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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Comments

Josh

It looks like the like to the full interview is in correct. I believe this is the correct one.

http://catholic.net/us_catholic_news/template_article.phtml?article_id=5942&channel_id=1

This is a great interview, thanks Carl.

Josh

Carl Olson

Thanks, Josh. I'm updating the link.

Brian Schuettler

First off, let me say that I respect Professor Kreeft and I am not a philosophy professor and defer to his acqured knowledge in that area.
However, having said that, I must say that I do not understand some of his responses.

" I welcome them to the public square. They usually believe in objective truth,..."

Atheists usually believe in objective truth? That's news.

G.K. Chesterton: "When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing — they believe in anything." That is another way of saying that atheists have a subjective, not an objective, sense of truth. There is no truth outside of themselves and they determine what it is and what it is not. Many atheists are, in fact, materialists and do not believe in anything beyond the physical universe, let alone objective truth. The fact that the interviewer's question specifically named Richard Dawkins, a biologist who has stated time and time again that he is a darwinian materialist, makes Professor Kreeft's response all the more difficult to fathom.

"...and so are more honest than many religious believers who fear such arguments."

What an interesting thing for a Catholic apologist to say. What does he mean by these new book writing atheists being "more honest"? (has he read these guys like Hitchens and Dennett, who want to abduct your children to be raised by Brights?) and why is their honesty, so admired by Kreeft, juxtaposed to "religious believers who fear such arguments." Is it just me or does that sound rather condescending to little anawim believers who perhaps prefer the God of Abraham, Isaac and Joseph to the god of the philosophers.? What arguments? Arguments about Belief? There were no arguments mentioned in the question. Upon what evidence does the professor determine that "many religious believers fear" these arguments, whatever they may be?

Hey look, I'm just playing Diogenes here, lantern in hand. Please be gentle.


Cristina A. Montes

Brian: I can't speak for Kreeft, but I, for one, agree that there are atheists who are at least have some intellectual honesty. They do agree that there's such a thing as objective truth, and they honestly (albeit mistakenly) believe that atheism is objectively true. It's just that for some reason, they don't see the internal inconsistency between asserting the truth of atheism and at the same time believing in relativism. The reasons they can't see the inconsistency may vary: it could be because no one has pointed it out to them, or they do see the inconsistency but refuse to accept the consequences of the proposition that God exists, or because they have prejudices that are too deeply rooted and which will take a lot of grace and reverse conditioning to uproot. Nevertheless, there are atheists who have some intellectually honest.

For that matter, there are many reasons people turn atheists. For some, their atheism may simply be a stage in an honest search for truth.

As for Kreeft's statement that atheists "are more honest than many religious believers who fear such arguments," perhaps he is referring to fideism, which is also erroneous. I, personally, have encountered Catholics who believe things simply "because the Church says so" or "because the Bible says so", and this is as wrong as rationalism. Faith, after all, does not go against reason but rather perfects it. A Catholic, especially in this day and age, should know why the teachings of the Church make sense even based on pure reason, and should be able to argue his faith using reason. In fact, the act of faith is, in itself, reasonable: it is not, contrary to what people say, believing something blindly but believing something BECAUSE of the credibility of the person who says it. So an act of faith, in a way, also includes a judgment: assessing credibility. Now, since God cannot deceive (He is all-good) and cannot be deceived (He is all-knowing), He must be credible.

Brian John Schuettler

Thanks, Cristina, for the clarity of thought that you brought to your comment. Well said.

Dave2

1. Many atheists believe that there are plenty of objective truths in general and, what's more, that there are objective truths in morality. Cristina suggests that atheism entails moral relativism, but that claim needs support (it's certainly a highly controversial claim). Certainly very few philosophers who defend objectivism about morality do so on the basis of God's existence. I know of one important philosopher who's argued that atheism entails moral nihilism (J. L. Mackie), but none who've argued that atheism entails moral relativism.

2. Other atheists believe that there are plenty of objective truths in general (say, in science or math or the theism/atheism debate) but that there aren't any objective truths in morality. Cristina suggests that this is inconsistent, but I think there's no inconsistency here. Just because you think there is objective truth in one domain (science or math) doesn't mean you must think there is objective truth in some completely different domain (morality). Just as there's no inconsistency in thinking that math is objective but fashion is not, likewise there's no inconsistency in thinking that math is objective but morality is not.

LJ

Cristina,

I would have to say yes, but ...

While it is true that one must use the intellectual capacity that one has been given, in practical terms I would have to lean toward a more Franciscan sensibility in this area, recognizing that there are many who accept what has been taught them and respond with love for Jesus Christ and find deep and abiding faith that I am certain is pleasing to God, but for whom deep, rational analysis is quite beyond their intellectual capabilities.

For me, that is one aspect of the beauty of the Catholic faith that helped convince me, in the end, that the Catholic faith in all of its full blown development over two thousand years was indeed the very same faith that began with the apostles of Jesus. Was St. Peter a great intellect? Probably not. He even points out that some things that St. Paul has to say are difficult to understand. St. Paul had an acute analytical mind. St. John the Evangelist was probably more intuitively intelligent, a man of strong emotions and deep insights.

The point is, for some people it is a matter of trust. They trust those in authority in the Church who have greater mental abilities to look at the finer points of an issue and make a practical determination. Their simple faith is not an abdication, it is a reality of life. That is why I get the same uneasy feeling as Brian Schuettler and the sense of condescension from Kreeft's remark, although I am not sure that he intended it to sound that way.

Yes, to think at all we must use at least a very rudimentary reason, and when we make a decision we have excercised that reason, but I think the category that Kreeft is discussing is in a comparison to the Dawkins of the world. Perhaps it would give him comfort to recognize that there are a substantial number of "atheists" in high schools, colleges, and universities everywhere who are really no more than posers, making a fashion statement rather than a rational conclusion. For a well trained Catholic apologist with charity and a sense of humour they can be great fun.

Brian Schuettler

Dave2:
2. Other atheists believe that there are plenty of objective truths in general (say, in science or math or the theism/atheism debate) but that there aren't any objective truths in morality. Cristina suggests that this is inconsistent, but I think there's no inconsistency here. Just because you think there is objective truth in one domain (science or math) doesn't mean you must think there is objective truth in some completely different domain (morality). Just as there's no inconsistency in thinking that math is objective but fashion is not, likewise there's no inconsistency in thinking that math is objective but morality is not.

I think that this certainly contributes to the assertion that atheists do not have a metaphysical framework for their supposed "belief" in objective truth. The above statement indicates to me that some atheists choose to have a subjective understanding of objective reality that is determined by their own reality, therefore not really objective. I liked what Cristina wrote because she framed the argument that atheists who claim to believe in objective truth really believe it in their mind, implying a sort of honesty, but is, objectively speaking, actually a sort of self deception similar to what Dave2 wrote.

I also do not believe that there are "plenty of objective truths" ( I never heard that one before, sort of like shopping in the objective truth boutique..."I'll take two science OTs and one math OT, but hold the moral OT, it ruins the flavor for me.") Intellectually honest atheists, I would think, realize that, as Cristina so well expressed, " do see the inconsistency but refuse to accept the consequences of the proposition that God exists, or because they have prejudices that are too deeply rooted and which will take a lot of grace and reverse conditioning to uproot."

RJ

Atheism seems to take distinct domains, though I am not sure that they can be separated when describing it in relation to the human person. There is metaphysical atheism, this is an atheism for those who have reasoned to God's non-existence based on some type of evidence, such as science. Also, there is psychological atheism, those who can't or won't believe in a benign deity because of the problem of evil. They have experienced some type of pain in their life that leads them to disbelieve in a God, even Aquinas acknowledged this as a great barrier to believing in God. I have seen this type frequently in teenagers who come from broken families. Then there is moral atheism, this is the atheism that allows want to do what he wants because he believes there is no God and thus there are no moral absolutes.
The latter two types I described certainly are interwoven in many atheists, but I have met few of the first type who also did not invoke the latter two types at different times. In any case, they could hold to objective truth and still be moral, one would only have to read about the life of David Hume to see that this is true. Part of atheism does come down to trust and faith, and in a sense there is a natural component of trust related to the supernatural virtue of faith, if one has not learned to "trust" in life because of suffering some sort of evil, it may be hard for "faith" in God to develop. For a far better explanation of this, I recommend Paul Vitz's Faith of the Fatherless.

Brian Schuettler

Metaphysical atheism, although it no doubt has it's adherents, is, to my mind, a contradiction in terms. Metaphysics, in the orignal classical sense of the word, that is to say, Asistotelian Metaphysics in all of it's manifestations and the successor Aquinian metaphysics with it's corresponding incarnations, posits reality as having a first cause, independent of physical reality, that cannot be explained by the material universe or experimentation i.e. it is a priori, not a posteriori. For atheists to appropriate this word just confuses the essence of philosophical debate and unfortunately clarity of understanding is the obvious victim. I remember from my history of philosophy college course a remark by my professor that the single most deterrent to a more popular appreciation of philosophical discussion is, what he termed, the problem of philosophical semantics.

Dave2

Brian, if you think there's an inconsistency, then you should explain why you think so. If someone says there are objective truths in math, but that there are no objective truths about what's fashionable or chic, then that sounds pretty plausible to me. This shows that there aren't just the two options of holding all domains to have objective truths or else holding no domains to have objective truths. On the face of it, one can be an objectivist about one domain without being an objectivist about some other domain. So, if there's any inconsistency in being an objectivist about science but not about morality, it needs to be shown.

Brian Schuettler

Dave, we could go back and forth on this ad infinitum without resolution. Why? Because I do not believe atheists should be using a word such as "objective" as a philosophical category without any grounding in the historical context of that word that allows for intellectual argumentation. It leads, as I pointed out, to meaningless discourse wherein both parties are not talking about the same thing i.e. the problem of semantics. Such dialogue even defeats the application of something as important as the principle of non-contradiction. Let us agree to disagree. Pace, Brian

RJ

Brian, I think your are confused, the idea of a first cause via Aristotle and Thomas is NOT derived a priori, that is apart from experience, but a posteriori, but from the experience of the natural order. See Thomas' commentary on Aristotle's Physics where he discusses the first cause or his 5 Proofs for God's existence, in each case he begins created realities and moves to God. If he method was a priori, he would begin with thought or an proceed to God's existence as Anselm and Descartes did. He was actually critical of that approach.
As far as using the term metaphysics or ontology apart from its classical conception, it has been used that way for much of the 20th c. As Quine showed, one can't escape metaphysics, I think that should be pointed right back at atheists who tried to escape it in such forms of thought as Positivism. If one wants to then argue which form is correct, the realist framework of Thomas often provides the best way for describing reality, but first one often has to show the atheist that metaphysical statments are not only possible, one cannot escape them. Even the materialist must believe this or remain silent.

Brian Schuettler

RJ:
The ontological, or a priori argument, originated with Aristotle as well. I should have used the term ontological, rather than "first cause". Thanks for the pick up. It was Aristotle who first constructed a well-defined and developed ontology. In his "Metaphysics" he analyses the simplest elements to which the mind reduces the world of reality. The medieval philosophers make his writings the groundwork of their commentaries in which they not only expand and illustrate the thought, but often correct and enrich it in the light of Revelation. Notable instances are St. Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suárez (1548-1617). The "Disputationes Metaphysicae" of the latter is the most thorough work on ontology in any language. The Aristotelean writings and the Scholastic commentaries are its groundwork and largely its substance; but it amplifies and enriches both. The movement of the mind towards the physical sciences -- which was largely stimulated and accelerated by Bacon -- carried philosophy away from the more abstract truth. Locke, Hume, and their followers denied the reality of the object of ontology. We can know nothing, they held, of the essence of things; substance is a mental figment, accidents are subjective aspects of an unknowable noumenon; cause is a name for a sequence of phenomena. These negations have been emphasized by Comte, Huxley, and Spencer.

My point was not that atheists have "used" the term metaphysics. Obviously they do and that is why I brought up the issue of non-contradiction, but rather that they regretfully misuse it, as you also pointed out in your comment as I did in my earlier comment.

RJ

Brian, I don’t want to turn this into a debate on the history of philosophy but there are some mistakes and historical inaccuracies in your post. First, there is NO type of ontological argument for God's existence in Aristotle, I think you are confusing the terms ontology with ontological argument. If there is, then please show me where it can be found? Ontos simple means "being," the Latin term is esse. Also, not all the medievals were Aristotelians, Scotus, Anselm et al. drew heavily from Augustine and the Neoplatonic tradition, even Thomas draws from this tradition every time he cites Augustine, St. Albert or Dionysius. The denial of “essence” is rooted in Nominalism which predates Bacon by centuries; the philosophers you cite have inherited this view. Bacon is often credited with being the father of empirical science; his method induction is very limited, proper credit should go to Galileo. If one wants to see the true divorce of ontology from reality, one should look to Descartes; he is the one that separates the word substance into two distinct spiritual and material components with his “thinking thing.” See Gilson’s Unity of the Philosophical Experience or The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy to get a better understanding of these points.

Dave2

Yeah, it's towards the very beginning of Aquinas's Summa that he rejects the ontological argument: "Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature — namely, by effects."

Brian Schuettler

RJ:

For the record, I know that ontology relates to the discussion or study of being. Aristotle did, in fact, develop, as you know, a sophisticated metaphysical foundation for ontology. I was merely making an association between the two (the concept of being and the ontolgical argument for God's existence.)

I have discussed nominalism in previous comments here when there was a discussion of Benedict's Regensburg lecture. I am aware of it's much earlier association with William of Ockam and Duns Scotus and, indeed it's influence on Martin Luther. I didn't imply that "all medievals" were aristotelian, nor imply there was no influence from Augustine, etc. I am a big fan of Etienne Gilson and have read his opus magnus Unity of the Philosophical Experience. Thanks, though, for the suggestion.

Brian Schuettler

Yeah, it's towards the very beginning of Aquinas's Summa that he rejects the ontological argument: "Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature — namely, by effects."

Good look up, Dave! A posteriori it is.

Cristina A. Montes

"Cristina suggests that atheism entails moral relativism, but that claim needs support (it's certainly a highly controversial claim)."

Thanks for pointing this out. When I wrote this I had in mind the atheists I know. I was also addressing what Brian said about most atheists being relativistic. But I do agree that there can be atheists who aren't morally relativistic.

"So, if there's any inconsistency in being an objectivist about science but not about morality, it needs to be shown."

Science is interested in the nature of things. Morality is interested in the "rightness" or "wrongness" of an action, which in turn depends on the nature of man. Morality can't be compared with fashion. Judgments on fashion depend on the over-all impact of a look. But moral judgments depend on principles. When you judge something to be right or wrong, you surely have a "why". You don't judge something to be right or wrong simply because it feels right or feels wrong.

Dave2

Cristina,

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to suggest that morality is like fashion. As you point out, moral evaluation involves a lot of giving reasons, backing up your judgments with principled justifications. And fashion isn't much like that at all.

I just used it as an example in making the point that one can be an objectivist about certain domains without being an objective about other domains. So that atheists who accept objective truths in (say) science but reject objective truths in morality aren't being inconsistent.

Brian John Schuettler

Jesus Christ said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"
Objective truth is not divisible, having the capacity to cut away moral truth because it is inconvenient. Atheists cannot have it both ways.

Brian John Schuettler

I think today's reading from Wisdom is very appropriate:

All men were by nature foolish who were in ignorance of God,
and who from the good things seen did not succeed in knowing him who is,
and from studying the works did not discern the artisan;
But either fire, or wind, or the swift air,
or the circuit of the stars, or the mighty water,
or the luminaries of heaven, the governors of the world, they considered gods.
Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods,
let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these;
for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
Or if they were struck by their might and energy,
let them from these things realize how much more powerful is he who made them.
For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
their original author, by analogy, is seen.
But yet, for these the blame is less;
For they indeed have gone astray perhaps,
though they seek God and wish to find him.
For they search busily among his works,
but are distracted by what they see, because the things seen are fair.
But again, not even these are pardonable.
For if they so far succeeded in knowledge
that they could speculate about the world,
how did they not more quickly find its Lord?

RJ

True, from the standpoint of Catholic ontology, truth is one by its nature and thus cannot be divisible. But, that does not mean there cannot be distinctions, since one of the rules of Catholic metaphysics is that we distinguish in order to unite as we do when discussing metaphysical concepts in relation to the Trinity or Christ.
So, when dialoging with an atheist, one should try to establish truths which are objective in the domaim being discussed be it moral, scientific or ontological then move to a discussion of the nature of truth as a whole because the question "what is truth?" is ontological in nature. St. Thomas begins his discussion on truth with these first principles "All that is, is true" and "all that is true, is good." I think one can find such an understanding in Tony Flew's recent conversion to theism as depicted in There is a God, he first started to see truth and beauty in various domains and then understand the nature of truth as whole, i.e. that is must be come from a source which is itself Truth by nature.

RJ

In Questiones disputatae de veritate, Thomas states "All that is real, is true" not "all that is, is true." My apologies! So, according to St. Thomas, to varying degrees all created things participate in truth by the fact that they are.

Brian John Schuettler

"So, when dialoging with an atheist, one should try to establish truths which are objective in the domaim being discussed be it moral, scientific or ontological then move to a discussion of the nature of truth as a whole because the question "what is truth?" is ontological in nature."

RJ, Yes, I agree with your distinctions based on participation, not division. That is an excellent point. By establishing an objective domain from which, if I may say this, flow these areas of distinction that are a source of dialogue with atheists is a very attractive approach. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Well done!

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