (The last bit about the Condemnations leading to a direct attack on the works of Aquinas gets me out of the fire a bit, I think. But I will admit when I’m mistaken, as I was about the Index in particular).

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    2) As far as Galileo goes, there’s been too much ink spilt on this controversy for us to resolve it the comments section here. I would only note that if the issue with Galileo was as simple as his wanting the Church to “adopt his views vis a vis the bible” it is odd that they would formally and publicy clear him of any wrongdoing:

    http://4thefirsttime.blogspot.com/2007/09/1992-catholic-church-apologizes-to.html

    Or erect a statue of him inside the Vatican walls:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3478943.ece

    One senses perhaps a canonization in the coming decades perhaps? :-) Just kidding….he has no miracles to his name (or wait, does he? Getting the Church to apologize is a bit of a miracle in itself).

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    As far as Galileo goes, there’s been too much ink spilt on this controversy for us to resolve it the comments section here. I would only note that if the issue with Galileo was as simple as his wanting the Church to “adopt his views vis a vis the bible” it is odd that they would formally and publicy clear him of any wrongdoing:

    http://4thefirsttime.blogspot.com/2007/09/1992-catholic-church-apologizes-to.html

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    This last bit about Platinga and Godel are cute. Yes, yes I got the bit about the Index confused with the Condemnation and thus my whole sense of history is screwed up. At least though, I can admit to my errors and mistakes within my own lifetime (within the same day even!) As for the Church, it seems to be “off” in recognizing its own error by at least a few hundred years, no? I mean, the Inquisition was a while back, as was Galileo and the Crusades.

    What’s a good over/under for the Vatican’s apology for their Bishops harboring, protecting, and keeping from justice the pederasts and child rapists within their midst? Give it 200 years maybe? I’m thinking about 250.

    It’s going to be at least 150 years or so before the Church refers to the widespread rape of young boys by their “celibate” shamans as anything other than a nebulous “scandal”. Then another 100 years to admit that maybe, just maybe, the institutional Church should’ve taken active steps to take the mote out of their own eye instead of shuffling these child-rapists around and buying off their victims’ silence when pushed into a corner.

    Yeah, about 250 I’d say…the Church is getting quicker about the old soul-searching, and more humble in its infallibility.

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Sorry for the multiple postings everyone…

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · November 30, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    I wish people would be a little more careful with tossing Goedel’s Theorem around. It’s OK to use it as an analogy when talking about metaphysics — Doug Hofstadter does that very effectively in his latest book — but it doesn’t actually tell us anything about anything except, well, formally undecidable propositions of Principia Mathematica and related systems …

  • A-Bax · November 30, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Bradlaugh: I thought Godel’s theorem proved that arithmetic was not reducible to 1st-order logic. Is that not right? (The implication being that a project like the Russell-Whitehead Principia project cannot, in principle, suceed).

    Whether or not any metaphysical implications can be drawn from the doomed Principia project is, I admit, murky at best. I think you’re right that we shouldn’t get too carried away with the idea that “there is a truth OF the system not provable BY the system, given consistency”. Mathematical Platonists make too much of it, for sure.

    But isn’t it fascinating to think that, for all who say “well, math is just logic, at bottom” aren’t technically correct?

    Or is my reading of the theorem off?

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · November 30, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    That’s pretty much it, yes. But “So — what do you think of Plantinga’s Ontological argument? Or Godel’s version of the same?” commented someone. I have no clue who Plantinga was, and would rather not be told, but I know my math, and Goedel’s Theorem is nothing to do with ontology. Not that the epistemological status of math isn’t an interesting topic, but GT has nothing to say about it. It’s a theorem in math.

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    Bradlaugh,
    Thanks for correcting me on your mention of Confucius – that is a good point, and technicall not alone.

    For an ‘intro’ theology, I always recommend orthodox Judaism. Very straightforward, quite practical, and focused on daily life.

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    A-Bax,
    Off by hundreds of years – again. His Holiness already apologized for the sex scandals.
    BTW; the Crusades were not an error.

  • Deep Thought · November 30, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Bradlaugh,
    I am not referring to Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, thank you. I am referring to his modal logic explication of the Ontological Argument. I apologize for assuming you were familiar with it, but with your background…. My mistake, it is rather obscure.

    And despite your rather incurious response (which is fine, I was writing to another person) Plantinga is an epistemologist who uses modal logic in his ontological argument.

  • Ed Campion · December 1, 2008 at 5:14 am

    Deep Thought :
    For an ‘intro’ theology, I always recommend orthodox Judaism. Very straightforward, quite practical, and focused on daily life.

    Not as straightforward as Golden Calf worship.

    As practical as say math?

    And isn’t the focus on daily life a problem. When you go through your day worried about the supernatural doesn’t that take away from your chance to focus on what’s actually going on in your daily life.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · December 1, 2008 at 5:36 am

    DT:  You are correct. While a keen admirer of Goedel’s math, I have zero interest in his hobbies.

    Same Isaac Newton.

  • Grant Canyon · December 1, 2008 at 6:08 am

    “BTW; the Crusades were not an error.”

    You’re right, they were crimes against humanity. (Although “error” might depend on which side of the bloodbath one was on: the cross-clothed swordsman or the innocents killed.)

  • Andrew T. · December 1, 2008 at 7:06 am

    Bradlaugh: Alvin Plantinga is the favorite token intellectual of the fundamentalists; he’s a smart guy who frequently dips into formal logic in his writing in (what appears to me, anyway, to be) an effort to intimidate the causal reader.

    That being said, (1) I doubt Plantinga would consider his 30-year-old ontological argument to be among (say) the ten best arguments in his quiver for the existence of God; and (2) ontological arguments dating back to St. Anselm are pretty much uniformly ridiculous.

    Plantinga’s is no different. Indeed, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which I consider to be a neutral source on theology) concludes that “It is pretty clear that Plantinga’s argument does not show what he claims that it shows.” Given that the SEP is far less dismissive of other theological arguments, I think that its dismissal of Plantinga’s ontological argument tells you all you need to know.

  • Author comment by Bradlaugh · December 1, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Thanks, Andrew T. I devoutly hope to make it clean through to the grave without ever engaging with Mr. Plantinga or his metaphysics.

    I can never think of the ontological argument without recalling the passage in Bertrand Russell’s autobiography, much derided when the book came out:

    “For two or three years, under [McTaggart's] influence, I was a Hegelian. I remember the exact moment during my fourth year [at Cambridge] when I became one. I had gone out to buy a tin of tobacco, and was going back with it along Trinity Lane, when suddenly I threw it up in the air and exclaimed: “Great God in boots! — the ontological argument is sound!”

    Private Eye did a spoof version, but I forget the details.

  • John Foley · December 1, 2008 at 11:27 am

    BTW; the Crusades were not an error.

    I have to admit, I’ve never heard that one before.

  • Caledonian · December 1, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    “Not that the epistemological status of math isn’t an interesting topic, but GT has nothing to say about it. It’s a theorem in math.”

    But math is what we use to speak about things. When used rigorously, language becomes math.

    Godel’s Theorems therefore have profound implications for our attempts to produce linguistic models of reality. So do all mathematical proofs.

  • Deep Thought · December 1, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Andrew T. :
    Bradlaugh: Alvin Plantinga is the favorite token intellectual of the fundamentalists; he’s a smart guy who frequently dips into formal logic in his writing in (what appears to me, anyway, to be) an effort to intimidate the causal reader.
    That being said, (1) I doubt Plantinga would consider his 30-year-old ontological argument to be among (say) the ten best arguments in his quiver for the existence of God; and (2) ontological arguments dating back to St. Anselm are pretty much uniformly ridiculous.
    Plantinga’s is no different. Indeed, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (which I consider to be a neutral source on theology) concludes that “It is pretty clear that Plantinga’s argument does not show what he claims that it shows.” Given that the SEP is far less dismissive of other theological arguments, I think that its dismissal of Plantinga’s ontological argument tells you all you need to know.

    Of course, Plantinga’s own statements, and mine, are that the Ontological Argument is not about proving the existence of God, they are about proving that belief in the existence of God is as rational as disbelief. This is an area where the SEP confused the goals of the cosmological argument with the ontological argument.

  • Deep Thought · December 1, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    @John Foley
    You haven’t? An outside force conquers a major portion of The Christian world bringing destruction and slavery and, after centuries of abuse, continual attacks on the rest of Christendom, the enslavement of travellers, etc. the Christian forces went from the defensive to the offensive and you’ve never heard anyone say ‘well, maybe 200+ years of attacks kinda’ prompted the whole thing’?

  • Andrew T. · December 1, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Caledonian: that’s true, but it’s the precision part that’s the killer. For example, I have heard many creationists misuse Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem as an argument against evolution (often in hilariously ignorant ways.

    Usually the root cause of the error (beyond standard creationist quotemining and stupidity) is either (1) the failure to include the qualifier “…for any consistent, effectively generated formal theory…” or (2) the failure to understand, in mathematical terms, what a “consistent, effectively generate formal theory” means.

  • A-Bax · December 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Deep Thought :A-Bax,Off by hundreds of years – again. His Holiness already apologized for the sex scandals.

    Really? By “sex scandals”, do you mean the complicity of the institutional church in aiding and abetting the child-rapists (by moving them around to different jurisdictions and not letting anyone know of their documented pederasty), or just for the child-rape itself?

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/07/18/pope.australia.sorry/index.html

    Sounds to me like Raztinger has said he was sorry for “the pain…victims have endured”. But let’s not quibble about his use of the passive voice here, let’s assume his apology is equivant to something like “I’m sorry so many priests raped so many children, mostly boys.”

    What’s the over/under on the Church’s apology for it’s instutional role as accesory to such rape? (As simple as, say, obstruction of justice for the Bishops refusing to report these rapes to the proper authorities, i.e., SECULAR authorities, when they should have). Only 100 years.

    Or is the matter fully settled, now that Ratzinger has proffered nebulousness?

  • A-Bax · December 2, 2008 at 6:03 am

    “Off by hundreds of years – again. His Holiness already apologized for the sex scandals.”

    Really? By “sex scandals”, do you mean the complicity of the institutional church in aiding and abetting the child-rapists (by moving them around to different jurisdictions and not letting anyone know of their documented pederasty), or just for the child-rape itself?

    http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/07/18/pope.australia.sorry/index.html

    Sounds to me like Raztinger has said he was sorry for “the pain…victims have endured”. But let’s not quibble about his use of the passive voice here, let’s assume his apology is equivalent to something like “I’m sorry so many priests raped so many children, mostly boys.”

    What’s the over/under on the Church’s apology for its institutional role as accessory to such rape? (As simple as, say, obstruction of justice for the Bishops refusing to report these rapes to the proper authorities, i.e., SECULAR authorities, when they should have). Only 100 years?

    Or is the matter fully settled, now that Ratzinger has proffered nebulousness?

  • Eric Rasmusen · December 2, 2008 at 8:13 am

    Going back to the original post: Can theology be of interest to an unbeliever?

    Of course! It can be made into a purely intellectual exercise. Just as I can take an arbitrary set of mathematical postulates and see what they imply (e.g. non-Euclidean geometry, imaginary numbers), so I can enjoy trying to deduce whether abortion is right or wrong using only the Bible, only the Koran, or only the Mahabharata. Indeed, immersion in such exercises just for the fun of it is a major temptation for the intellectual Christian, since it can be quite separate from spiritual growth.

  • Grant Canyon · December 2, 2008 at 9:20 am

    “An outside force conquers a major portion of The Christian world bringing destruction and slavery and, after centuries of abuse, continual attacks on the rest of Christendom, the enslavement of travellers, etc. the Christian forces went from the defensive to the offensive…”

    So the correct (i.e., non-erroneous) response to that situation was to slaughter European Jews? How does that work again?

  • Deep Thought · December 2, 2008 at 9:26 am

    A-Bax,
    Thank you for admitting your error.

  • Caledonian · December 2, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    “Caledonian: that’s true, but it’s the precision part that’s the killer. For example, I have heard many creationists misuse Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem as an argument against evolution (often in hilariously ignorant ways.”

    Yes. A particularly stupid monkey might pick up a book and attempt to eat it. But that doesn’t constitute a basis to judge the utility of the book.

    “(2) the failure to understand, in mathematical terms, what a “consistent, effectively generate formal theory” means.”

    Fair enough. However, in many cases I’ve come across people claiming to be mathematically educated who insisted that (among other things) Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems did not have any implications for, say, making a crash-proof computer. If it went beyond the cultural context they associate with ‘mathematics’, they didn’t understand that results from a formal system could apply.

  • A-Bax · December 2, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Deep Thought,

    You’re welcome. (In all seriousness…I had some RC items conflated with one another earlier there. I’ve no problem admitting when I’m off.)

    Thanks for the back & forth.

  • Deep Thought · December 4, 2008 at 6:42 am

    A-Bax,
    Right back at you!

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