Total Pageviews

Friday, February 06, 2004

Natural Theology as 'Mythology': A "Platonic" Argument

As you know, Grasshopper, Classical Apologetics as John Gerstner and Norman Geisler would have it, is a strategy that proceeds in two phases. Since historical evidences for Christianity are only evidence on the presupposition of Supernaturalistic Theism, the first phase is to defend such a theism philosophically, and then granting that the presupposition of theism is true or at least plausible, argue for Chrtistianity based on evidence from the testimony of historical sources. (We do not necessarily want to make too much of this. For example, William Lane Criag "made the mistake" of defending "classical apologetics" without this two step strategy since for him theistic proofs and historical evidences contribute on par with each other to support the Christian picture of things, but there is no serious difference between what he does and so-called classical apologetics).

The real weakness of this approach is the failure of natural theology to be compelling in virtue of being itself question-begging in the sense that natural theology's conclusions depend on premises which turn out to be just as controversal. This is because modern philosophy has lead to the loss of rational standards that are both adequate and seem plausibel to a sweeping enough population of thinkers. It has come to be the case that if any collective intellectual work is to be done, there has to be a prior willingness to accept the same standards no matter what one's personal consciously held beliefs are. But the weakness of this is that academic tribalism will resist the claim that therre own program is not "rationality itself" and that other programs based on different conventions are just as well off as their own.

Such dogmatism about one's own research program might benefit from a dose of humility, such as modeled by Plato's Socrates. In the Plato's middle dialogues, like the Meno, the Phaedo, and the Republic, Plato, through his characterization of Socrates, gives transcendental arguments to motivate a novel mythology of two worlds, eternal forms, immortal souls, and an epistemology of recollection in order to prevent Socratic philosophy from falling on its own pitard. But he is careful, as if mindful of the weaknesses of transendenat arguments and analogies, to hedge on making his myth a confession of dogma. He says things like "I won't swear my oath to it" and "It is either this or something like it" indicating that he won't stand on his mythology even when he thinks it is true. But he also says that he will gamble on it being true since it is only on the basis of some such plausible story that the tasks of pusuing virtue intellectually, practically, and by the "therapy of desire" are both analyticly more worthwhile and presuppose that such a possibility as the story articulates must be actual. It seems that Aristotle could be said to take such a concern about virtue and rationality more methodically to come up with a metaphysic that serves the same function but is less odd to the mind. Plato's myth then is still open to and invites criticism, is not held dogmaticly, but is held on the basis of a kind of descison calculation although not a precisie one. It is very similar to a kind of Pascalian Wager, including the afterlife story in the Phaedo.

Plato sets a good precedent for a way to reintroduce natural theology as rational mythology. In the Christian faith, a clear distinction is made between natural theology and revealed theology, whether the one making the disitinction approves of natural theology or not (Cp. Barth). But natural theology is humanities reconstruction of natural revelation, the aspect of God's creation which displays Him as its maker as art identifies its artist (including that there is an artist). Natural revelation is absolutely efficient in displaying God's otherwise invisible attributes but natural theology is limited by the ineffeiciency of finite and passionate humans and is therefore uncertain and inadequate in many ways. It is also defended with weak transcendental arguments and analogies.

No comments: