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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.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

A Dilemma for Maithison's "Shape of Sola Scriptura" (reposted from ABC Forum).

This argument is based on the exposition of four different historical approaches discussed in Keith Mathison in his recent book "The Shape of Sola Scripture". One can find some discussion on this by clicking the post title.

(1) Tradition I is the authentic teaching of the Christian Faith of the first three centuries. [given]
(2) Tradition O is not the authentic teaching of the Christian Faith because it makes doctrinal judgement turn on the private subjectivity of the individual Christian and because it goes against Tradition I.
(3) Tradition II is not the authentic teaching of the Christian faith since it grants autonomy to some Church authority and because it goes against Tradition I. [(2) and (3) follow from the definitions of traditions O, I, II, and from their implications traced in your book.]
(4) Tradition I is not sufficient to secure one and only one version of the rule of faith since there is more than one church that holds Tradition I but which have different regula fide (i.e. branching - e.g. Lutheran and Dutch Reformed.) [An observation you grant.]
(5) If an individual believer picks one church over the other by appealing to the regula fide of that church and rejecting the other on the basis of that, then he is observing Tradition II.
(6) If an individual believe chooses a church by appealling to his own interpretation of Scripture, then he is observing Tradition O. [(5) and (6) same reason as attached to (3) above.]
(7) An individual believer has no other basis on which to decide between churches that hold to tradition I but have different regula fide. [There is no unmediated appeal to apostolic tradition in scripture unmediated without regula fide or individual conscience.]
(8 ) Authentic Christianity ("no salvation outside the church") requires the individual believer to join one church or another. [given and accepted by Reformers]
(9) Therefore, authentic Christianity requires an individual believer to observe either Tradition O or Tradition II. [From (6), (7), (8 ) by destructive dillemma.]
(10) Therefore, authentic Christianity requires an individual believer to go against Tradition I. [From (2),(3), and (9)]
(11) Therefore, authentic Christianity requires that the individual believer go against authentic Christianity. [From (10) and (1)]
(12) Therefore, authentic Christianity is pragmaticly incoherent, that is, unlivable. [From (11)] It is impossible to be a Christian.

This is an objection that the non-Christian observing the debate will make against Christianity from the evidence in Keith Mathison's book.

His reply would seem to go like this: IF either a regula fide or an individual conscience were perfect there would not be a problem with either Tradition O or Tradition II or even Tradition I. The dilemma stated above is only occasioned by sinfulness in all parties involved. If everything were ideal and everyone were righteous, there would be no dilemma at all (of course, if that were true then there would be no need for Christianity either). As a result of sin, the dilemma arises.

The decision faced by the individual believer above is that he or she cannot act further on authentic Christian Faith without being guilty of going against the same faith.

Clanbook Calvini from Theologian: The Dividing

"When darkness reigns and the daylight radiance fades away, we emerge and feast on the defeat of sin and death. Tho' the threat of the end of life haunts mortals even in their palorous sleep, we fear nothing for we are truly immortal and our clan is everlasting. Even in the midst of darkness and night we see what no mere mortal may see because we walk in a light supernatural. And though mere men are chained by the throngs of sin and seperation, we of the clan are set free of those fetters by the Wyrd that gives us the Power.

Be afraid, sinners. Be very afraid. "

Monday, February 02, 2004

The alignments of Krynn

Hickman and Weis's "Dragonlance saga" is a fantasy setting made from and in part for role playing. They do not take lightly the proposition that roleplaying games make a difference in character formation, so it is interesting to see their take on some RPG conventions from a Christian POV.

They have an interesting way of handling character alignment, trying to preserve the D&D alignment compass. The main problem with the compass is the view of morality it presents. The way DL interprets it, nuetral is the freedom to choose whether to have a good perspective or a bad perspective -- as if goodnesss or badness didn't presuppose a freedom to choose it and that there was some value in being free for its own sake. On this view, neutrality is the prior and superior alignment . The interpretation suggests a pluralistic view of ethics -- which is not bad, except that Good is a good and so is Evil, which seems incoherent.

I have toyed with the idea of making the paradigm alignment in a "Christian" RPG neutral rather than good myself because of the inadequacy of seeing Good in just the sort of way suggested by DragonLance. There really is a fact about the plurality of legitmate lifestyles that the usual system fails to take account of. But I also want to accept that it is possible thatthere is also a fact about what the best or right thingg to do is among the competing goods in a situation. Since this is a FANTASY setting, we should be free to speculate that there is some objective heiracrhy or other principle that helps us settle questions between competing goods. Following this would then be "Good".

Heard about those Nazi donuts?

They're like regular donuts, only cruller.

Mondo like candy!

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Towards a moral argument for Christian belief

(1) Believing in theism will give one encouragement to believe in the value of philosophy.

(2) Believing in theism is the only encouragement to believe in the value of philosophy.

(3) If one believes in theism and the value of philosophy, one should believe in a Christian interpretation of theism.

(4) It is better to believe in theism and believe in the value of philosophy than to not believe in the value of philosophy.

(5) Therefore, one should believe in a Christian interpretation of theism.

I can only give a sketch of how the argument works.

The inference of (5) from (1) - (4) is an instance of what some critical thinking professors call a "should argument" compounded with a lemma. A basic "should argument" looks like this:

(A) Doing X brings about Y.
(B) Doing X is the best way to bring about Y.
(C) Doing X and bringing about Y is better than not bringing about Y.
(D) Therefore, one should do Y.

Premise (A) indicates that the X is instrumental to Y. (B) asserts that that among such instrumental conditions (if any) X is the best instrument for Y. Finally, (C) asserts that the world is a better place in some sense with X and Y than without Y. If these conditions are satisfied, then we have good reason to do Y and a good reason to not allow Y not to be done.

The complication is in (3) which is introduced to support that case for (4). The argument for (3) is an instance of the form:

(A') One should conscientiously believe that p.
(B') One should conscientiously believe that p implies q
(C') If one should conscientiously believe that p and one should conscientiously believe that p implies q, then one should conscientiously believe that q.
(D') One should conscientiously believe that q.

The argument (A') - (D') formulates the point that "conscientious believing" is closed under implication. Clearly, "conscientious belief" is an attitude that accepts propositions as true and is subject to the conscious choice of the will. It is not belief understood as a natural state of the mind such that consisitancy is not appropriate to expect. The isea that intuitively supports (C') is that conscientious acceptance of propositions should be closed under implication as a corrallary of the norm that persons should seek to believe the truth whenever it's up to them.

The argument also takes for granted that "conscientious believing that p" is a kind of "doing X".

That's enough about the structure of the argument, now to turn to the truth of the premises.

I don't intend to be very precise about what theism means. For example, I am not concerned in this argument about whether some version of deism or pantheism might be true. But the concept of God is available through the classical proofs from Richard of St. Victor to Richard Swinburne.