Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Some more dialogue with Ed Babinski on idealism and intellectual conceits

One can be an idealist without being a theist; Berkeley was a theistic idealist but there are other types, such as T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet.

It's a lot more difficult than you realize to avoid intellectual conceit. The fact that you say you KNOW Christians (and atheists) can't make the kinds of claims they think they can make strikes me as if you are claiming to know something that everyone from Bertrand Russell to C. S. Lewis to Keith Parsons to Victor Reppert to Jason Pratt to Steven Carr has failed to figure out.

A lot of your reactions to issues strikes me as a re-action to "Christian fundamentalism." I spent a period of my life reacting to what I thought was "fundamentalism" myself. That is why, long ago, I went to a liberal seminary instead of a conservative one.

When you read something written engaged in apologetics and you say "That person is an apologist, so they must be saying this, even though they really didn't say it, because that is what apologist always do," I maintain that you are reacting like a fundamentalist.

You may not know what the truth is, but you are sure that evangelical-friendly people from McDowell to Lewis are full of baloney.

What I actually said, of course, was not that you were a fundamentalist, but that fundamentalists (or Christians who are caught up in the vice of fundamentalism), often talk about "vain philosophy."

2 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

ED'S RESPONSE TO VIC

VIC: One can be an idealist without being a theist; Berkeley was a theistic idealist but there are other types, such as T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet.

ED: "Non-theistic idealists" are part of the variety of philosophical views concerning "answers to the big questions." I praise you for continuing to point out the variety of "big answers" to "big questions" and how flexible are each of the philosophical arguments concerning "big concepts and questions."

But relying on "idealism" or "God" as "explanations" is merely to "explain" one mystery with an even greater one. As I have pointed out, words are not things--and mysteries are simply mysteries.

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VIC: It's a lot more difficult than you realize to avoid intellectual conceit.

ED: Thanks for the mini sermon, but I have stuck to explaining why I think I know what I know below, and hope you do to.

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VIC: The fact that you say you KNOW Christians (and atheists) can't make the kinds of claims they think they can make strikes me as if you are claiming to know something that everyone from Bertrand Russell to C. S. Lewis to Keith Parsons to Victor Reppert to Jason Pratt to Steven Carr has failed to figure out.

ED: I KNOW that both Christians and atheists have been unable to convince each other of the validity of each of their PHILOSOPHICAL proofs that they have sought to prove to one another. (Which is not to deny that occasionaly someone switches sides, most notably, Antony Flew, though Flew admitted to Richard Carrier that he had not been able to keep up with the debate or the literature concerning the topic of a fine-tuned cosmos. Flew is what, in his 80s? If Flew's change of mind provides substantiation it may be for my own view, namely that philosophy doesn't have the kind of proofs, in his case proof of negative atheism, that he formerly thought it did.)

The philosophy of solving the "big questions" is one of the most malleable of all human art forms. There are non-Christian idealists--to Christians who believe that the human brain-mind functions naturalistcally! Go figure.

It also seems obvious that "God" a "Designer" (or even "the Ideal") are great words to use whenever a philosopher faces a puzzling question. Those philosophers who use the word "God" as an explanation seem quite sure they have "explained" a puzzling question in philosophy. (I'm NOT asserting that naturalists have definitve answers to all the puzzling questions either.) But simply invoking the word, "God," amounts to "explaining" one puzzling question by invoking an even greater puzzle.

I am criticizing the way philosophy claims to "answer" big questions via philosophical "big word" talk.

I could of course go into detail concerning your own attempts to prove philosophically that naturalism is self-contradictory. Pshaw. Nothing is self-contradictory in philosophy, not when it comes to the big questions. If Alvin Plantinga can explain how evil and pain arose, beginning with nothing but a perfectly good God who created an entire cosmos directly, then surely nothing's inexplicable. Likewise with the naturalist and the human brain-mind. In your argument you harp on molecules, atoms and that they know no reason. No kidding. Rocks don't appear to do much either, but erode or melt, but if you put those same atoms together in just the right way, you can get a computer and satellite TV network, out of mere rocks. Fact is the brain is a neurochemical organ capable of storing vast amounts of information. The brain-mind takes in the world around it via sensations and socialization. (Lacking socialization, people would just grunt). Taking in all of that data, storing data, informatino about consequences, causes and effects, similarities and differences, I don't see how the human brain-mind could AVOID discovering things that work compared with things that don't, and then generalizing, i.e., devising general rules that also work, rules of reasoning. As for those atoms, and molecules, and electrochemical impulses in the mind, they are being moved around due to the overall dynamics of the system, how it evolved, how it developed in its youth, and based on everything that person has learned in their lifetimes. Taking all of that in, it can't help evolving a reasoning ability. That is naturalism if you believe it. It's not self-contradictory philosophically. It may seem impossible to those who are dualists like yourself and like to argue otherwise, but there are also CHRISTIAN mind-brain monistic naturalists. As I said, go figure. Or at least try to convince those folks that your view is proven superior by your philosophical arguments. You needn't even argue with skeptics or atheistic naturalists, just argue with your fellow Christians who have studies the brain and philosophy and come to a different conclusion than you have concering the brain-mind question. One such Christian brain-mind naturalist has a debate essay with a Christian brain-mind dualist in the book of such essays that was published by the Society of Christian Philosophers. If you haven't already contacted him, why not simply do so?

One paper I read years ago that helped turn my mind round to the enormous flexibility regarding philosophical answers to the brain-mind question, and free will, was written by a Nobel Prize winning psychobiologist/neurobiologist and split-brain researcher, Roger W. Sperry, "Problems Outstanding In The Evolution of Brain Function," note especially pages 16 to the end:

http://people.uncw.edu/puente/sperry/sperrypapers/60s/107-1964.pdf

Another thing I claim to KNOW is that tales of miracles and Near Death Experiences are far from consistent. With such inconsistancy concerning first hand anecdotal data about the afterlife and/or first hand anecdotal data about the divine, I tend to DOUBT that holding specific beliefs about the Bible, Jesus, Christianity, etc. are what life is all about.

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VIC: A lot of your reactions to issues strikes me as a re-action to "Christian fundamentalism." I spent a period of my life reacting to what I thought was "fundamentalism" myself. That is why, long ago, I went to a liberal seminary instead of a conservative one.

ED: Mere "reactions?" Quit playing Freud. *smile* I read both moderate and liberal Christian theologians and loved them, for a while: Conrad Hyers (marvelous writer, who wrote about spirituality and humor as well as an excellent book on Genesis, and another marvelous book titled, Once Born, Twice Born Zen), William Johnson (whose books were about dialoguing with with adherents of eastern spirituality), Robert Farrar Capon (a modern day Chesterton yet with more strictly theological knowledge), Alan Watts (who wrote three marvelous pro-Christian apologetical works prior to leaving the fold, including one titled, Behold the Spirit). I also read outright liberals like Bultmann, Tillich and D.F. Strauss. And the relatively moderate James D. G. Dunn.

I suppose we could test your Freudian hypothesis by having both of us read every philosophy, history and science-related book suggested by the other person for a few years until our raw mental input grew more parallel, and then see if either of us continued to believe exactly the same as before the experiment began. *smile* In fact that is how I left the fold. I began reading books suggested by some former fundamentalist friends and discussed them with them. Among the books were those by moderate and liberal Christian theologians, not just "skeptics." I still think fondly of those moderate Christian writers, and appreciate a lot of what they wrote. See my list of Christian Evolutionary Resources on the web.

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VIC: When you read something written engaged in apologetics and you say "That person is an apologist, so they must be saying this, even though they really didn't say it, because that is what apologist always do," I maintain that you are reacting like a fundamentalist.

ED: I counter-maintain that this particular post of yours consists mainly in stooping to playing psychologist rather than philosopher; and before I left the fold I read both moderate and liberal Christian authors. I was attending a moderate/liberal Episcopal church for a while as well, played guitar there. Met a friend I still know today, Leo Elmerick who recorded a Christian song of mine and who told me he really loved my Christian music.

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VIC: You may not know what the truth is, but you are sure that evangelical-friendly people from McDowell to Lewis are full of baloney.

ED: I did not say that. But anyone can see what I HAVE stated about specific claims and arguments of both McDowell and Lewis if they google my name and theirs.

I would like to ask you what YOU think of McDowell's defense of a young-earth and of a literal tower of Babel explanation for the world's multitude of languages? What do you think of McDowell cutting out his chapter on "The Uniqueness of The Christian Experience" in the most recent edition of Evidence That Demands a Verdict?

As for Lewis, he at least continued to ask questions as his Christian and intellectual journey progressed over time. I submit for instance his early statement that the doctrine of eternal
"hell" had the "full support of Scripture," which he later abrogated by his statement in a philosophical novel that "St. Paul spoke as if all men would be saved," adding the words of a famous Christian saint who said Jesus told her that "All Would Be Well." (Though you must read the works of that particular medieval saint, Julian of Norwich, to understand all that she (yes, Julian in this case was a she) said about that word from the Lord. It's definitely a univeralistic message as she said, and I'm sure Lewis had read Julian's statements regarding that revelation.)

Late in his life, in his letters to Berversluis, Lewis mentioned that some parts of the Bible struck him as being less than moral, and less than the commands of an ethical God. He also admitted in a letter to his lifelong fellow convert and friend, Dom Bede Grifiths, that if Christianity did not make a man very much better, it could make a man devlish, and even criticized some of the words in the Gospel of John in that respect! I would liked to have seen Lewis live far longer, and continue to discuss such matters more, especially since Griffiths was closer to being a spiritual universalist than Lewis.

Also, Lewis admitted he was not an authority. I see no evidence in fact that he had done much study of Biblical theology or scholarship, except for his essay in which he blackwashed much of modern theology and what he said about modern theology in his earliest novel, The Pilgrim's Regress, neither of which shows that he was familiar with the theological arguments based on particular comparisons and examinations of the Gospels. In fact, even late in life in letters to admirers, Lewis never tired of putting one book in particular at the top of his list of intellectual defenses of Christianity, namely the book that converted him in his youth, Chesterton's The Everlasting Man.

Lewis fleshed out Chesterton's previously fallacious argument that Jesus was divine because he said so in the Gospel John, and hence Jesus would have been a liar, a madman or "worse" [Chesteron] to have lied about such a thing. False trilemma. Both Chesterton and Lewis skipped right over any and all specific questions that theologians have regarding whether Jesus ever said such things. Have you read Is John's Gospel True? by Maurice Casey; or Howard Teeple's The Literary Origin of the Gospel of John? Or take James D. G. Dunn's latest two works on Jesus in which he likewise comes down against Jesus having said the things found in the fourth Gospel. Dunn is a well known theologian (and a moderate with some liberal tendencies) who concludes with other moderate and liberal scholars that Jesus never said a word in the Gospel of John. There are many specific arguments, but one thing to note is that Jesus in the fourth Gospel doesn't utter a single parable and speaks to people constantly about himself, using an "I am" formula time and again, and even disagrees with what he said in the other three Gospels about direct forgiveness in the Our Father, and about how to inherit eternal life. Instead, in the fourth Gospel Jesus changes his tune in a secret nightime meeting with Nicodemus, and introduces a new word about the absolute necessity of having to be "born again" and to believe such and such about Jesus, or be "damned already." Chesteron and Lewis were both ignorant of such questions, and and simply assumed the fourth Gospel picture of Jesus of Nazareth was true, even central! Thus they ignored the questions that even in their day were being asked, and that continue being asked today. See Peter Amue's list of theological works on the Gospel of John from major university presses: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/listmania/list-browse/-/2O7WERBN6M4K2/ref=cm_lm_detail_ctr_full_3/102-5977177-7502511

In other words, I didn't just assume as you claim, that Lewis and McDowell are "full of balogney." I have studied such matters, read conservatives, moderates, liberals, including Evangelical defenses for the inerrancy of the Fourth Gospel, like Blomberg's work. I have also read ALL of Lewis's theological works and fiction, and about 30 works of Chesterton.

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VIC: What I actually said, of course, was not that you were a fundamentalist, but that fundamentalists (or Christians who are caught up in the vice of fundamentalism), often talk about "vain philosophy."

ED: Thanks for the clarification though you used "fundamentalist" fairly often enough, even in this post, to leave little doubt that you, being a liberally educated Christian, are not equally at odds with "fundamentalsts." *smile* Indeed, I'm open to joining forces in many respects, with your openness concerning evolution, and with your doubts concerning just how automatically damned everyone is as soon as they die.

I will add that throughout your replies you seem to have tried to guess alternative reasons, psychological ones, as to why I "react" as I do to the big questions and big words and big alleged answers/proofs in philosophy that you (and positive atheists) offer. It's a reaction based on my studies of philosophy, science, and a host of other questions, not on my reactions to "fundamentalists."

kh123 said...

"I will add that throughout your replies you seem to have tried to guess alternative reasons, psychological ones, as to why I "react" as I do..

I think anyone would when confronted with someone who's mentally disturbed - or who refuses to paragraph their diatribes sanely.