Faith vs. Reason, Part 1: The Nature of Belief



triumph-of-saint-thomas-fullI have wrestled with the relationship between Faith and Reason ever since my senior year in high school when I was reconverted to conservative, evangelical Christianity (it is possible that I was just extra-converted, a dilemma I am happy to now leave to the theologians). Over the last seventeen years, the battle to hold faith and reason together made for a painful journey over a number of terrains – geographical, institutional, psychological, political, and intellectual. The intellectual journey is for the most part complete, now that I have finally found some genuine cognitive rest. I am not the first to land on the resting place I have found, but I do believe my struggle has produced some ways of looking at the relationship between faith and reason that just may allow a small contribution to this subject’s evolution.

 

I wish to guide you, the reader, to this same resting place – once we are there, you can decide for yourself if it is a place you can inhabit for good. But there are some less than pleasant waters to tread on the way. In order to begin wading into this deep and murky swamp, I will turn first to what philosophy proper might be able to say about the relationship between faith and reason, or more precisely, about the alleged tension between them. In particular, I will address four philosophical topics: Metaphor, Narrative, Knowledge, and Belief.  I will argue that each reveals the unlikelihood of locating a distinction between faith and reason given a strictly philosophical armchair methodology. If an important distinction cannot be found, then neither can a philosophical tension.

 

The skeptic is usually a good place to begin a dialectic, and so we should tune our ears to the voice of the unbeliever:  Faith calls us to dispense with verifiable facts and empirical investigation so that we may cling to the mythological stories, fables, parables, and metaphors that boast to connect us with the otherwise mysterious, eternal unknown.  Faith thereby remains an epistemological stance that demands the flouting of our most basic intellectual duties. This is not a faith in harmony with reason. This is a faith at war with reason.

 

Fair enough. But is this worry at all grounded in sound philosophical enquiry? Can philosophical inquiry lead us to these conclusions?  Can philosophical enquiry at least help justify these conclusions?

 

The first part of this Faith vs. Reason series is my attempt to demonstrate my answers to these questions, and my answers are no and no and no. This worry is not at all grounded in sound philosophical enquiry; philosophical inquiry will not lead us to these conclusions; and philosophical enquiry does not offer justification to these conclusions. In sum, it is impossible to locate a tension between faith and reason with the tools of armchair philosophy.

 

In this entry I begin to address the subject of Belief.

 

_______

 

Knowledge of fact itself is a bit more complicated than traditional discussions in theology and Plantingian philosophy suggest. I doubt that propositional knowledge – if we must even reference such a technical concept – is a matter of just believing a proposition that ends up being true in the right sort of way – justification, warrant, or whatever. Eric Schwitzgebel, for instance, suggests that knowing that is a capacity whereas belief is a tendency (‘Acting Contrary to Our Professed Beliefs’).  But for simplicity, I will here assume that there is a sufficiently tight relationship between propositional knowledge and believing propositions. Considering the current cultural landscape, this seems an innocent move to make: (more…)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • StumbleUpon

Academic Tenure and The Contrarian



obama-thumbMy previous entry, a catalog of excerpts from Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian (2005),  has provoked some interesting discussion - some from within the walls of the Kirk (although, I particularly enjoyed the discussion with James Leroy Wilson).   The discussion was largely spawned from the fact that I published these excerpts. Moving forward, then, I will focus on the content of just one excerpt in what follows:

 

. . . One is sometimes asked “by what right” one presumes to offer judgment.  Quo warranto? is a very old and very justified question.  But the right and warrant of an individual critic does not need to be demonstrated in the same way as that of a holder of power.  It is in most ways its own justification.  That is why so many irritating dissidents have been described by their enemies as “self-appointed” . . . I am happy in the ranks of the self-employed.  If I am stupid or on poor form, nobody suffers but me.  To the question, Who do you think you are? I can return the calm response: Who wants to know?

 

This is one pregnant paragraph.  The Quo warranto? question is the launching pad for the Moral Argument, and the “self-appointed” description reminds me of one of the more defining moments of the Wood’s early development.  But my reason for focusing on this paragraph is Hitchens’ use of the word ‘self-employed’.  I will get to this, as well as the topic of academic tenure. But for the moment, I feel compelled to wander a bit off my chosen path.  My imagination is now at the mercy of the phrase “self-appointed” – still priming my episodic memory as I write.

 

Oh, yes, the early days. Sweet reminiscence. The creepy, nasty, bitter self-appointed pooh bear. What it was like to be me back then. I recall in particular that time when, still a member in good standing in Wilson’s church, I decided to start a blog, and before long, provide a link to some primary documents posted to the internet by a man Wilson was then publicly attacking. Needless to say, these primary, historical documents did not make Wilson look all that spirit filled. I will refer to the man Wilson was attacking as the ‘X-elder’, since he used to be an elder in the Kirk (replaced by Jones in the early 90s) and his picture now hangs in Wilson’s War Room, marked with a big fat X.

 

After providing a link to the evidence, I went further and dared to ask a question about the evidence. In response to this, Doug Jones and Douglas Wilson crawled into the comment section of my blog and began pelting me with questions of a slightly different kind. Just now counting, it looks like they had thrown at least 41 of these questions at me by the time I had a chance to begin answering the very first one (yes, forty one, as in four sets of ten and then add one).  Here is a pertinent sampling:

 

What are your qualifications to be making the assertions you are making? Are you a witness? Are you an investigator? Are you an investigator who has assembled all the facts? If you answer our questions, giving the basis for your affirmation of the truthfulness of the answers, this should establish your competence or lack of it in this matter. In short, on what basis have you been making your claims? And if you investigated these allegations [sic], could you tell us how many statements you received from anonymous sources? . . .we are asking about your qualifications to put yourself forward the way you have. . . we are asking you to demonstrate that you have the capacity and standing to prove them. . . . Michael . . . Our questions concern your standing and competence . . . And why should we believe that you are credentialed to be among the special three?

 

Wilson had failed to link to the evidence himself (until forced) and he never honestly described the nature of the evidence this X-elder had presented. And so, my curiosity, which had already been building for months, finally expressed itself by a preliminary inquiry into the evidence Wilson himself had been indirectly referencing. This alone was enough for my pastor and another elder (both friends and past formal instructors) to begin a campaign of harassment. Seven of the forty-one questions they blasted my humble little layman’s blog with pertained to my qualifications, my investigative license, competence, capacity, standing, and credentials.  In sum, they were claiming – with a commendable weight of vocabulary –  that I was wrongly self-appointed. Who did I think I was? I do not deny it. I was self-appointed – self-appointed as a free-thinking free-born American citizen presuming the right to ask a question. (more…)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • StumbleUpon

Letters to a Middle-Aged Contrarian



christopher-robin

(Update: Check out the comment section on this one – turned out fairly interesting.)

 

Finally. I present to you another post that is not about the man Douglas Wilson. This time, I write only about the men.  There are, of course, tens of thousands of Douglas Wilsons currently in the world.

 And Pooh cried from a dark corner of the Wood, “Christopher Ritchens! Help!”

Sure enough, a mixed story leans momentarily to the good.  He came. My Inbox has been full of good advice from my new friend. I will copy and paste my favorite selections.  (Imagine having to re-type them all out, what an enormous task that would be.)  Here is Christopher Hitchens’  advice to a middle-aged contrarian:

 

_______________

 

You rather flatter and embarrass me, when you inquire my advice as to how a radical or “contrarian” life may be lived. 

 

. . . It may be that you, Michael, recognise something of yourself in these instances; a disposition to resistance, however slight, against arbitrary authority or witless mass opinion, or a thrill of recognition when you encounter some well-wrought phrase from a free intelligence.  If so, let us continue to correspond so that I may draw from your experience even as you flatter me by asking to draw upon mine.  For the moment, do bear in mind that the cynics have a point, of a sort, when they speak of the “professional nay-sayer.” To be in opposition is not to be a nihilist.  And there is no decent or charted way of making a living at it.  It is something you are, and not something you do.

 

christopher-robin-reading-to-pooh. . . Henry Kissinger, challenged on television to meet my accusation that he was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity, responded with a maniacal and desperate attempt to change the subject, and denounced me as a denier of the Nazi Holocaust. . . . I tell you about it not just in order to boast, though there is that.  It went to make up for many, many other months, when the celebrity culture and the spin-scum and the crooked lawyers and pseudo-statesmen and clerics seemed to have everything their own way.  They will be back, of course. They are always “back.” They never leave.  But the victory is not pre-determined.  And there are vindications to be had as well, far sweeter than anything contained in the meretricious illusion of good notices or “a good press.”

 

 . . . The essence of an independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks  The term “intellectual” was originally coined by those in France who believed in the guilt of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.  They thought that they were defending an organic, harmonious and ordered society against nihilism, and they deployed this contemptuous word against those they regarded as the diseased, the introspective, the disloyal and the unsound. . . . the figure of Emile Zola offers encouragement, and his singular campaign for justice is one of the imperishable examples of what may be accomplished by an individual.

 

Zola did not in fact require much intellectual capacity to mount his defense of one wronged man.  He applied, first, the forensic and journalistic skills that he was used to employing for the social background of his novels.  These put him in the possession of the unarguable facts.  But the mere facts were not sufficient, because the anti-Dreyfusards did not base their real case on the actual guilt or innocence of the defendant.  They openly maintained that, for reasons of state, it was better not to reopen the case.  Such a reopening would only serve to dissipate public confidence in order and in institutions. . . . (more…)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • StumbleUpon

Molly Worthen on Douglas Wilson



worthen_mollyThe kind lady at the local Christian bookstore has been poised with my cell phone number in hand for a few days now, knowing my determination to somehow find an April issue of Christianity Today somewhere in San Diego. “Is there someone you know in this issue?” she asked. “Yes, there is.” Molly Worthen now has a seven page article on my old teacher, titled “The Controversialist.”

 

I received the call Friday afternoon. A pleasant sense of accomplishment came over me once the magazine was physically in my hands.  A trip to Borders Books and Barnes and Noble had already turned out dry; neither of the local stores still carry Christianity Today. Although, I did accidentally see the name ‘Christopher Hitchens’ while browsing the magazine stands. Hitchens has decided to write a letter to the president of the United States – no more arrogant than arguing with God I suppose. The same was true for the local libraries: no Christianity Today and plenty of Hitchens. The small local library here in Cardiff By The Sea has likely never carried Christianity Today. Yet, the last time I stopped in, someone had thrown the most recent issue of Vanity Fair on top of the displayed weekend newspaper.

 

I went down to the Seaside Market to get a 6 pack of Heineken after writing the rough draft of this entry and once again had the experience. I found the latest issue of Vanity Fair staring at me at the checkout stand. Heineken is more difficult to locate at a grocery store than Christopher Hitchens. And this was only out of four magazines: three magazines of hot women and one with half naked men wearing barrels. It was the barrels that grabbed my attention. Perhaps Hitchens is becoming, unknowingly, the Big Brother he despises – he is everywhere, and he lets us all know what he thinks we ought to think.  

 

After this journey in search for April’s issue, there is little question in my mind why Worthen opens her piece with a paragraph extolling the accomplishments and status of, not Douglas Wilson, but my Big Brother Hitchens.  In reality, I do not recall knowing of the man before the Kirk came up with her latest marketing idea. Once again, I owe a good deal to my teacher Douglas Wilson. Another four books by Hitchens are on their way.

 

Before getting to the obvious task at hand, I wish to first seek some patience from the reader.  I keep saying that Pooh’s Think, Part 2, is not “about Douglas Wilson,” only to then continue writing about Douglas Wilson.  And it will not end here.  Not only is my analysis of Wilson’s debate (Canon Press) with Hitchens incomplete, I also have the two hour discussion between Hitchens and the four-and-a-half apologists at the Christian Book Expo to address – and boy was that something.  And now here is Molly Worthen once again writing about my beloved Kirk: “Wilson is becoming someone who even those minding their own business in the noncontroversial ‘mainstream’ cannot afford to ignore.” If other scholars would stop writing articles about Wilson or giving Wilson the stage lights of ‘debate,’ I could get further along with my book and write posts on something else.  As it is, I ask you to bear with me just a little bit longer. 

 

But I am starting to wonder if my promise to say off topic was a bit premature.  After all, if I was the only expert on the European Green Crab, would anyone object to my authoring a site dedicated to that species? I would think that my task would produce additional justification; the species of my expertise has been almost extinct the last 400 years.

 

____________

 

Molly Worthen is once again to be commended for her judicious reporting on the Kirk.  Her first task, in 2006, was a piece for the New York Times Magazine, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”    She touched briefly on Douglas Wilson, of all appearances a “lumber jack,” but that was not the focus of her thesis. The Christian soldiers were the students, fellows, and doctors of New St. Andrews College.  In this latest, the topic just is Douglas Wilson, the controversialist. I recommend reading the article, and not just my response below. I will post a link to the article here as soon as one is available. (more…)

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • Print
  • StumbleUpon