Sunday, August 30, 2009

Playing the apologist with radical skepticism

Human Thoughts on Human Thinking: It is inevitable that, generally, we as human beings only hear what we are prepared to hear and see what we are prepared to see - which is like painting in broad strokes, thus "jumping the intellectual gun". When a man takes a tiny piece of information and trivially runs with it, he himself implies that his own logical interpretation of the information is, whether consciously or unconsciously, hindered, and he is simply hearing what he chooses to hear. I would say such a person is verbally more challenging to communicate with than a person speaking a foreign language - the former observes only himself while the latter at least struggles to observe the communicator. There are also those who inadvertently grant power to another man's words by continuously trying to spite him. If a man gets to the point where he can simply say, "The sky is blue," and people indignantly rush up trying to refute him saying, "No, the sky is light blue," then, whether they realize it or not, he has become an authority figure even to such adversaries.

However, my goal, as a Christian, philosopher, and even as a simple human being, is certainly not to be adorned by mere hierarchy nor is it to adorn others in such a way. In fact, I am in several ways influenced by the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, a witty street bum. On several occasions did he comically signify that the slant of the majority is not always the most plausible:
"'Why is it, Diogenes, that pupils leave you to go to other teachers, but rarely do they leave them to come to you?'...'Because,' replied Diogenes, 'one can make eunuchs out of men, but no one can make a man out of eunuchs.'" (The following arguments include more references to Diogenes thus implying my admiration for his actual philosophies.) Although alternatively, what I present is not meant to discourage those of different moral principles than myself, but rather encourage, with positive revelations, any truly willing individual; yet, if one is offended by what is nothing more than constructive criticism, then he is either overestimating the importance of the critic or the overall critique is in some way valid. As far as any of my advice goes, I usually make sure that I need it as much as the next person. Hypocritical or not, that is how I am certain that it is valuable to at least one or more persons. On whom can one start but himself?

In any case I feel that there should be a thicker line between the ideological critic and the personal critic. "Rule: Start by looking for what is valid in every man," said Camus, and due to the masses not attempting such, knots of the ages merely grow tighter. Many young philosophers, in an infatuation or detestation regarding ideology, excessively attempt to negatively discern one another before evaluation of the philosophies. At times it is to so far a degree that it seems as though, when driven by such distraught motivators, any possibility for discovering truth becomes an offensive strike to the face. The result is a form of denial, but denial is temporarily satisfactory and quite like a safety net; false sentiments are much easier to control than real ones, or as Camus also said, "Truth, like light, blinds. Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object." Hence, my reflection on the ways in which we commonly give and take information is to ultimately remind that, when the time is right, truth seems to find the individual rather than the individual finding truth - an important thing to understand when arguing abstract or controversial topics.

Having said that, much of the following was taken from an argument with an individual of atheistic belief who initially challenged me. Unfortunately, I no longer have the full message that inspired it, but I saved and refined my response because it compiled quite a bit of timeless information, both personal and universal:

A Wandering Response, Pt. 1: "I open my messages and find an entire essay criticizing me more than the argument. That is a sign of instability, so I contemplated hard about responding to this. Plus, it would take forever, but here we go...

I dislike the political world due to the iniquity and intellectual erosion it provokes in opinionated men. There are two culprits that can bring out a man's worst: pride and bias, and even beyond religion, they are, in a more subtle nature, most ample in the field of politics. Non-partisanship is consistently more plausible - the limitations given by labels tend to negate marvelous potential [Kierkegaard]. Under the notion that there are endless complex factors for one to consider, both on personal and universal levels, one's provoking thought and questioning the status quo, unveiling those little things we take for granted, and challenging politically systematic partisanship are essential means of support. One is apt to limit God according to his own understanding; therefore, he must frequently acknowledge human nature within the power-hungry society: great nations, out of pride, devour themselves (Jeremiah 50:32). God's ways are not imprisoned by man's current idea of conservatism nor are they littered with the excessive lenience of contemporary liberalism. Similarly, as a deviation from political corruption, G.K. Chesterton made known the vilification of such, "The whole modern world has divided itself into conservatives and progressives. The business of progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." In essence I find that the foundation of modern conservatism is driven by a clinging to God in fear of the world, whereas the foundation of modern liberalism is a clinging to the world in fear of God; albeit, the true foundation should be one's clinging to God in fear of God (Proverbs 14:26).

In God's eyes, a man who teaches one truth and nothing else is more righteous than a man who teaches a million truths and one lie. I cannot nor do I pretend to comprehend what is economically best for every living individual as well as his descendants 100 years from now, yet I support those who genuinely and purely attempt to do such. Regardless, I find that belligerent patriotism explodes on the subject of politics as though it consists of 99% pride and 1% sincerity. Patriotism as the belligerent patriot practices is less patriotic than it is to the one who admonishes his country. As individuals die every moment, how insensitive and fabricated a love it is to set aside a day from selfish routine in prideful, patriotic commemoration of tragedy. Just as God is provoked by those who tithe simply because they feel that they must tithe, I am provoked by those who commemorate simply because they feel that they must commemorate. In his 1942 epistolary-styled apologetics novel, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, or rather "Screwtape", explained very well the psychological stages of obsessive, contemporary politics with regard to religion: "Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the 'cause'..." Even under what some might call "the separation of church and state", it is the philosophers, theologians, and evangelists who are said to be filled with pride and bigotry due to the strong convictions that they represent. On the contrary, teachings can be either taken or dismissed; whereas voting is the only thing the average person can do to force everyone to live how they would prefer. A simple vote is among the largest yet most acceptable forms of bigotry, and that is because people play the card only when they feel that in doing so it conveniences themselves. Unlike philosophical teachings, politics have an inevitable effect on all people whether they like it or not.

As far as my philosophy endeavors go, I know it is a popular stereotype that philosophers do not get very far in this day, but that does not bother me no matter its accuracy or lack thereof. The reality of society is a failure - by foundation it respects individuals and their relevance according to institutional records and paperwork rather than by skill. Labeled fools to the world are geniuses to the cosmos. Genius is often suppressed: education truly comes alive when one averts it in such a way in which he puts up a wall protecting his imagination, the creative portion of the brain. I essentially use the philosophical perspective as a tool for intellectual creativity, new ideas, song lyrics, and as a way of life. You are correct. On occasion, it attempts to ask and answer questions that cannot always be proven beyond the means of logic and speculation, however it is more relevant than it initially appears in a career-oriented proportion. In order to share one's true brilliance one initially has to risk looking like a fool: genius is like a wheel that spins so fast, it at first glance appears to be sitting still. Diogenes once stated that philosophers are like dogs; they do more good than they are appreciated.

Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." I personally share this sentiment and value creativity, art, and wisdom over materialism. Wisdom is nothing more than confirmed imagination: just because one did not study for his exam does not mean that he should leave it blank.
And one does not have to be a philosopher to be a successful artist, but he does have to be an artist to be a successful philosopher. His nature is to view the world in an unpredictable albeit useful light. Some might ask questions such as, "Don't you wanna be rich or famous?" but by the words of Diogenes, yet again, when questioned how one can become famous or successful, "By worrying as little as possible about fame." The artist lives to have stories to tell and to learn to tell them well, therefore I try to have my own definitions of happiness and success, and I would rather make paths before taking paths. Ultimately, one's idea of success is subjective rather than objective. Most men either compromise or drop their greatest talents and start running after, what they perceive to be, a more reasonable success, and somewhere in between they end up with a discontented settlement. Safety is indeed stability, but it is not progression. 

For instance, rarely did I excel as an employee; in fact, I did quite the opposite. At times I was feeling much like Charles Bukowski's description with regards to a laboring humanity. In Ham on Rye he wrote [shortened], "The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. ... A whole nation doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves. I had no interests. I had no interest in anything. I had no idea how I was going to escape. At least the others had some taste for life." 

The power of hope! Even a lack of ambition can, for a time, pay off as a necessary facet, as long as hope outweighs it. I had no desire for things that I knew would someday deteriorate and eventually realized that my ambitions were too high for personal gain and comfort. I lost interest in settling for mediocrity and only wanted to bring something, anything fascinating to the table, something eternal. Generally, strategies that were merely intended to thicken one's pockets told employers what to do, and employers told me what to do. Thus at times my objective was to work for a more intangible reason - something as simple as experiencing and understanding the cycle of humanity, and hopefully in turn, developing an affinity for such. After all, repetition reflects one's living in the present thus demonstrating a will to live forward, as Kierkegaard wrote in Repetition, whereas, recollection is potentially an immobilizing mindset, a concern which is much like jogging in reverse. Therefore, coming to accept the seemingly inevitable repetition of life was my work ethic, but, being so obscure of a work ethic, it appeared to be completely nonexistent in the opinions of others. That bleeds through - oftentimes one is harshly judged for a lack of work ethic. I once read that music became Bono's revenge; likewise, philosophy became my revenge. After awhile you cease trying to be accepted. When determined to be who you are, you conjure ways to cope with who you are; so, instead of drugs or alcohol, I chose faith and philosophy. That is what I believe to be the nature of optimism. When you feel like you mean nothing to everyone for too long, you one day wake up with an urge to mean everything to as many people as possible. That is what inspires creativity. Maybe God would agree, hence creation. What is my point here? Every man has a specific skill, whether it is discovered or not, that more readily and naturally comes to him than it would to another, and his own should be sought and polished. He excels best in his niche - originality loses its authenticity in one's efforts to obtain originality. Nevertheless, by use of his genuine craftsmanship, a simple man further becomes walking evidence of the glory of God.Despite the personal sense of fulfillment that philosophy brings, ironically, it is constantly told to the philosopher, "Stop thinking; be happy." He then replies, "Define 'happiness'". The person defines it, and in result, he further realizes that he is pleased with who he is and what he does; therefore, he is indeed happy. Philosophy is a way of imagination; it bends the frame of mind, challenges the notions that which we take for granted, and reveals those held captive by common sense. This is the sense of fulfillment that I spoke of, and in the words of C.S. Lewis, "There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes." I find such happiness to be like a collector's toy that you never open or play with because it then loses its value, but the non-collector does not fully understand. Studies restricted to the boundaries of the scientific method harvest a limited knowledge because the contents are based on systematic testability, thus the only accepted results are those bound to the limitations of man's perceptions of reliability. Frankly, that is not wisdom, that is the taking of information compiled under the laws of human research. Like most I do find pleasure in the discovery of truth. However it is often considered a mistake that one would so adamantly pursue what is sometimes called "the b.s. subject", and further suggested that science is the direction to take if one desires truth. I would rather aid an individual idealistically - peace thrives internally - than physically, and according to my experiences, with a philosophy education, one can infuriate his peers, intimidate his date, think of obscure, unreliable ways to make money, and never regret a thing." 

A Wandering Response, Pt. 2: "But, enough about me, you also wanted to know qualities about the Christian God that are unique. I would assume that any God that truly exists and has any power will be the lasting God above the others. This was taken from an external source, and you can easily rule out the more obscure ones without the need of extensive research. We can find that the "dying and rising gods", such as Adonis, Baal (and Hadad), Marduk, Osiris, and Tammuz have been discarded for quite a long time by both non-Christian and Christian scholars:

"1.) There is simply no unambiguous data to support the belief in the existence of any dying and rising deity apart from Jesus.
2.) There is data contrary to the belief that these were common figures before the time of Christ (to say the least).
3.) There would not be any motif from which the NT authors could even borrow the image of a dying and rising God."

There are also gods in the "mystery religions", such as Mithra and Dionysos:


"1.) None of the savior gods died for someone else in their place. The idea that the Son of God fully dying in place of his people is unique to Christianity.
2.) Only Jesus died purposefully for sin. As Gunter Wagner said about the pagan gods "none has the intention of helping men...The sort of death that they died is quite different (hunting accident, self-emasculation, etc.)."
3.) Unlike the mystery gods, Jesus died voluntarily. Nothing like this appears even implicitly in the mysteries (the closest is the self-castration of Attis, but this is generally attributed to his insanity, not to a free and clear choice)."

They have been arguably debunked philosophically and scientifically, whereas, the Christian God has remained consistent despite the extensive cherry-picking and scrutiny the Bible has boldly endured for centuries.

The nature of God has historically remained controversial as perceived by skeptics, for example, the laws advocated in the Old Testament (e.g. do not shave your beard, sell your daughter into slavery, marry those you rape, etc.). When hearing these laws, skeptics criticize God for being too tyrannical and even too malevolent of a God, as Epicurus concluded. That is further evidence that man's initial idea of a loving God does not make sense without a sincere observation of his divinity, holiness, and consciousness of sin. One of my favorite verses, Isaiah 45:7 says,
"I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things." The God of the Bible reigns beyond both good and evil. He allows short term evils in order to carry out long term good [C.S. Lewis; Mere Christianity], and even though he made evident his mercy time and time again throughout the Old Testament, he does not take sin lightly; he is constantly forgiving of our mistakes, however his judgment is perfect, just, and holy. Find another god like this and you can discard this entire paragraph.

You asked for a positive ontology regarding the existence of God. I do not believe there is one that would satisfy the majority of radical atheists. I am a scientific agnostic and a spiritual theist, and it does not bother me or most Christians I know - ontology is not where God initially intended to be found. If God did exist as the creator of the universe, he would, as explained on several occasions, exist incalculably - outrageously massive beyond the instruments of scientific research. Try proving our more complex reality to ants. One could give them evidence and they would hardly perceive the complexities from their simplified cognition, and correspondingly, tangibility and testability are essential to science as perceived by humans.

You said, "Interesting. On one hand you claim that children mature then eventually come across evidence that denies the existence of Santa, but just a few sentences earlier you say that Santa and God share the common property of being unprovable. You have to pick one or the other."

It is not a contradiction. Proof and evidence are 2 different things. We cannot prove that God or Santa Claus exist, however we have significant evidence that Santa does not exist. We do not have significant evidence that God does not exist. This applies to every imaginary fairytale out there. Skeptics often pretend that the idea of a creator is as improbable as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Santa Claus, or the Pink Unicorn. This is a strong example of intellectual dishonesty. When something is truly said to be insane, it is because it is from an abnormal state of mind. A belief in God is not abnormal - billions of normal and intelligent people today and since the beginning of time believe(d) in God, hence you are being intellectually dishonest if you truly consider theism to be insane in and of itself. In fact, one of the most intelligent men in recorded history was a deist, Einstein, who died merely 50 years ago. You have been so flooded by atheistic views that you somehow think a belief in God is insane. It is evident what modern propaganda can do to people.

You said, "But you have a problem with causality? Can't you accept that we just don't know about "the beginning" or even if there was one? Doesn't that fall under "realizing your own ignorance?" You are doing exactly what you're telling us not to do. You assume knowledge regarding causality and the universe, and use that assumed knowledge to support an otherwise insane idea."

Everyone claims to be okay with freedom of religion, but the moment you mention God there is a strange tension that fills the air. If there was a 6th sense, that would be it. Several skeptics, however, refuse to acknowledge the case that a rational, justified belief in God is indeed possible. It is not always a pseudo-intellectual decision based on one's ignorance of scientific facts, cultural norms/indoctrination, "blind faith", or insanity, nor was it ever meant to be grounded on such fallacies. The existence of God does not appear to be verifiable by means in which the normative atheistic position expects him to be verified, hence many theists do not take part in the endless attempts of logically explaining a relationship with God according to standards of the scientific method. To take that route is not by any means a requirement for one's faith nor for the sharing of one's faith, but it is indeed possible for one to have a calling to defend the faith in such a manner. John Calvin once said,
"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent." Certainly God does not need any sort of defense or protection, however the faithful apologist naturally delights in clarifying certain misconceptions of Christ and his word." 

P.S.: "I appreciate the "breath of fresh air" comment. I hope all of my fellow Christians remind themselves that the Bible teaches against blind faith and ignorance, "Test everything, hold on to the good". On the other hand, one should not look for God strictly within a self-proclaimed form of intellectualism or science but by experience. When saying, "the best intelligence is realizing your own ignorance", the ignorance is one's lack of experience, yet many Christians have experienced Christ in some indescribably, personal way.

Intelligent Christians are not rare in the slightest, yet a number of skeptics repeat the stereotype amongst themselves. One's intelligence excels in different areas; a person is intelligent in a certain aspect and unintelligent another aspect. While I am not exactly sure what you are looking for, I can briefly list a number of "intelligent" individuals within my own field. To list a modern wave of philosophers that also happen to support theism, there is Richard Swinburne (Oxford), Eleanor Stump (Oxford), and Brian Leftow (Oxford). If you want to find non-condemning theists, you could try sincerely talking to some rather than listening excessively to a biased media while surrounding yourself 360 degrees in atheistic communities.

Regarding the reliability of the Bible: I said that it is possibly "imperfect" to the biased thinker in such a case of passing through the hands and interpretations of man (technically, that is a result of man's imperfections). I never implied universal fallibility. That is not a semantical backflip, it is an important distinction. Your question seems to be, "If it is imperfect, then what basis do you have to properly decipher and interpret the Bible? Why interpret this like this and that like that?" If a man depends completely on himself, then you are absolutely correct, he has no basis. Such a man, in result, is prone to spread hatred and deception in the name of God (i.e. "a wolf in sheep's clothing"), which is the clashing of the fallen human interpretation with divine truth. I am sure you have heard this before and will call it a "cop out" like earlier (ironically, simply saying "cop out" is a cop out, in many cases). For those who are truly humbled towards God, the Holy Spirit guides them through interpretations. Many faithful Christians receive new, positive revelations upon every instance a passage is read or re-read."