Saturday, November 03, 2007

start by accepting the truth

As is often the case, the barmaid nails it:
"How would you define theology?"
"You start by accepting the truth of several propositions: there is a loving Creator God, for example, who has communicated with us via perfect and immutable holy scripture. Then you try to figure out ways to defend those propositions from accusations of implausibility, and iron out any inherent contradictions."
That's it. That's precisely it.

That's why all the people who hector Dawkins, and to a lesser degree Hitchens and Dennet and Stenger and Harris, for not addressing arcane theological points don't get it. Those points have nothing to do with the inherent truth of the propositions. They are post hoc attempts to justify an already assumed truth. They examine nothing, they prove nothing, they only shore up (so to speak) a building with no foundations.

Theology doesn't start by asking "Is there God?" It starts by saying "There is God." It's begging the question in both senses of the phrase - it assumes the truth of the underlying proposition, and it cries out for a response of "Yes, but what if there isn't?" (Or, "how do you know, huh?")

Not that it will - or can - answer, beyond "There just is, take my word for it. I just know."

And that's why it's pretty words and pictures - or sound and fury - but always, always, signifying nothing.

Those who want to examine that central proposition don't need to read their Aquinas (or whoever). Aquinas (and the rest) aren't looking at that proposition at all; they're building on it.

If it's not true to begin with, it doesn't matter what airy structures you build on the assumption that it is: they aren't true either. Logic and systems of thought are marvelous that way. If you accept the axiom, you can go anywhere. ("If Batman could fly -" "But he can't." "Yeah, but if he could..." "Well, sure; if he could...")

But accepting the axiom isn't proving it. It's just starting by accepting an unproven statement.

There's an old saying: Begin as you mean to go on.

Some people begin with blind acceptance. Others - don't.



At 11:00 PM, November 03, 2007 Blogger John Evo-Mid had this to say...

Very good, clearly thought out post. It always amuses me when I hear that particular criticism of Dawkins. Like he must have deeply absorded the intracacies of "your" religion in order to criticize religion as being empty.

At 4:59 PM, November 11, 2007 Anonymous Deep Thought had this to say...

Unfortunately, all this post does is point out ignorance of how theology really works. St. Thomas Aquinas and other systematic theologians, for example, are well-known because their work is based upon the premise "does an objective morality exist?" (as one example) and then proceeds to use logic to determine the answer WITHOUT appeals to authority. Your statement is akin to claiming that evolutionary biology is tautological because it assumes evolution to be true!

You are refuting a strawman, not actual theology. I suggest you pick up Aquinas' "Shorter Summa" and start reading. If nothing else, you'll find out if you need to re-read Aristotle and Socrates.

At 6:29 PM, November 11, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

I have read Aquinas. Like you, he begins with the assumption that God exists. The Quinquae viae are ways to justify belief, not prove it.

But then, your blog asserts "I have all the answers, even if I don't understand the questions." That's exactly the attitude I'm talking about: beginning from the answer and reasoning (so to speak) to support it.

At 3:31 AM, November 12, 2007 Anonymous Deep Thought had this to say...

Poor ridger: even if you don't recognize the name and the tagline from the Hitchhikers Guide books, my "why Deep Thought?" page explains why its a joke.

And I find it interesting that you claim to have read the quinquae viae and yet not remember that the section containing it begins "It is stated that God does not exist...". Objecting that Aquinas believed in the existence of God before developing logical proofs is, again, akin to claiming that certain aspects of biology are irrational because the scientist believed evolution to be true first. That isn't how logic works.

Since Aquinas was attempting to respond to people who do not believe in God, his logical proofs are just that - the use of classical logic, not tautologies or handwaving, despite your rhetoric. That is why Aquinas is still studied as a philosopher today and held up as an exemplar by many secular philosophers - his avoidance of the very tactics you wish to claim he (and others) used and, instead, his use of classical logic. Heck, *Ayn Rand* called him the second or third greatest philosopher of all time! She was hardly one to spread praise for the sorts of shenanigans you impute to him.

At 4:31 PM, November 12, 2007 Blogger Adam H had this to say...

to be honest, this definition of theology sounds much more like a definition of apologetics.


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