Herr Professor Strikes Back: atheist Deacon Duncan takes issue with my arguments
|December 18, 2008||Posted by Anthony under atheism, Blog, General, theism, theology|
I noticed the other day that someone had taken the time to respond at length to my post discussing trancendence, immanence, logic and superlogic. Then I woke up this morning to find out he had posted again on it! Herr Professor, this is just too much! Herr Professor, now going by Deacon Duncan, knows that I prefer to have extended discussions on my discussion forum but he has sufficiently stroked my ego that I think a post or two is warranted. It is not every day that I am described as smart and sophisticated and that my arguments are clever. However, since the Professor already is two posts ahead of me he will have to be patient as I catch up. Below is part one. Please read this to the very end, or not at all.
For this entry I am responding mainly to his first article, ‘Can God do Nonsense?’
From the start, I’d like to point out that H. Professor admitted one of my contentions as reasonable. I had argued that an evaluation of God’s ‘omni’ nature doesn’t require that he performs nonsensical demands, like making a rock he cannot lift. I said that even atheists can accept this, and H. Professor did.
So it makes sense that God would not be able to do things that are nonsense. The only trouble is, Christianity teaches a number of doctrines which are “non-sense” in precisely the same way as God making a stone so heavy that He Himself cannot lift it.
It was, and is, a disappointment that he here begins to list some examples that I actually raised, such as the incarnation, but does not deal at all with the fact that I raised them in light of the arguments I was making. That this was going to be the approach was clear from the beginning of the post:
It presents itself as a discussion of immanence vs. transcendence, but the bulk of the discussion focuses on the topic of understanding what God can and cannot do.
H. Professor’s failure to see how these two fundamental claims about the nature of the thing under discussion connect to the rest of the argumentation I made is the underlying mistake of both of his posts. That we are talking about an entity that is both transcendent and immanent is absolutely critical to the rest of the argumentation. In fact, H. Professor makes complaints that I already answered- but because he fails to see the relation between these attributes and the rest I said, he fails to recognize them. As a case in point, he notes that my example about Flatland fails to be analogous because it is talking about mathematics:
From his second post:
The next problem with Horvath’s argument is a category error: the relationship between 2D geometry and 3D geometry is a mathematical relationship, yet he applies it to entirely unrelated areas like “the nature of incarnation” and “the problem of free will.”… By arguing that “naturalistic” reasoning is inappropriate, he shows that his analogy is not really analogous:
The problem is that I already anticipated the limitation to the analogy, pointing out in my post:
Are the triangles and squares face to face with a logical contradiction? Not at all. Rather, the logical rules that apply to the 3D world incorporate and transcend the logical rules of the 2D world. Given the truth of Christian theism, I propose that we are in precisely the same sort of situation, with a few important differences– ie, God is not merely an entity occupying a higher degree of existence- he is that AND he essentially permeates all degrees of existence as it is.
This is the transcendence/immanence distinction writ large, but Herr Professor utterly misses it. It is clear that he utterly misses it because he fails- in both of his posts- to address the model that I explicitly set forward as being able better handle the type of relationship we’re talking about. Ie, that of an author’s relationship to the characters he creates and sustains within his mind.
The purpose of the Flatland example was not to say that this was how we relate to God, but rather to show how the rules of logic can appear to be violated in one case but when taken from a ‘higher’ plane can be perceived as nonetheless sound. I said that in Flatland, the three dimensional sphere breaks into the two dimensional space but of course the two dimensional entities nonetheless are only able to perceive the two dimensional ‘slice’ of the sphere. They will perceive that this is a contradiction of their logic. Well, technically, only the ones who hear about it later will view it as a contradiction of their logic. The ones that actually see it will simply have to come to terms with the fact that what appeared to be impossible actually happened.
However, we are not in a mathematical relation to the characters we create in our mind. If you ‘break’ into the ‘dimension’ of your imagined world, it is not the same sort of thing. The author model has the advantage, though, of considering how a transcendent and immanent entity relates to its creation, for this is in fact precisely our relation to our own imagined creatures- and thought itself. Another advantage of the author model is that one can predict that an atheist (if he decided to address it, which H. Professor did not) could object that we have no experience with this kind of relationship, ie, a transcendent and immanent entity relating to its creation, but the author model shows that in fact we do. Hence sub-logic.
Now, H. Professor’s post lays out a number of things that he declares without much support are inconsistent and illogical. For example, he is confident that the Trinity and the incarnation and free will are such examples. He says:
Such inconsistencies and contradictions are our only means of detecting falsehoods, whether they are deliberate lies, honest misperceptions, erroneous reasoning, or just plain fiction.
Now, I agree with H. Professor that identifying inconsistencies and contradictions are useful for sorting out falsehoods, but don’t agree that they are the only means. Rather than defend that, we need to address his argument that the examples he gave are ‘inconsistencies and contradictions.’
The whole point of the Flatland example was that what might seem to be inconsistent and contradictory may not in fact be so. One can imagine the 2D witnesses to the 3D sphere’s visit telling H. Professor about it and H. Professor declaring: “Inconsistent and contradictory!” And the 2D witnesses saying, “Ah, well, but there it was.”
In the first place we need to be clear about just what constitutes a contradiction. Flat out contradictions are hard to come by. “This is A” and “This is not A” is a contradiction. “This is A” and “This is B” is not necessarily a contradiction. It may be an inconsistency, but that may just be because there isn’t currently enough information to resolve it. One must be careful. For example, “This is a bird” and “This is not a bird” is a contradiction. “This is a bird” and “This is a sparrow” is not a contradiction, and if you didn’t know that sparrows are kinds of birds I suppose you would view this as an inconsistency.
The problem with our 2D Herr Professor’s declaration about the sphere is that he fails to acknowledge that the very thing under discussion is a 3D object. In evaluating the claim, one cannot continue to presume that the only dimension that exists or is logically possible is the 2D one. In order to test the claim on logical grounds for contradictions and inconsistencies, it is important to assume for the sake of discussion what kind of thing we are talking about. Ie, you ask, “Is this consistent with what a 3D object would look like if, theoretically, it did break in?” That is how you test the consistency of the claim.
Herr Professor’s approach- and in his defense, pretty much every atheist does the same thing- is to insist on applying the expectations of 2D math and logic to the claim without taking into consideration that nature of the thing allegedly ‘breaking in.’ This results in circular reasoning- a logical fallacy (since we apparently care about logic), for obviously if you insist on interpreting all data naturalistically (as 2 dimensional) then you will always conclude that what you perceived has a naturalistic explanation.
Now, I said that the transcendent/immanent relationship has interesting epistemological implications, and atheists fail to take them into account. I can’t go into it here. Get a taste by reading this and this.
The important thing for now is that we recognize that our chief obligation is to the facts of our existence, and sometimes reality appears inconsistent and contradictory- and yet there it is. What does one do in this situation? Do you throw out your data? The point being is that you must deal with your data and if you are reasonably confident that your data is legitimate it does not cease to be so just because you perceive it to be ‘inconsistent’ or contradictory.
I say all this because it is absolutely wrong headed to apply Herr Professor’s technique and attitude to supernatural claims and deeply ironic. Herr Professor, like so many other atheists, deeply imbibes on scientism. But science itself- meaning, the natural framework alone- provides us with contradictory notions, and yet the data compels us to consider them. And that’s just within our natural framework! Never mind revelatory claims! Nature itself confounds us.
For example, Herr Duncan wants to insist that the incarnation is a logical contradiction. It just isn’t possible, logically, he says, and as such we know that the claim that it actually happened is false. I would like to ask the good professor whether light is a wave or a particle, then. Which is it, Herr Professor? The idea that light could be both a wave and a particle is as ‘contradictory’ as the notion that a person could be God and man- yet the data compels us to attribute both wave and particulate attributes to light. Do we throw up our hands and dismiss the data? Or do we come to terms with it? Did scientists say it was logically inconsistent so we won’t believe our eyes? No. But this is what atheists demand we do in regards to the incarnation.
I contend that there is nothing in theology as crazy as the alleged nature of light and nonlocality and quantum physics in general. I highly doubt that Herr Professor has thought to throw out these concepts, and the data, just because it doesn’t comport with his expectations of reality. When the very issue is precisely what your expectations ought to be, that is exactly what you can’t do. This, then, is atheism’s second major fault: it holds to ‘religious’ claims standards it does not hold to other claims.
The key, here, is your data. What does your data say? It is no good tossing it out just because you can’t fathom how the implications work out. You can’t reject the historical evidence for the incarnation and the resurrection because you think the implications are absurd. If there is reason to think the evidence is good you just have to come to grips with reality as it presents itself. If you think the evidence isn’t good, fine. I’m just saying you can’t toss it based on false expectations of reality.
And when you do so, you cannot measure the implications based on the view that your understanding of reality is already complete. On this basis, the 2D entities could never learn about 3D objects at all, and characters could never discover anything of consequence about the Author, even if He chooses to reveal it.
I cannot say when I’ll get to a Part 2, but I should like to try, as Herr Professor’s second post raises other issues that require response.