Sunday, December 7, 2008

Reaction #3: Does Science Make God Obsolete?

If the Templeton Foundation's Big Question, Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?, was intended as a kinder and gentler approach to Nietzsche's claim that "God is dead," then I suppose that after John Cozijn ratcheted up the rhetoric beyond genteel constraints and I stepped into the fray to challenge him, that the expected response of the Foundation would be to end our participation in the exchange on its forum. I have no complaint about that, though it must then be called a mistake to have allowed Mr. Cozijn to use such rash language to dismiss his rhetorical foils to begin with. By ending the exchange before a response was made to Mr. Cozijn's comments (see the previous post) the Foundation has allowed a false and irresponsible position to stand unchallenged. I am certain that that does not square with their goals in hosting such a forum.

In following posts I will consider, from a wider perspective, the wisdom of engaging in this exchange in the first place. And I will also respond to the purely rhetorical points Mr. Cozijn made. But my response to the substance of his comments follows, as that is basic to understanding the rest.

Response to the substance of Mr. Cozijn's comments from his 09/21/08 response to my challenge of 09/19/08:

Mr. Cozijn writes,

"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...'"

I respond that Mr. Cozijn clearly thinks that Tillich correlated the supposed historical facts of Christian Scripture with "the answers to questions implied in human existence." In making this claim he is trying to accomplish two things. First, to reconnect the exchange to his starting point, and second, to take up my challenge (09/19/08) to give an expert abstract of a central position of Tillich's or Kant's, "and explain why they deserve his mocking."

But Tillich did not correlate supposed historical events with existential questions. In fact, he denied the possibility of doing so:

"The truth of faith cannot be made dependent on the historical truth of the which faith has expressed itself. It is a disastrous distortion of the meaning of faith to identify it with...belief in the historical validity of the Biblical stories." (Dynamics of Faith, p. 87)

How, then, do the stories impact Christian belief?

"All [historical] questions must be decided, in terms of more or less probability, by historical research. They are questions of historical truth, not of the truth of faith. Faith can say that something of ultimate concern has happened in history because the question of the ultimate in being and meaning is involved." (p. 88)

What, then, are the actual correlates of Tillich's theology? He "makes the correlation of existence and the Christ [his theology's] central theme." (Systematic Theology, Vol I, p. 19) It is, then, the symbol of the Christ and its relation to human existence that must be understood to represent the gist of Tillich's theology.

Mr. Cozijn did not only miss-state the correlates that he ventured to explain, he got them backwards, as the remainder of his comments--as they relate to Tillich--confirm. In fact, it would be nearly impossible to venture a coherent point of view about Tillich's theology and state it more incorrectly.

I admit to having set a trap for Mr. Cozijn, knowing that if he took up my challenge, it would be very unlikely that he would succeed in making an "expert abstract" of one of Tillich's (or Kant's) views, let alone critiquing it successfully. My "gotcha" approach may not have been nice, but it could not have been more successful in eliciting the truth of my complaint: Mr. Cozijn clearly "feels free to demean...people he does not understand."

Enough said on this aspect of his response!

What about his objection 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...of this muddled world"?

Again, he could not have got "this kind of high-minded theism" more wrong: For Tillich, "Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned: the dynamics of faith are the dynamics of man's ultimate concern." (Dynamics of Faith, p. 1--opening statement.) It is almost painful to note that the entire project of Tillich's theology is the opposite of what Cozijn claims: to "deliberately make plain" the relationship of the biblical stories to the beliefs "fervently held by the real people--educated or not--who populate the pews..."

Finally, in response to Mr. Cozijn's complaint that I "upbraid" him for insulting people, I simply ask, how can I depict his wildly irresponsible remarks in a positive light? Should his extraordinarily inaccurate remarks have been allowed to stand unchallenged? One would think not!

Yet, I take the question seriously, and will address it in the next post. Was the Templeton Foundation right to post his derogatory comments based on a prejudice never backed up by serious inquiry, and then not to post my response? There are two practical problems with their allowing a response, which makes it defensible for them not to have done so. And so this deserves further exploration.

But as an outgoing comment, I would like to note that Mr. Cozijn is a formidable polemicist, and if only he knew what he was talking about, I'm quite sure he would make a good conversation partner for a person seriously looking for the truth about the ideas on which we disagree. Alas!

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