Friday, December 5, 2008

Reaction #2: The Templeton Big Q--Does Science Make God Obsolete?

A brief recap of Reaction #1:

I observed that in the Templeton Big Question, Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete? that no one--none of the featured contributers nor anyone who commented on the contributions--offered an explicit rationale for the opinion that science cannot supersede religion. So I did in a comment on 9/19: "If faith provides a framework for answering existential questions and science cannot, then science cannot supersede religion." I then offered the Shema, The Eightfold Path, and the Great Commandments as evidence that it is of the essence of religion to provide existential guidance and threw out the naturalistic fallacy as a reason to think that science cannot.

Responding to my argument John Cozijn conceded that values and ethics do not arise from science, and then went on to ask, "But what makes anyone think that religion has anything to contribute?" and then claim: "The entire history of the Church would seem [to be] eloquent testimony that religion provides no special insight..." As you will read, I jumped on that claim and challenged Mr. Cozijn.

Before reading my challenge and Mr. Cozijn's response, it will be instructive to know that there is a 2,000 character limit to comments at the Templeton site, making any detailed argumentation next to impossible. In fact, the contributors were also given scant space for their opinions. So the entire Templeton project could be viewed as little more than--as noted in the first reaction--a pastiche of opinions--albeit notable ones. And that alone has value.

RE: Whole Series
Tracy Witham
John Cozijn's (09/19) words show that he feels free to demean and insult people he doesn't understand. The pity is that he asked a good question: "What makes anyone think that religion has anything to offer?" It deserves a good response. But he quickly--between insults--asserts that "The entire history of the Church would seem eloquent testimony that religion provides no special insight into moral problems or any other dilemmas." That's a big claim. Then he must have really done his homework!

Since I have great respect for Paul Tillich's theology, perhaps he will disabuse me of the view that Tillich's use of ultimate concern and false ultimacy successfully re-interprets religious faith for educated, intelligent people, and that it offers the key to solving humanity's central moral dilemma. Or perhaps, since I originally brought up the problem of existential crisis, he would rather explain why existential estrangement isn't a good modern re-interpretation of the concept of sin, one that both secular and religious persons can learn from and respect. Perhaps he spent more time in philosophy. How about a critique of Kant's assertion that the only unqualified good is a good will and its relationship to the central theme of his Religion Within the Bounds of Reason Alone--followed, of course, by an explanation of why Kant or any neo-Kantian religious thinker is such a rube that she or he deserves only ridicule?

So, can Mr. Conijn give us an expert abstract of any of these concepts and explain why they deserve his mocking? His big claim implies that he can. My suspicion is that his "argument" has much in common with the straw man it attacks.

RE: Whole Series
John Cozijn
Tracy Witham upbraids me for insulting people "I don't understand" and insinuates I haven't done my "homework," etc. Well, let us not waste time feigning outrage at the polemical tactics of those with whom we disagree lest we be accused of that worst of New Testament sins: hypocrisy. My starting point, as per my first post in this thread, is that the God discussed here has virtually nothing in common with the religious beliefs and practices of actual believers, including "educated, intelligent people." To take Tillich as an example, his entire "method of correlation" requires the acceptance of Christian revelation as a fact. To quote: "The Christian message provides the answers to the questions implied in human existence. These answers are contained in the revelatory events on which Christianity is based ..."

However, the historicity of these "events" is itself entirely based on the implausible and contradictory narratives contained in the extended press release we now call the New Testament (and its rather troubled relationship to a diverse set of ancient Jewish texts we know as the Old Testament). Now if the test of historicity fails, so does Tillich's entire project. This is an empirical question, and it seems to me that in these "highbrow" discussions people go to great lengths to disguise their necessary adherence to dogmas of talking snakes, virgin births, assorted miracles, bodily resurrections, and other Iron Age nonsense. Instead we are treated to meaningless abstractions such as "God is Love" or vacuous philosophising that purposefully disguises its preposterous premises. I actually have no problem with Deism (since it implies no empirical claims at all), but I do object to this kind of high-minded theism which deliberately obscures its relationship to the myths fervently held by the real people--educated or not--who populate the pews and prayer mats of this muddled world.

Note: My response to Mr. Cozijn was not posted in the Templeton comments. I have a couple of hunches why that I will offer in the next post, along with a response to Mr. Cozijn.

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