Friday, May 26, 2017

Looking for God in the wrong places

TBlog was asked to comment on this:

Cowen is an academic economist. To his credit, he's even-handed. He concedes that his reservations about theism apply to atheism as well. So he's undecided. 

1. He says he doesn't think "God" or "theism" is well-defined. It's unclear what that means. Systematic theologies define God. Likewise, philosophical theology delves into detailed expositions and analysis of the divine attributes. 

So his statement may mean he hasn't read the relevant literature. He doesn't know where to look.

But it's possible that he doesn't think the definitions are intelligible. Or maybe he thinks the definitions seem to imaginary. Cowen may share a materials bias where anything that isn't physical is nonsense. However, that issue isn't confined to theology. In metaphysics, you have the issue of abstract objects (e.g. numbers, possible worlds). 

2. He comments on the heritable aspect of religious belief. The implication is that religious faith is due to social conditioning. 

But isn't that consistent with the truth of theism? Humans are social creatures. If God exists, why wouldn't religion have a heritable aspect? 

In the case of Christianity, which is grounded in historical redemption and revelation, the Christian faith is something you must learn about. It's not just something you can intuit. It requires historical knowledge. And it's natural for that to be handed down from one generation to the next.

That said, Cowen has a point. Clearly, there are people whose religious faith is just a historical accident. If they were born at a different time or place, they'd espouse a different religion or no religion. 

3. He says "I am frustrated by the lack of Bayesianism in most of the religious belief I observe."

i) What I think he means by this is that he uses Bayesianism in economics, and he applies that yardstick to religion. One danger with that is making your area of specialization the standard of comparison, even though it may be inappropriate to a different discipline. 

ii) There are, of course, Christians who do use Bayesianism (e.g. Swinburne, Lydia and Timothy McGrew).

iii) For reasons I've stated on more than one occasion, I'm dubious about the use of Bayesianism in Christian apologetics.

4. There's more than one way to approach the issue. Many intellectuals are massively ignorant of what Christianity is. In some cases, a starting-point is to acquire rudimentary, firsthand knowledge of the Christian faith. Nowadays, there are intellectuals who haven't even read the four Gospels. That's a place to start.

One could follow up with a theological introduction to the Bible, like Tom Schreiner's The King in His Beauty (Baker, 2013). That will give a novice the plot of the Bible. 

That could be combined with a simple introduction to Christian theology, like J. I. Packer's Concise Theology: A Guide to Historical Christian Beliefs (Tyndale 2001).

5. Moreover, we shouldn't underestimate the power of attending a good church, where the faithful gather to worship and pray. 

6. Another way to approach the issue is by process of elimination. Instead of proving Christian theism, we can disprove atheism. That's a useful first step. 

The standard paradigm of naturalism (among modern Western thinkers) involves commitment to physicalism and causal closure (i.e. the world as a closed-system). 

Many ontological naturalists thus adopt a physicalist attitude to mental, biological and other such “special” subject matters. They hold that there is nothing more to the mental, biological and social realms than arrangements of physical entities. 

In the final twentieth-century phase, the acceptance of the casual closure of the physical led to full-fledged physicalism. The causal closure thesis implied that, if mental and other special causes are to produce physical effects, they must themselves be physically constituted. It thus gave rise to the strong physicalist doctrine that anything that has physical effects must itself be physical. 

According to the standard paradigm, all mental activity occurs in the brain. That rules out mental action at a distance, and the ontological independence of the mind in relation to the body. On that definition, a way to disprove atheism is to disprove physicalism and causal closure. There are various lines of evidence that undercut or falsify naturalism, viz.

i) Miracles

ii) Terminal lucidity

iii) Apparitions of the dead

iv) Near-death experiences

v) Out-of-body experiences

vi) Demonic possession

vii) Precognition

viii) Psychokinesis

ix) The hard problem of consciousness

Although it's necessary to sort and sift, there's some good literature on all these topics. Jason Engwer and I have posted beaucoup material on all this.  

7. Which brings me to the final point. People like Cowan who lack specific knowledge about the topic at hand fall back on general rules of thumb. It can be useful to point them to specific evidence for Christianity, such as the historicity of the Gospels. Useful writers on the subject include Paul Barnett, Richard Bauckham, Darrell Bock, Craig Blomberg, Craig Evans, and Craig Keener.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the quick and great response, Steve.