Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thomas Jefferson!

I'm forced to agree with ol' Thomas Jefferson in this quote:

I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to atheism by their general dogma, that without a revelation there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a God...on the contrary (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the universe...it is impossible I say for the human mind not to believe...


I'll write more on this in the future, but for the moment that quote just stood out to me.

16 comments:

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

This quotation, and a hunch about how you might develop your feelings about it, prompts me to add that while Montaigne was a career skeptic, he was also a lifelong Catholic. And arguably for the same reasons.

Keep it up, 老兄。

Crude said...

Thank you for mentioning Montaigne! Looking him up, I find him interesting. And how very different from modern "skeptics". Funny how words change (naturalism, materialism, etc, etc.)

Ilíon said...

And I say it appears that ol' Dishonest Tom liked strawmen.

It is not a general dogma of Christianity "that without a revelation there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a God." Rather, it is a general dogma that reason establishes that God is.

Crude said...

It is not a general dogma of Christianity "that without a revelation there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a God." Rather, it is a general dogma that reason establishes that God is.

I'm not so sure about that one, frankly. In fact, I'm not sure it makes sense to call it a general (Christian) dogma that reason establishes that God is. That strikes me as a belief that would come prior to Christianity, though I also think it would, oddly enough, be a very biblical belief in a way. St Paul himself seems to drive this point home.

I've encountered far too many Christians who assert that if Christianity is false, there is no God. Or that if they were to come to believe Christianity were false, based specifically on losing their faith in particular Christian tenets (The resurrection, etc) that they would be come atheists on the spot. That to me screams that they are not approaching their own faith the way Jefferson here is saying. Or the way men like Aquinas, or even St Paul, did.

Ilíon said...

I'm not so sure about that one, frankly. In fact, I'm not sure it makes sense to call it a general (Christian) dogma that reason establishes that God is. That strikes me as a belief that would come prior to Christianity, though I also think it would, oddly enough, be a very biblical belief in a way. St Paul himself seems to drive this point home.

Or AS I SAID, “It is not a general dogma of Christianity "that without a revelation there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a God." Rather, it is a general dogma that reason establishes that God is.


I've encountered far too many Christians who assert that if Christianity is false, there is no God. …

Dishonest Thomas was making a claim (false, as it turns out) about Christianity, not making a claim about the ignorance and/or not-carefully-thought-out claims of some Christians.


I've encountered far too many Christians who assert that if Christianity is false, there is no God. Or that if they were to come to believe Christianity were false, based specifically on losing their faith in particular Christian tenets (The resurrection, etc) that they would be come atheists on the spot. That to me screams that they are not approaching their own faith the way Jefferson here is saying. Or the way men like Aquinas, or even St Paul, did.

And if they understood my “Ego Argument for God,” they’d know that they do not have that as a logical/rational option. If Christ was not resurrected, then Christianity is false -- but still God IS, regardless!

Ilíon said...

I'm not so sure about that one, frankly. In fact, I'm not sure it makes sense to call it a general (Christian) dogma that reason establishes that God is. That strikes me as a belief that would come prior to Christianity, though I also think it would, oddly enough, be a very biblical belief in a way. St Paul himself seems to drive this point home.

I think you misunderstood what I meant.

Of course, the conclusion that God IS comes prior to Christianity. My point was that it is a general dogma of Christianity that that conclusion – arrived at via reason, rather given than via revelation – is true, and reliable, and cannot logically/rationally be denied.

As I said: “Rather, it is a general dogma [of Christianity] that reason [rather than revelation] establishes that God is.

In contrast, Dishonest Thomas asserted that it is a “general dogma [of Christianity] that without a revelation there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a God.”

But, if that were a general dogma of Christianity, then Christianity would be asserting something like: “the only way that men may know that God IS is to first believe (how, exactly?) that God has revealed himself in Christ.”

Crude said...

Dishonest Thomas was making a claim (false, as it turns out) about Christianity, not making a claim about the ignorance and/or not-carefully-thought-out claims of some Christians.

I suppose that case could be made, and put that way I find myself more in agreement with the claim. Maybe Jefferson was just ignorant of what some Christian sects said. I really think there's room for innocent confusion on his part. (Did you read that three-part series on Thomas Jefferson's attitude about Christianity that got linked off Vox's site, btw? Interesting stuff.)

Admittedly, I have a soft spot for the American Deists. Not for their denial of Christianity, but for their asserting that God's existence can be known through reason, and how they viewed that God interacting with humanity. Then again, I find that I'm able to find lots of common ground with any variety of theist, and next to none with any atheist (specifically ones of a materialist tack.)

And if they understood my “Ego Argument for God,” they’d know that they do not have that as a logical/rational option. If Christ was not resurrected, then Christianity is false -- but still God IS, regardless!

And while I'm Catholic, and think Christianity is a supremely rational faith, I wish more Christians approached their faith and particularly apologetics from such an angle. Not enough do, and I consider that to be a tremendous weak point. It's no surprise that many atheists, when pressed, quietly try to claim deism for "their" side. It's because they soil their pants at the thought of having to argue against the position. And because many of them are closet deists, I think.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I think it's safe to say that without Divine Revelation, it is not possible to be a Christian. To argue otherwise is to be Socinian, is it not? If the human intellect could infer or deduce the proper elements of the Christian faith by its own natural ability, I see no reason even to posit "revelation." I do, however, think the Catholic Church, esp. in light of Vatican I, is strongly on the side of the claim that natural reason, unaided by revelation, can come to a knowledge of God as Creator. Whether this is a rational necessity for all honest humans is a much more difficult question, since the Church recognizes certain cases of "invincible ignorance."

Best,

Crude said...

I think it's safe to say that without Divine Revelation, it is not possible to be a Christian.

Oh, that much I can agree with absolutely. I'm not at all saying one can become a Christian sans Divine Revelation. However...

I do, however, think the Catholic Church, esp. in light of Vatican I, is strongly on the side of the claim that natural reason, unaided by revelation, can come to a knowledge of God as Creator.

...This, I can agree with, and was more my focus. To put it another way, Aquinas argued his Five Ways, but himself admitted that none of these on their own get a person to the God of Catholicism. And I think Jefferson was taking a strong position by arguing (and echoing Paul) that simply observing nature and natural processes strongly impels one towards a belief in God.

The Church's historical approach on the question of God was one of the first atomic bombs, so to speak, that went off and made me realize just how amazing and intellectually powerful the faith is. My lament here is that many people either don't take these sorts of approaches themselves, or (in discussion or apologetics) try to sidestep them altogether, and try to argue for Christianity, not God.

Yet another way to put what I'm saying: Everyone tends to think of deism/mere theism as a stepping stone to atheism. My view is more the opposite - deism/theism (in the broad sense) is a stepping stone to Catholicism. And as such, when it comes to atheists/agnostics (Who I think are every bit as in need of conversion as any other non-Christian, rather than simply 'enemies'), I think it's of considerable importance for apologists to start arguing for that minimal theism first.

Again, I think it's no coincidence that many 'atheists', even some very well-known ones, avoid this at all costs and try to treat deism as a kind of atheism. Apologists need to stop letting them get away with this.

Ilíon said...

"I suppose that case could be made, and put that way I find myself more in agreement with the claim."

What I said then was merely a rewording (neither adding to nor subtracting from) of what I said at the start.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I've witnessed the sad but rather predictable progression from Christianity to pantheism (Spinozan, Einsteinian) to agnosticism to pretty rank atheism. A friend of mine. The point is that I agree with your trajectory from deism to theism, rather than vice versa, and I think, if properly handled, the shift from pantheism to theism is actually even easier and more natural. In the case of a deist, she is at least admitting there is an almighty God and Creator somehow-outside-yet-immanent-in the world. To reflect on this seriously is inevitably to be drawn to great admiration and humility, rather like beholding the ocean. Such virtues are of course the rudiments of religion. For a pantheist, she is enamored with the beauty of the world and sees this as God Itself, whereupon, with honest reflection, she should be drawn even more into genuine forms of worship. Once you grasp what "God" is, and accept Its/His existence, you can't genuinely stay neutral. Only by suppressing this awareness, however, as St. Paul argues, can the quasi-believer escape the logic of divine wonder. Having said all that, at the end of the day all such musings are purely academic, for man is fallen and gladly settles for half a truth if that allows him to forget the fact that to do so is to reject a whole truth. Thus I side with Cardinal Newman in a quotation often cited in the ID debates: “Half the world knows nothing of the argument from design—and when you have got it, you do not prove by it the moral attributes of God—except very faintly. Design teaches me power, skill, and goodness [meaning here, cleverness in craftsmanship], not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion. . . . I believe in design because I believe in God, not in a God because I see design.”

http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft0101/reviews/oakes.html

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I've witnessed the sad but rather predictable progression from Christianity to pantheism (Spinozan, Einsteinian) to agnosticism to pretty rank atheism. A friend of mine. The point is that I agree with your trajectory from deism to theism, rather than vice versa, and I think, if properly handled, the shift from pantheism to theism is actually even easier and more natural. In the case of a deist, she is at least admitting there is an almighty God and Creator somehow-outside-yet-immanent-in the world. To reflect on this seriously is inevitably to be drawn to great admiration and humility, rather like beholding the ocean. Such virtues are of course the rudiments of religion. For a pantheist, she is enamored with the beauty of the world and sees this as God Itself, whereupon, with honest reflection, she should be drawn even more into genuine forms of worship. Once you grasp what "God" is, and accept Its/His existence, you can't genuinely stay neutral. Only by suppressing this awareness, however, as St. Paul argues, can the quasi-believer escape the logic of divine wonder. Having said all that, at the end of the day all such musings are purely academic, for man is fallen and gladly settles for half a truth if that allows him to forget the fact that to do so is to reject a whole truth. Thus I side with Cardinal Newman in a quotation often cited in the ID debates: “Half the world knows nothing of the argument from design—and when you have got it, you do not prove by it the moral attributes of God—except very faintly. Design teaches me power, skill, and goodness [meaning here, cleverness in craftsmanship], not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion. . . . I believe in design because I believe in God, not in a God because I see design.”

http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft0101/reviews/oakes.html

Crude said...

Cogitator,

Sorry if I chose the wrong version of your reply to post. I saw 4-5, and this seemed like the most complete. Not sure what happened there - comments on blogger seem crazy lately. I may pick a new app for it, even with my few commenters the complaints are hard to ignore.

Anyway, I don't deny someone can have the progression you speak of. And it seems you don't deny that others can take the opposite route. And of course, some people skip many of these steps (From atheist to Christian, from Christian to atheist, etc). My only point here is fairly humble - that it's important to recognize the full range of reasons to believe in God, what attributes, and at what stage. So I consider it supremely important for apologists, at least some of them, to be ready, willing, and capable of arguing for the merely theistic/deistic God, even if this is just one argument among many, and one stop among many for their project.

I also want to make clear here that my view isn't an ID argument as such. ID as defined by its foremost movement specifically demands that their ideas be considered "science". My view is that science should be stripped of all philosophy except what is essential to it, and that the essential be recognized. What's left over is an anemic beast. But I don't think design arguments, or the various arguments that get one to a mere theism or deism, are necessarily scientific - nor do they need to be to be effective. I have strong sympathies for the ID perspective, but I'm not on board with quite a lot of it. The "science" bit is a red herring to me.

And I agree, of course, that man is fallen, and will often settle for that "half a truth" you speak of. Problems abound until Christ returns. I'm just doing what I can in the meantime, and I need to do a lot more of it.

Crude said...

Ilion,

What I said then was merely a rewording (neither adding to nor subtracting from) of what I said at the start.

Then let's say it was easier for me to see your point when you stated it so. Sometimes I benefit from receiving the same information a different way.

Ilíon said...

"Sorry if I chose the wrong version of your reply to post. I saw 4-5, and this seemed like the most complete. Not sure what happened there - comments on blogger seem crazy lately. I may pick a new app for it, even with my few commenters the complaints are hard to ignore."

You could jusr do as I do and let the comments post automatically. And, should some posted comment be spam, or too offensive, delete it after the fact.

Crude said...

I see too many blogs who do that walk a route I have zero intention of allowing here, even by accident. It's not as much about offensiveness or spam as it is about wanting to run this blog with the standards I have in mind. My deep dislike for comment culture kept me out of blogging for a while.