Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Historical Background II

Kant vs Aquinas

(Historical Background I)

Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” was published in 1781 in which he sets out to banish God from the universe of pure reason. He sought to show that it is impossible to know God intellectually or to prove His being.

Kant sought to establish a theory of knowledge that operated without any theoretical knowledge of God. According to Kant knowledge begins when something enters our minds through the senses. Secondly, the data obtained through the senses interacts with our intuitions regarding space and time in our minds. Rational judgement then involves the use of certain categories- quantity, quality, relation, and modality.

Kant attacked the Theistic Proofs declaring that the ontological and the cosmological arguments are invalid. Interestingly he showed great respect for the teleological argument.

Kant also brought forward a series of antinomies. These arguments claim to show that even using theistic assumptions one line of traditional argumentation can be countered by another line proving the opposite thus cancelling both sides out.

The modern view is that Kant’s attack on the theistic proofs are irrelevant for the defence of Christianity. Christianity can drop the theistic proofs and all the natural theology that goes with it and simply rely on accepting special revelation (the bible) by “faith”. This was the view expressed by Karl Barth. Abraham Kuyper believed that only with the help of special revelation (the Bible) can the general revelation of God in nature to all people be properly understood. Van Til’s “presuppositional apologetics” followed the position of Kuyper whereas B.B.Warfield from Princeton Seminary took the view that general revelation prepares the way for special revelation.

Thus Christian apologetics has since Kant taken two streams.
One stream argues that Kant has cleared the ground of a large quantity of rubbish so that people can see clearly the choice they have to make. They would basically agree with Kant and see no value in any attempt to argue to God from nature alone. They would argue that reason gets in the way of faith at this point. This position in the book is called a “fideistic” view.
Christians who take this kind of view will see ID as a distraction and a waste of time.

The other stream would see Kant as attacking something which it is important for Christians to defend in their attempts to convince unbelievers of the truth of Christianity. This stream sees the Theistic proofs as a working out into a rigorous argument of the Apostle Paul’s statements in defence of the validity of his message in his letter to Christians at Rome:

For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Deity; so that they are without a defence. (Rom 1:20)

This stream is the classical view of Christian apologetics.
Christians taking this view will tend to view ID as a useful argument establishing the position from human reason plus nature alone that there is need for a designer with capacities greater than those possessed by humans. In other words they believe that aspects of science themselves point to God.

6 Comments:

Blogger Lifewish said...

I'm always slightly disturbed by the basic idea of apologetics. To the best of my knowledge I've never met a Christian who was brought into the fold by a purely rational argument - the ones I know appear to have become Christians on the basis of intuitive, fideistic reasons. As such, apologetics reads more like an attempt to quell the doubts of the faithful than an attempt to discern truth through logic - people aren't finding reasons to believe, they're finding excuses.

The problem with this approach is that, if you look hard enough, you can generally find an argument supporting something (for example, you can easily prove that 1=2*). If the goal is reassurance rather than truth, these arguments may not be subjected to sufficient scrutiny to expose any flaws they might contain.

* An example:
0*1 = 0
0*2 = 0
so 0*1 = 0*2
cancel the 0s and you get 1=2
The flaw here is that dividing by zero is not a well-defined operation.

5:33 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

lifewish,
Regarding your statement about Christians and intuition, I hope you can agree with this quote from C.S. Lewis.

"If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved." - C.S. Lewis

The problem with your math example (I have no REAL problem with it by the way) is that you are using the rules of mathematics to prove the rules of mathematics hold true. It's a circular proof, but a proof that I accept nonetheless. Not because you have really proven something to me, rather because your proof is self-evident (intuitive).

I imagine one could prove that 1=2 if another set of rules were devised whereby dividing by 0 is perfectly acceptable. I would reject it out of hand because it would make no sense to me intuitively.

7:29 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

"If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved." - C.S. Lewis

I would agree, to some extent. It is self-evident that we perceive certain things in certain ways (I'm perceiving this computer screen by sight, for example). The relation of these perceptions to an underlying reality is, IMO, not self-evident - if I pop a few pills and start seeing green elephants cycling past, that probably has no connection to the objective universe.

Feelings of faith appear to be a form of perception with a dubious connection to underlying reality. Following these feelings, people can come to conclusions that are diametrically opposed. Thus, it's invalid to say that conclusions derived from faith are self-evident.

The problem with your math example (I have no REAL problem with it by the way) is that you are using the rules of mathematics to prove the rules of mathematics hold true.

Actually, all I was doing was showing how easy it is to accidentally* lie with logic, unless you're actively doing your best to search out potential problems with every link in the chain. I'm uncertain as to whether this is the case with apologists, Christian or otherwise.

As a mathematical aside:

I imagine one could prove that 1=2 if another set of rules were devised whereby dividing by 0 is perfectly acceptable. I would reject it out of hand because it would make no sense to me intuitively.

It's called the extended plane, and it only makes sense in a fairly limited number of circumstances. Basically it plays nicely when you only divide one number by zero at a time - so, for example, it works for the function f(x)=1/x. Using this function on the extended plane, all real numbers apart from 0 would be mapped to their inverses, 0 would be mapped to infinity, and infinity would be mapped to 0.

The extended plane comes up a lot in modern geometry. For example, the mathematics used to generate fractals is fundamentally dependent on it.

* Yes, it can be done accidentally. I came up with the 1=2 proof back in secondary school** and nearly gave myself a heart attack.

** Yes, I was a geek. Live with it :)

11:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feelings of faith appear to be a form of perception with a dubious connection to underlying reality. Following these feelings, people can come to conclusions that are diametrically opposed. Thus, it's invalid to say that conclusions derived from faith are self-evident.

Whoa there! A dubious connection to reality??? I beg to differ.

To me, the concept of god (the generic version) seems to follow from a direct observation of reality. To me it's self-evident precisely because it is demonstrated in reality. The more science digs up and the more philosophical issues are discussed, the more it becomes apparent to me.

On the other hand, I can see where you are coming from too. I see plenty of cases where faith and reality are directly opposed. Such is the case with young earth creationism.

For me, everything has to work together to support what you believe. Science, philosophy (faith) and reality must fit together nicely – and I think it does.

To borrow a quote from Dawkins...
"Science and philosophy made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian"

4:59 pm  
Blogger Lifewish said...

Whoa there! A dubious connection to reality??? I beg to differ.

Feel free. But first I'd ask that you point to one instance where someone's faith has (reasonably consistently) given them information that they couldn't have obtained by non-faith-based means and that was later found to be accurate.

Every other form of perception can make this claim. Hearing allows you to locate your mobile phone even when you can't see it, and its accuracy at this task can be independently verified. Touch allows you to determine when you've just bumped into a door on the way from bedroom to bathroom - information that can be confirmed by locating the damn light switch before you break your neck. And so on and so forth.

So far I've never seen feelings of faith achieve this sort of result. In fact, the Randi Foundation has a standing $1m prize waiting for anyone who can demonstrate such results. If faith is able to provide us with accurate information about the world that we couldn't already have determined from our physical senses, why would this be the case?

A more concise argument to the claim that faith is generally accurate would be: many people claim, in effect, that their faith tells them the Christian God is real. Many people claim the same thing about Allah, or Vishnu, or heaven, or reincarnation, or psychic powers, or alternative medicine. Many of these claims are mutually contradictory, hence faith cannot always give accurate information about reality.

There can be definite value to having faith - for example, the placebo effect is very real. However, as far as I can tell it has historically not been an effective approach to acquiring an accurate perception of reality.

To borrow a quote from Dawkins...
"Science and philosophy made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Christian"


May I say that, regardless of my personal opinions about faith, this is an impressively healthy attitude.

8:57 pm  
Blogger Richard H said...

Whether or not we have been designed or have evolved, we have the ability to sense the world around us as well as the ability to imagine a world around us - I can close my eyes and imagine the grass is blue if I choose, but my sense of sight tells me otherwise.

Similarly I can choose to imagine that I have a guardian angel.

You can convince me that the grass is green and not blue because my senses can see it, but how can you convince me that I do not have a guardian angel? If you say to me that it cannot be there because I cannot see it then I will say "of course I cannot see it, it is a guardian angel". Belief in my guardian angel is based on faith alone - I do not need scientific evidence to prove it or disprove it.

Therefore, Faith by definition does not require evidence in reality.

If we go back in time to a point where the Human Race did not understand how the world works, it was the imagination that primarily drove the beliefs - eg. when the rains did not come that year and crops were lost, they imagined an angry God instead of understanding how the world's climate works.

In today's world where we have the technology and tools to observe the world beyond our immediate senses, we have used our ability to acquire knowledge to re-align our beliefs...the rains failed this year due to changes in the ocean currents caused by additional fresh water entering the oceans from melting icebergs (or whatever).

As faith by definition does not need any evidence in reality, then for a true believer, evidence (positive or negative) should be irrelevant. My guardian angel exists whether you show me evidence for or against it's existence, and in fact my faith does not require you to believe in my guardian angel or require you to spend time trying to find my guardian angel.

If someone comes to believe in a divine being such as a God based on evidence in reality then they have been tricked, manipulated or hypnotised - there is nowhere on this planet or in the known universe where there is evidence in reality for any such divine being....even ID only leads to a conclusion of a designer, but no evidence for who the designer is.

Anyone that requires evidence to support their faith is either not a true believer or is a believer that has doubts. ID in itself can be seen as a threat to anyone that is looking for it to support their faith....as the existence of God then depends, not on their faith alone, but on the outcome of the evidence and the conclusions reached based on that evidence.

If in the next 500 hundred years every piece of evidence supporting ID is proven to be invalid as our technology and knowledge becomes even greater, where does this leave those that were looking for ID to confirm their faith?

It is only the true believer that ignores the ID / Evolutionary debate and simply continues to have faith in the divine being to which they pray. Therefore, by definition, it is only those that do not have complete faith in their divine being, or those that have their own agenda for political or economical gain, who are looking for evidence to support their 'Faith' in reality.

11:15 pm  

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