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Author Discussion: John Wilkinson and “No Argument For God”

Posted on May 25, 2011 by Tom Gilson

nafg.jpgWe’re ready to begin the discussion with John Wilkinson, author of No Argument for God: Going Beyond Reason in Conversations About Faith, that we’ve been preparing for. I wrote a review on the book a couple months ago, which I encourage you to read as you begin. The next word is John’s, and this is what he says to get us started:

A few years ago we had a series of atheists (which have come to be known as the New Atheists) that garnered a lot of media attention (and book sales) proclaiming that God is a delusion or that He is not good. The conventional wisdom that faith is a benign activity was being questioned with help from extreme religious groups both inside and outside Christianity. At the core of this movement was the very modernistic view that faith is not scientific and therefore absurd.

Despite the fact that Christians are beholden to the (by some accounts) now defunct era of postmodernity, defenders of the faith rolled out the big guns and began a volley of rationally-based counter-arguments. What this served to accomplish, however, was to engage the ‘us versus them’ mentality and saw a lot of un-Christianlike discourse in blogs, in print and in person.

And so bystanders watched all of this and shook their heads in dismay . . . “religion always divides” became the summary statement.

This is why I wrote a book called “No Argument for God” which is a novel way of engaging skeptics and atheists from the other side of reason (think Kant). I start off agreeing with those that would argue that faith is nonsense. Yes, creation from nothing, the presence of evil, a worldwide salvation plan that targets a small Bedouin tribe and a virgin teenager as well as someone being fully God and fully human are all outside reason. So yes, we have a faith that is not rational – but when did it ever claim to be?

If you look at the Old Testament you cannot help but notice that God purposefully thwarts the ‘wisdom’ of man. In the New Testament you have the same idea – God doesn’t just operate by nature outside the realm of reason, but by choice. The apparent purpose is so that God can hide these things from the wise and the learned. Which got me thinking . . . Why are we trying to make it ‘make sense?’

And on that note – what is reason other than a gift that God has given us to draw conclusions about the way things function based on passive observation? We get this strange notion that reason is embedded in the universe somewhere – that math or physics or astral behavior is encoded with reason and we are ‘discovering’ it. This is not true. We observe the way things act and then we assign arbitrary values on it so that we can draw conclusions or make predictions. We have invented a numbering system based on 10 digits because we have 10 fingers. Seconds come from the span of a heartbeat, liters from a wine bottle and so on. We have projected ourselves onto the universe around us and developed science by human-centered power of reason. And if reason is solely fed by the senses, then reason is a very limited power that cannot possibly answer the deepest questions of our hearts. Whereas science may tell us ‘what’ is out there, it cannot tell us ‘why’ it is there.

So when I say that there is No Argument for God, I am saying:

1. Arguments get us nowhere. It would be nice to imagine that people would be argued into a particular point, but currently, it is verbal trench warfare.

2. Arguments are rooted in the appearance of things – all reason is mediated by the senses and because we know that realism is naïve, we have to arrive at the conclusion that reason is limited, anthrocentric and pragmatic.

3. By agreeing with skeptics that faith is irrational, we are stepping in unison with Paul, essentially saying, “yes, it is crazy, now let me tell you what happened.”

Now of course this doens’t mean we throw reason out the window. What I just mentioned is reasoned – you can’t reason the end of reason. Reason has its place, but it is not the only place in knowing what is true. As a deconstructionist, I want to dismantle the façade of reason as the sole arbiter of truth. In order to do this, I must employ reason. Of course God has his own course of reason – outside the human-centered version. As such there is theological reason and there is scientific reason. My book seeks to dismantle the idea that human-centered reason is the final word on what is and what is not true.

Please read the first comment regarding ground rules before you enter into the discussion.

49 Responses to “ Author Discussion: John Wilkinson and “No Argument For God” ”

  1. Tom Gilson says:

    Discussion Ground Rules:
    By mutual agreement between John and me, this discussion is subject to a special set of ground rules. John quite reasonably wants this to be a discussion of the book, which mean a discussion among people who have read it—though he agreed to my request to relax that standard slightly. We agreed on the following:

    1. You’re warmly invited to participate if you’ve read the book.
    2. Update: After 24-48 hours of conversation between those who’ve read the book, those Those who haven’t read it may now join in, provided that your comment relates directly and specifically to something in the preceding discussion. I’ll post a comment to let you know when it’s time.
    3. This discussion will not be about whether Christianity is true, but about how we know it to be true and especially about how we communicate its content and its truth.

    I’ll delete comments without warning if they don’t meet these ground rules. I reserve the right to exercise my own judgment on this. John also has the right to signal me when he believes any comment is failing to meet the standard, and I’ll enforce accordingly.

    Thank you for cooperating.

  2. Doug says:

    Since I’ve only finished three chapters, I’ll only make three comments. :-)

    The notion that math is encoded with reason and that we are ‘discovering’ it is not at all “strange”. In fact, philosophers of mathematics tend to be Platonists.

    (From the book), the idea that “they aren’t any different because of it” (p. 26) needs a bit of a reality check.

    Finally, the conflation of time itself with a convenient measure of time, and of numbers themselves with a convenient expression of numbers is quite sloppy. The premise of the book would be easier to buy into if it didn’t depend on errors such as these…

  3. Doug says:

    I guess my biggest beef with the book so far is that each “this-or-that-aspect-of-the-Christian-experience-is-illogical” proposition is established on the basis of a suspect “frame.” Why should we be surprised that a non-religious individual should identify (any) religious thinking as unreasonable?
    – They have adopted a “frame” that excludes religious activity.
    – The same frame has certain parochial notions of “reason”.
    But there is no compelling reason to grant their frame privileged status.

  4. Hi Doug –

    Thanks for reading through the book – I am glad that it has given you some good rebuttals so far. Here is my reaction to some of your observations . . .
    1. I guess you and I will have to disagree with what is strange. I disagree with the Platonists that there is a world of numbers that exists outside of this one. I think Plato was wrong to accept ideas from the Pythagoreans that the world of ‘eidos’ includes mathematical values. I am probably more in the camp of Mill than Godel, Husserl and Kant on this one. Numbers are things we come to assign a meaning to, I don’t believe that they exist in a parallel universe. I think that is weird. But we can disagree on that.
    2. Actually, there is not a whole lot of difference at all. Studies continue to show that the behavioral gap between people who call themselves Christians and those who don’t is nominal. See: http://www.christianpost.com/news/study-american-christian-lifestyles-not-much-different-25642/
    3. Doug, what is sloppy about my comments concerning time? Time is a anthrocentric phenomenon. Don’t conflate process, growth, change or progress with the passage of time. One is authentic, the other is superficial. If there were no death, there would be no value to time . . . other than to chart progress or process. The measure of time, like math and science is a manufactured idea.

    I suspect that we are saying the same thing with the exception of the generous amount of reverence you give the human capacity to reason. Yes, it is a God-given gift. Reason, however, is not the sole arbiter of what is true and what is not – that comes from outside of reason. We cannot be so beholden to reason that we miss that.

    Thank you again for your comments/thoughts.
    -John

  5. Tom Gilson says:

    John,

    Christians are different from non-Christians, generally speaking, and have been throughout history. I suggest you take a look at some of Rodney Stark’s work, and also the book Doug suggested. You’re just historically and sociologically not in line with the truth on this.

    Here’s a short overview for you: http://www.thinkingchristian.net/spirituality-and-life-outcomes/. See especially the first link there.

  6. Tom Gilson says:

    We’re opening up comments to all readers now. Just realize that it’s hard to criticize a book you haven’t read!

  7. BillT says:

    ”Arguments get us nowhere. It would be nice to imagine that people would be argued into a particular point…”

    “By agreeing with skeptics that faith is irrational, we are stepping in unison with Paul, essentially saying, “yes, it is crazy, now let me tell you what happened.”

    I believe the first point above sets up a false dichotomy. Good apologetic reasoning doesn’t try arguing people into a particular point. Apologetic reasoning compares and contrasts one faith position (i.e., secularism) to the Christian faith position. It helps people understand that secularism is not only internally inconsistent but probably doesn’t even account for their own personal beliefs. In contrast, a good apologetic “argument” explains how Christian thought is internally consistent and supports many commonly held beliefs like the existence of morality.

    Similarly the second point seems to only tell half the story. To only call Christian faith “irrational”, as “true” as that might be, is to fail to call into question the true irrationality of secular beliefs. After all everyone has beliefs. Exposing secular presuppositions with reasoning can lead someone to question their own assumptions. It’s an important first step towards the truth. N.B.: As someone who hasn’t read the book, I am relying on the content of the original post. My apologies if you covered the points I have made in your text.

  8. Crude says:

    John,

    Actually, there is not a whole lot of difference at all. Studies continue to show that the behavioral gap between people who call themselves Christians and those who don’t is nominal.

    I read the link. However, that article did not contrast Christians with non-Christians. They contrasted born-again Christians with non-Born-Again Christians. In America.

    Perhaps there are details I am missing, but for now I just am confused at what you meant by this article.

  9. Doug says:

    Hi John,

    The God that I worship is the source and the standard of all reason. Any human reason is a gift to those made Imago Dei that enables a glimpse of Him. Any reverence you might detect is not toward the creation, but toward the Creator.

    And most Philosophers of Mathematics would claim that the reason you tend not to be a Platonist is that you haven’t invested in a true understanding of mathematics (in which environment Platonism is really, truly, very difficult to dismiss at all, let alone call “weird” ).

    Math is emphatically not a “manufactured idea.” Nor is time. Science, I’ll grant you — but only due to a relatively modern evolution of the meaning of the word!

  10. Doug says:

    Through chapter five, and I’m struck by John’s insistence on giving a sensory basis for reason. A sense-derived “reason” is due to a failed anthropology. Sure, it might be trendy in some circles, but sense is almost certainly insufficient to account for reason (if it were, why do humans appear to exercise a reasoning qualitatively different from animals?)

    Reason is rather more than that, folks.

    Is it able to account for itself? Well, no. Is John’s argument from the birds sound? Well, yes. (Colin McGinn, for example, uses the same logic, which is entirely legitimate) But a whole lot of over-claiming is going on — both in the holes dug for Christianity and for reason.

  11. Reidish says:

    I’ve read only the Amazon “Look Inside” portions of the book, so I hope I am not doing injustice to John’s thesis. But honestly it seems to me that what I’ll call John’s “due diligence” supports his being an atheist over any type of theist. He would have us believe that a God who is supposedly the ontological grounding of rationality expects His creatures to believe in Him when they truly consider such belief “nonsense”, “absurd”, and “irrational”. I don’t think that’s a misrepresentation of John’s view.

    John, regarding the 3 points in your comment #4:

    Point 1. You wrote:

    Numbers are things we come to assign a meaning to, I don’t believe that they exist in a parallel universe. I think that is weird. But we can disagree on that.

    Although humans may assign meaning to numbers, that is insufficient to establish the fact that they are merely human creations. To do that you would have to show that they could not exist without humans, which seems like a very tall order. Suppose 10 million years ago there were no humans, and two slugs happened to be sitting on a rock. Was it true that the number of slugs on the rock was 2? How is that fact dependent on the existence of humans?

    Point 2. No comment.

    Point 3. You wrote:

    Doug, what is sloppy about my comments concerning time? Time is a anthrocentric phenomenon.

    Could you expand on this more? This seems obviously false, so I’m hoping I’m misunderstanding you. Surely time passed before humans existed, right?

    I hesitate to push this much further. However, I find it supremely ironic that you made a book-length effort to argue (ie, rationally defend) a thesis that a certain belief should be held even though it is fundamentally irrational. Really it is more than ironic, in fact it is a defeater for your very thesis. Why argue for something you believe is irrational? This is, necessarily, an impossible task.

    Finally, what makes this irrational belief something worth believing over other irrational beliefs?

  12. Melissa says:

    Hi John,

    If you look at the Old Testament you cannot help but notice that God purposefully thwarts the ‘wisdom’ of man. In the New Testament you have the same idea – God doesn’t just operate by nature outside the realm of reason, but by choice. The apparent purpose is so that God can hide these things from the wise and the learned.

    God does thwart the “wisdom” of man, but it doesn’t follow that God operates outside the realm of reason. Paul is very big on the idea of the foolishness of the cross but that is not because it is irrational but because it turns the world’s systems upside down. Worldly power is in the hands of the strong but the cross teaches a different message. He’s not preaching against reason but the “wisdom” that is built on a misplaced trust in ourselves.

    Your position seems to be reliant on accepting pragmatism. I wonder, do you think that accurately reflects the whole bible and the outlook of the writers.

  13. Melissa says:

    Hi again,

    Rereading my last comment I realise it may give the impression that you don’t take the bible seriously. That would be false impression for people to have of you and I apologise. I definitely agree with you on the need to look at the experience of the people of God to learn and then to apply that knowledge in living it out. It is in our experience of God that we “know” God is real. The fact that it is a framework that I can live faithfully within is a major factor in accepting Christianity as the truth.

    My concern is that you gave up something of value to get there, that even if it is not a problem for you, may prove to be a stumbling block to others that read your book.

    You write early in your book of two things:

    Real is what you can see and test and verify. Real is the here and now and observable.
    The idea that you had “nailed down” your faith.

    You rightly concluded both of those were false but I just don’t understand why you felt the need to draw the conclusions you do about logic and reason. The first statement while being a popular position of the new atheists does not stand up to scrutiny anyway. The second is obviously false if God is God.

    You described reason as requiring proof before acceptance. Outside of mathematics nothing is provable. A philosophical or scientific “proof” is dependent on the truth of the premises which are never 100% certain. So why characterise faith as an alternative way of knowing? Why not faith as trust? We can trust in God because our reason tells us that God as revealed in the bible is trustworthy. Even if we don’t know everything about God that we wish we knew, we know enough to trust Him.

  14. Doug says:

    One of the challenges in a discussion like this is that the words we use have multiple senses. For example, according to WordNet, the word “reason” has six distinct usages.

    For our purposes, let me call out three (with an analogy to morality).

    Reason “R1″: the Reason that exists in the universe. Classically, this is God’s Reason or “Wisdom”. [This corresponds to the Morality "M1" that exists as universals, and derives (much as some folks would like to deny it) only from God.] Flawless.

    Reason “R2″: the Reason(s) that exists in the human world. Mankind can hold to numerous models of Reason, some of which are more faithful projections of R1 than others. [Similarly, there is a Morality "M2" which can refer to those Moralities that individuals hold.] All have flaws, but most “sounds good”.

    Reason “R3″: the Reason(s) of pragmatism. Without regard for R2, this Reason represents how Reason actually plays out in human thoughts and actions. [Similarly, there is a Morality "M3" which is often quite different from the M2 that an individual holds.] Flawed and inconsistent, and most “smell funny”.

    When, for example, Kepler and Einstein (in echo) talk about “thinking God’s thoughts after him”, they are talking about aligning their own R2 with R1 (which is taken by them to be prerequisite for R2 in the first place). John, on the other hand, seems so committed to R3, it is as if he is denying R1 altogether. New atheists, with considerable irony, appear unable to distinguish between R2 and R3, and set their R2 up as if it were R1.

  15. @Tom – I will look into your link . . . but generally, I think the sociology agrees that the majority of people who call themselves Christian are not much different than those that don’t.

    @Bill – Hi Bill, thanks for your response. I think I understand what you are saying but I would also say that you have a very specific definition of what good apologetic reasoning is. The majority of blogs on the internet that claim to be apologetic in nature wind up forums for Christians to dispute with each other. This is annoying. It would be nice if there were forums that were more skeptic-friendly. Who knows? Maybe you will start one?
    Perhaps you don’t mean to use the word secularism? Do you mean thoughts that are humanistic?
    I would say grab the book and you will see that you and I are on the same point regarding argument.

    @Crude – Good point, you are right in your observation. Where did you get a screen name like ‘crude?’ You seem like a perfect gentleman.
    My point in the reference was to say that the behaviors of Christians and non-Christians are very minimal.

    @Doug –
    Thanks for your response – and thanks for the good natured exchange of ideas – This serves to only make us sharper!
    • I think you may have tied yourself to a very narrow understanding of Imago – the introduction of reason may be one of the ideas of what the image of god means, but a less anachronistic reading of ‘tselem’ is to link it to the ANET understanding of ‘tsalmu’ or ‘idol’ – meaning that God was making a ‘mini me.’ The ancient understanding of this relationship was physical, not intellectual. The problem with linking imago dei with reason is that you are arguing for a very recent authorship of the texts of Genesis (in the Hellenistic period, which I don’t think you want to do). You are also linking it to paganism with ideas like ‘source’ and ‘standard’ of reason.
    • I am pleased to call Platonism weird. Plato held strange beliefs about numerology, physics and math. I hope that you are not a Platonist – otherwise you believe (among other things) that humans were once created hermaphroditic, homosexuality is normal and there is another dimension of forms that we wish we could see. I’ll say it again – Platonism is for weirdos. Now seriously, the mathematical sides of it – I understand what you are saying, but I jump ship when we argue for the divinity of math (and that is Platonism).
    • I can demonstrate that math is manufactured – it comes from the human mind’s interaction with the physical universe. There is no revelation of math from the math god – we invented it (well, the Arabs and Greeks did). It understands relationships between value – that is manufactured. Can you show me how it is not manufactured?
    • I do think that all reason is tied to evidence. Reason is built on the senses – that which we see gives us data from which we can make judgments about the world around us. Most epistemologists would start with that as chapter one. Even rationalists give analogies to the physical world. Can you prove anything to me by not using the senses? Try that as an experiment. In your next reply – show me some demonstrable proof of something that is not verified by the senses.
    • I am not sure what you mean by a failed anthropology . . . and humans exhibit different reasoning capabilities because of the size of our brains, not the input of the senses. When you say that reason is more than grounded in the senses, what evidence do you have for that statement? Be careful, your proof will only exercise my point!

    @Reidish –
    Thanks Reidish – Appreciate your comments!
    I would encourage you to read more than the “Look Inside” portion before you think that it leads to me being an atheist. Not sure what you are saying about ontology and its relation to reason. Maybe some more there?
    1. You are right to distinguish the difference between assigning value to numbers and the value itself. There is a ‘force’ of relationship between numbers and physics and such that we arbitrarily assign the symbol of a digit or formula and so on. So yes, you are right that the number of slugs on a rock is two 10 million years ago. The purpose of my statement, however, is that this idea of ‘value’ is not a priori – it is derived from a need to contrast, compare, evaluate etc. These are human activities that press us to create systems of math or physics. By understanding the undercurrent of relationships between ideas and objects, we are able to better understand and manipulate them. But make no mistake – that need or drive is human-centered.
    2. No comment on your no comment.
    3. What is time? There is a difference between change or progress and the human concept of ‘time.’ In the same way that I measure by the foot and my friends in Germany measure by the meter, there is such a thing as distance but it is irrelevant in the expanse of the infinite. If you and I had to walk an infinite line and I try to add up the miles and you try to add up the kilometers – we won’t get very far before we realize that measurement has no value. Measurement only has value when there is a limit. IN the same way, time is only relevant with a limit. If I had to wash a floor for 30 years, you would say that is horrible because it accounts for almost half a lifetime. If there were no such limit, the task is valueless. Time’s purpose is for our activity this side of redemption. One day we will rejoin God in the eternal now.
    4. Your last remark is a great one – what makes this irrational belief worth believing? This is the best question of the batch. The incarnation simultaneously elevates the work of God while at the same time making it no different than anything else (nothing else compelling that makes it stick above other religious claims on this side of redemption). I think the fact that the claims of scripture not above reason jibe nicely with the rest of theology – having no form or appearance that would compel our belief.

    @Melisssa –
    Thanks for the response. The only thing I would say is that maybe you are reading your ideas of wisdom into the text rather than an approach more sensitive to the time and place of the scriptures. When Paul argues against sophos or wisdom of the Hellenized world, he is taking a swipe at the Hellenistic (and ultimately Heraclitian) concept of deistic reason. He rejects reason as a religious concept – reason is a human-centered phenomenon that God routinely purposefully thwarts (Paul even quotes from Isaiah 29 in this instance).
    Do you mean pragmatism like William James? Not sure what you mean.
    I am not sure what you mean in the last part – here is what I mean to say in all of it (if you read the book, you will see this too):
    Science demands proof before acceptance
    Faith demands acceptance before proof
    When we put our trust in Christ first, the ‘reasons’ become evident for why we did. Does that help?

    @Doug –
    Doug, thanks for trying to make things easier to follow. I think, however, you are making them more confusing with your many definitions of reason.
    1. Your first definition is what you are trying to prove – that there is a reason that exists outside of mankind in the universe somewhere. So I don’t think that it is a good definition to start with. There are many who wouldn’t agree with this idea that reason is ‘out there.’
    2. Reason that exists in the human world – similarly, this is what I am saying that reason is . . . so let’s not start with that.
    3. Pragmatic reason? Perhaps you mean the evidence of reasonable thoughts? Isn’t that the opposite of what you were saying earlier?
    I think the definition of reason that we can all agree on is the process by which we are able to either inductively or deductively understand the world and make judgments. Simply, reason is the way in which we build thoughts.
    Now I would argue that there are many things that lead to human reason (language, perception, the ability to think critically) that influence human reason and ultimately make it incomplete.
    It seems from the scriptures that God employs a process by which he observes and understands mankind and prompts his actions in a response of grace. Similarly, humans are able to perceive their relationship with God and make judgments and formulate actions based on this input.

  16. Crude says:

    John,

    Good point, you are right in your observation. Where did you get a screen name like ‘crude?’ You seem like a perfect gentleman.

    Far from it, really. I live up to the name.

    My point in the reference was to say that the behaviors of Christians and non-Christians are very minimal.

    Well, Tom’s already pointed out some evidence to the contrary there, so I’ll leave that to him. I just questioned the link.

    Science demands proof before acceptance
    Faith demands acceptance before proof

    That seems downright confused, if by “proof” you mean, say… “Evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement.”

    Paul himself offered up evidence of the resurrection and of the truth of Christianity. Now, you may argue that any evidence Paul could have provided was inconclusive – he could in theory be wrong – but the same would apply to science, which itself does not deal in certainty.

    The problem with linking imago dei with reason is that you are arguing for a very recent authorship of the texts of Genesis (in the Hellenistic period, which I don’t think you want to do).

    That doesn’t follow, even if it were argued that at the time the likeness was popularly seen or depicted as physical. See the Sistine Chapel – that includes downright physical depictions, but depictions are distinct from the orthodox idea. And even if many people somehow thought of God as ‘some human with a beard’, that wouldn’t reflect what the artist or the one who hired him in terms of their thought.

    You are also linking it to paganism with ideas like ‘source’ and ‘standard’ of reason.

    With paganism, or with thoughts and arguments pagans had? What’s wrong with the latter? Paul was willing to do as much when appropriate.

    I am pleased to call Platonism weird. Plato held strange beliefs about numerology, physics and math.

    It seems to me you’re trying to call Platonism irrational without actually using the word. And I’m also willing to bet that this is not what was meant by ‘Platonism’ in this context – you seem to get that, but then why go off on hermaphroditic humans?

    Also, a few questions if you don’t mind.

    Are you a materialist with regards to the human mind?

    Do you believe the universe itself is irrational?

    Do you believe that God is irrational?

  17. Melissa says:

    Hi John,

    Science demands proof before acceptance

    No it doesn’t. It requires a certain kind of empirical evidence and verification. Reason is not synonymous with the scientific method anyway.

    The only thing I would say is that maybe you are reading your ideas of wisdom into the text rather than an approach more sensitive to the time and place of the scriptures. When Paul argues against sophos or wisdom of the Hellenized world, he is taking a swipe at the Hellenistic (and ultimately Heraclitian) concept of deistic reason. He rejects reason as a religious concept – reason is a human-centered phenomenon that God routinely purposefully thwarts (Paul even quotes from Isaiah 29 in this instance).

    It’s obvious though that the Isaiah passage is not aimed at this deistic reason that you are talking about. It is aimed at a people who don’t trust in God but trust in themselves. If you take the Paul passage in context you see that he is railing against both Jews and Greeks that don’t trust in the cross of Christ. Both groups for different reasons are saying God just doesn’t do that kind of thing. While he is rejecting the deistic reason of the Greeks it doesn’t follow that God routinely purposefully thwarts reason. I think if you look more closely God routinely thwarts the purposes of the proud. That would go equally for those today who equate reason with science and who put their trust in science.

  18. Doug says:

    @John,
    I believe that it is you who have a deficient concept of Imago. Just because there was a different ancient understanding of the concept doesn’t mean that that concept is comprehensive, or even correct. And a recent authorship of Genesis does not at all follow from my concept even if my concept required for its development more recent thinking! None of your critique of my position is “sticking”.

    Similarly, as Crude points out, your introduction of fringe elements of Plato’s thought is a red herring in the context of how the term “Platonism” is used in the Philosophy of Mathematics. The Platonic position here is simply that Math1 is part of R1. Math2 (what we usually refer to as “Math”) is a human projection of Math1. The beauty of math is manifest in the thrill that mathematicians feel concerning the fidelity between Math2 and Math1. As Melissa put it, Math is ontologically grounded in the divine, not divine per se.

    You cannot “demonstrate that math is manufactured.” You can try, and it will be entertaining!

    You are confusing the ground of reason with the grounding that reason can reason to. If reason cannot account for itself in the jungles of self-reference (apart from very very weak models of sense-derivation – which derive more from hand-waving that actual reason) this is not to say that that is all there is to reason!

    Incidentally, I am by no means “trying to prove” R1. It is simply the “best explanation” of the existence of R2 as we know it (very much like M1 is the “best explanation” of the existence of M2 as we know it). And I’m not troubled if there are folks that believe that R1 (or M1) is non-existent. However, such a position renders their accounting for R2 (or M2) very challenging indeed.

    So how about it: instead of simply taking R2 (i.e., human reason) as a given, show me how it accounts for itself? Hand-waving will become the drinking game du jour. ;-)

  19. Steve Drake says:

    Doug;
    So how about it: instead of simply taking R2 (i.e., human reason) as a given, show me how it accounts for itself?

    Keep hammerin’ this home, baby. Blessings.

  20. Reidish says:

    John,

    You wrote:

    I would encourage you to read more than the “Look Inside” portion before you think that it leads to me being an atheist.

    Thanks – fair enough.

    Not sure what you are saying about ontology and its relation to reason. Maybe some more there?

    Let me put it this way: I am persuaded by C.S. Lewis’ argument from reason, and that argument concludes God exists because, among other premises, we have minds that are capable of reason. Now if that argument is true, and if God exists a se, then we have very good evidence for believing that God is the grounding of reason itself. Creatures such as ourselves have minds with which to understand (that is, apprehend correctly) the world only because there is a God who imbues us with this function.

    So the question I would pose to you is: if all of that is true (and you are free to deny it I suppose), then why would God so construct the universe such that our belief in Him would be irrational, illogical, and absurd? Why would we think that He would form our minds to take our study of mathematics, history, geology, chemistry, etc as exercises in rational discourse, but not our study of our Creator?

    Moving on, you say:

    So yes, you are right that the number of slugs on a rock is two 10 million years ago. The purpose of my statement, however, is that this idea of ‘value’ is not a priori – it is derived from a need to contrast, compare, evaluate etc.

    Alright, so you agree that it is possible for there to be numbers of things even if humans don’t exist. Well, surely that is enough to demonstrate my point that numbers are not human derivations, right? And if they are not human derivations, and if they are not physical things, then we should reflect on what they indeed are. I invite you to read more about abstract objects here:
    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abstract-objects/

    3. What is time? There is a difference between change or progress and the human concept of ‘time.’ In the same way that I measure by the foot and my friends in Germany measure by the meter, there is such a thing as distance but it is irrelevant in the expanse of the infinite. If you and I had to walk an infinite line and I try to add up the miles and you try to add up the kilometers – we won’t get very far before we realize that measurement has no value. Measurement only has value when there is a limit. IN the same way, time is only relevant with a limit. If I had to wash a floor for 30 years, you would say that is horrible because it accounts for almost half a lifetime. If there were no such limit, the task is valueless. Time’s purpose is for our activity this side of redemption. One day we will rejoin God in the eternal now.

    Unfortunately I simply don’t understand the point you are trying to make with this. I’ll repeat my question: do you agree or disagree that time passed before humans existed? If you do agree with that, then you must also agree that time, like numbers, is not a human derivation.

    Finally:

    Your last remark is a great one – what makes this irrational belief worth believing? This is the best question of the batch. The incarnation simultaneously elevates the work of God while at the same time making it no different than anything else (nothing else compelling that makes it stick above other religious claims on this side of redemption). I think the fact that the claims of scripture not above reason jibe nicely with the rest of theology – having no form or appearance that would compel our belief.

    Don’t you see the irony here? My question was somewhat tongue-in-cheek: as a Christian theist myself I don’t think belief in God is irrational at all. But when I posed the question, you responded with reasons for me to actually believe in the Christian God.

    John, if you really do have these beliefs, and think they are true, you cannot help but give reasons for the hope that you have. That is, after all, what rational creatures do, since they are made in the image of the One who makes rational thought possible. But then, this seems to undercut the very thesis of your book.

    Thanks for the opportunity to discuss these issues with you.

  21. @ Crude:
    • There is nothing confusing about the simple principle that science requires proof of something before establishing it. Even Bacon’s method established that the “First Vintage” must have some credible proof. Sorry, science requires proof; faith requires acceptance before proof. That is elementary.
    • To equate imago dei with the conferring of reason would imply that reason was something that was in the theological air. If we want a Mosaic authorship or at least redaction, those things were not the words or concepts of the day. Again, I stand by my assertion that those who think the purpose of imago dei was to show that God was conferring the ability to reason are either ignoring the obvious anachronism or don’t care about Biblical authorship. Perhaps we will have to disagree on that one, but I think the evidence on that one is clear.
    • I think you are splitting hairs with the difference between paganism and thoughts that pagans had. The larger idea is that when Doug argued that God is the source and standard of reason it sounds Pythagorean (the source for many spinoffs of mountain religions of the ancient Greeks) – but perhaps he is okay with that, I am not. I would like to stick with Biblical concepts (like God being outside of the material universe).
    • Actually, this is precisely the point about Platonism – numbers are inseparable from divinity. That is what separates me from Platonist ideas of math. I would rather stick with a Biblical view of man as steward of the universe (God gives man dominion, God allows man to name the animals, God allows man to essentially rule the world). Platonism – especially its view of numbers and such – is the exact opposite. Sorry, can’t go there.
    • I can answer some of your other questions once we nail down some of these ideas first.
    @Melissa:
    • You are right to say that reason and science are not synonymous, good point. But science does require proof before it moves on. When you say it requires a certain kind of empirical evidence and verification, you are actually restating the idea that it requires proof – just a certain kind. I think you agree with me.
    • Yes, the purpose of Isaiah was not to address deistic reason, but that wasn’t my point. I was locating the Isaiah passage being used by Paul in his Hellenized world. The point of what I was saying is that he is taking Isaiah and aiming it at deistic reason. The proud person in Corinth was laughing at Paul because of his lack of skilled rhetoric and inattention to wisdom – the antecedents of Gnosticism. My point remains the same – you have read into the text something that isn’t there when you say that Paul may be talking about something other than the Corinthian concept of wisdom. This concept was anchored in Logos.
    @Doug:
    • When you say that the original Hebrew of the passage in Genesis is perhaps incorrect, I am not sure what you mean? And it does follow that when you argue for the idea of reason being conferred to man from the Genesis account that you are mixing centuries. I am sorry that doesn’t stick, I don’t know how to make it clearer.
    • Hopefully I am not creating Red Herrings – it is all very simple – your original point was that Platonists would cringe at my idea that math was invented. My response was that I don’t really have much regard for Platonists because they have very strange ideas about math to begin with. That is clear.
    • I already demonstrated that math is manufactured. If it comes from mankind, then it is a manufactured thing. Mathematicians don’t give credit to God, theorems are named after humans – it is all human-based. There is no evidence that math comes from divinity. Actually, the onus is on you to demonstrate that it is divine. Can you show me proof of this?
    • Human reason accounts for itself in each thought that leads to a new conclusion. I referenced this in the book – we see human reason create new realities everyday – it really is not a complicated thing – we don’t even need to label R’s with superscripts. Reason is a simple thing.
    • Not sure I follow the drinking game thing, but I take it as a kind gesture.

    @Reidish
    • I always love Lewis quotes – thanks for making that clearer, well put!
    • My question back to you would be “why can’t we study the irrationality of God?” Isn’t the irrationality of fully human/divine or the dying God a fascinating area of study? This is what I mean by irrational – not that it is not worth studying. Let’s take it out of the dust heap of ‘mystery’ and try to understand it outside the traditional ideas and constructs of logic. Seriously – doesn’t that excite you? Well, it excites me.
    • Your slugs/years thing is a repositioning of the ‘tree falling in the woods’ idea. Does it make a sound? Sound is what humans call energy. So no – time is analogous to the sound that we take from energy. Time is a human construct, it requires humans to assign as ‘time.’
    • Great point about irony – but to be sure, I am using reason to deconstruct the titular head of reason – not the entire structure. Of course it is ridiculous to use reason to deconstruct reason, I am just removing it from the sole source of truth that it tries to occupy. Great comment. And thank you for the idea sharpening.

  22. Melissa says:

    Hi John,

    But science does require proof before it moves on. When you say it requires a certain kind of empirical evidence and verification, you are actually restating the idea that it requires proof – just a certain kind. I think you agree with me.

    I do not agree with you. You seem to be using proof to mean evidence, they are not the same thing. As such faith rests on evidence too, just not the kind that science can examine. I’ll leave you with a quote from Einstein to think about “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”

    My point remains the same – you have read into the text something that isn’t there when you say that Paul may be talking about something other than the Corinthian concept of wisdom.

    I’m not arguing that Paul wasn’t referring to the Corinthian concept of wisdom, I’m arguing that your conclusion from there that God routinely purposefully thwarts reason doesn’t follow. This passage doesn’t support that statement. God routinely purposely thwarts the proud, that much the bible is clear on.

    meaning that God was making a ‘mini me.’ The ancient understanding of this relationship was physical, not intellectual.

    I’m not sure that that is strictly true. If you compare the god-king relationship in other ANE cultures, with the king considered to be the image of a god, the idea is that he is the god’s representative on earth.

  23. Charlie says:

    Sorry, I have not read the book.
    But it seems pretty well acknowledged that science does not deal with proof. Here’s Google #1 on the subject.
    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200811/common-misconceptions-about-science-i-scientific-proof

  24. Melissa says:

    Charlie,

    Thanks for putting up that link. So I guess that makes me a real (non-practising) scientist? :)

  25. bigbird says:

    Disclaimer: I have not read the book.

    I’m curious about the first assertion of John’s, that “arguments get us nowhere”.

    I know Christians who have come to faith at least partly because of rational argument. I don’t see how your assertion can be justified. Is this from your experiences? From surveys? Or is it more of a general warning that arguments can be limited in their effectiveness?

    Apologies if you explain this in your book, but what did Peter mean when he told believers to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”? What kind of reason was he speaking of? The warning to do this “with gentleness and respect” implies that the reason has the potential to be contentious.

    And so bystanders watched all of this and shook their heads in dismay . . . “religion always divides” became the summary statement.

    Do you have any evidence that this is the case? I’ve not noticed this as a general response in the media. Some links would be appreciated.

    If there had been no rational defense of the faith in response to the new atheists, what might have been bystanders’ response? “Religion has no answer when accused of being a delusion”?

  26. Tom Gilson says:

    John, you wrote a while ago,

    The majority of blogs on the internet that claim to be apologetic in nature wind up forums for Christians to dispute with each other. This is annoying. It would be nice if there were forums that were more skeptic-friendly. Who knows? Maybe you will start one?

    I don’t dispute that—but have you had a look at the other active discussions going on here at Thinking Christian right now?

  27. Tom Gilson says:

    I continue to dispute your conclusion that Christians’ and non-Christians’ behavior is minimally different. I have three chapter in a forthcoming book that discuss this. Barna’s research is rather disputed by many on this point. Rodney Stark (What Americans Believe) has a completely different take on it. So do Arthur Brooks and Bradley Wright. All three of these use much, much larger samples, analyzing standard social science studies (large ones!) to show that Christians are markedly more giving, volunteer more time, and etc. and etc. Christopher Smith in Soul Searching shows that Christian teens are much more solid than non-Christians on every one of 99 life outcome measures, ranging from academics to drug use to relationships with parents to friendships in school to physical health…. and this was a gold-standard social study, much larger and more carefully done than a Barna telephone survey.

    Historically Christianity has been the basis for women’s rights and dignity, the ending of infanticide, care for the poor and sick, the rise of the university, some of the necessary founding principles on which science was built, the establishment of hospitals, the ending of slavery, and on and on. Christianity is unique in sacrificing to do good (things like what I’ve just mentioned) for other cultural groups, even those of national enemies. I recognize that each one of these claims might require documentation, and I’m not taking the time to provide it now, but given more time it would not be hard.

    Has Christianity had its historical down sides? Of course. But overall its influence has been for the good.

    Part of the no-difference thesis you espouse can be attributed to our own success. The ending of slavery was a uniquely Christian idea. Everywhere abolition has been initiated it was by through Christians—except in recent decades when it has come to be seen as matter-of-fact among caring humans. To put our current view of slavery into proper context we must recognize how it came to be that way: it’s because this Christian idea successfully permeated Western culture (not that there aren’t still hundreds of thousands being enslaved today among people not so permeated with Christian beliefs). So if you can’t tell a Christian from a non-Christian on the slavery issue, it’s because Christianity has to a significant degree won that cultural battle. (What about the Christians in the South who supported slavery through the Bible? I have an article on that coming on BreakPoint in about ten days.)

    Similar things could be said about women’s rights and dignity, which you would know if you had read the history, especially in the early church. (Don’t anyone tell me Christianity “oppresses women” unless you have some idea what it’s been like in history and around the world where Christianity has not had strong cultural influence!)

    I could go on and on. John, on this point I think you are fighting the clear facts of history and of the better sociological research.

    If it is your thesis that Christianity has no discernible effect on human behavior, then your thesis is that Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word have no discernible effect on human behavior. Is that what you are saying to us?

  28. Tom Gilson says:

    John,

    Would you define “irrational” for us? It has a whole host of possible denotations and connotations. What do you have in mind when you use the word?

  29. Tom Gilson says:

    John, a few scattered thoughts.

    My sense is that you set up a false dichotomy:

    Reason, however, is not the sole arbiter of what is true and what is not – that comes from outside of reason. We cannot be so beholden to reason that we miss that.

    That’s not the only place you’ve done it, but it will do for an example. No believer considers reason to be the sole arbiter of truth. We know that God does things that reason would not have expected, like a crucixion and resurrection. We know that truth is also determined by sensory evidence. We are not Cartesian rationalists, most of us (probably none of us).

    But we do not therefore say that reason has no place in discovering and determining truth. That includes truths about God. There is a reason Paul “reasoned” from the Scriptures early in Acts 17, and from Greek culture later in the chapter. It’s because reason supports and helps guide the search for truth.

    You say, “Faith demands acceptance before proof.” and “This is elementary.” Thomas was blessed by Jesus when he came to faith through the proofs Jesus provided. If you’re going to dispute that, have fun doing it in elementary fashion.

    I’d like to know from where you got the idea that science demands proof, too. A whole lot of science is heuristic; some would argue that’s all it is.

    To equate imago dei with the conferring of reason would imply that reason was something that was in the theological air.

    Air?

    Anyway, Why not? God knows that A cannot be not-A (at the same time and in the same relationship). He knows that a valid modus ponens with true premises leads to a sound conclusion. He didn’t learn that from Aristotle!

    If we want a Mosaic authorship or at least redaction, those things were not the words or concepts of the day.

    How you’ve changed subjects all the sudden. You were talking about whether reason was in the mind of God, and suddenly you’re talking about whether logic was in the mind of Moses. If Moses didn’t know about modus ponens, it doesn’t mean God didn’t, nor does it mean God didn’t impart to us some of that capacity when he made us in his image. Man is “the reasoning animal;” it is one of a handful of attributes of humanity that separate us from animals. Those attributes are what God did uniquely in Adam and Eve; they constitute the image of God as it is expressed in humans.

    Again, I stand by my assertion that those who think the purpose of imago dei was to show that God was conferring the ability to reason are either ignoring the obvious anachronism or don’t care about Biblical authorship.

    Anachronisms are of the essence in the Bible. We call them prophecies or revelations. For a study of two similar anachronisms, see my article The Two Most Overlooked Apologetics Verses in the Bible. The point (and what those two verses have in common with the current topic) is that Moses didn’t have to understand every implication of everything God inspired him to write. Some of them came to light only centuries later.

    Mathematicians don’t give credit to God, theorems are named after humans – it is all human-based. There is no evidence that math comes from divinity. Actually, the onus is on you to demonstrate that it is divine.

    Try this: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html

    Time is a human construct, it requires humans to assign as ‘time.’

    So sad to hear God couldn’t have done that. Good thing for him that he created us. Good thing we developed math, too. Maybe this is why he did it: he was wondering how old dinosaurs grew to be, and he realized it required humans to invent math and assign as “time,” so he created us to do that for him.

    I don’t mean to be unfair or sarcastic toward you, John, but I don’t know how better to express what I’m thinking, which is that there is absurdity in your thesis here that I don’t think fits even with whatever kind of “irrationality” you’re trying to espouse. It doesn’t make sense to me. Please feel free to correct my understanding; but for now I’m really confused as to how you can hold the positions you do.

  30. Tom Gilson says:

    Finally (for this morning)

    It has often been said that “you cannot argue anyone into the Kingdom.” Greg Koukl asks, “Can you love anyone into the Kingom?” Chew on the implications of that for a bit….

  31. Doug says:

    @John,

    That you think that you have “already demonstrated that math is manufactured” is bizarre. It is something that you have asserted. Demonstrate away!

    But you are also misinterpreting things that are being said here. I did not say that “the original Hebrew of the passage in Genesis is perhaps incorrect.” The original passage simply says that mankind was made in the image of God (using the available ANE words). Exactly what this means is what is in question. How the original hearers took it in no way establishes boundaries for legitimate exegesis. Otherwise, how do you account for prophecy — specifically all those prophetic elements that were re-interpreted in the New Testament? Were the New Testament authors wrong, John? This is elementary stuff. Still not close to sticking.

    The weakness of the notion that math was invented is not that Platonists would cringe at the thought. The claim that a Platonic concept of math is “strange” doesn’t stick either. As previously mentioned, the majority of Philosophers of Mathematics have adopted precisely that position, John! Granted, majority opinion isn’t the “proof” that you are asking for, but it certainly is sufficient to cast doubt on your minority opinion!

    To say that science requires proof is simply to demonstrate that you have an outsider’s appreciation for science. To say that math is manufactured is simply to demonstrate that you have an outsider’s appreciation for mathematics. To say that reason is a simple thing is to further demonstrate that you have an outsider’s appreciation for epistemology and cognitive science! The failure of AI is sufficient evidence that reason is categorically not a simple thing.

    [I noticed after submitting this that Tom made many of the same points. (thanks, Tom) This line is the only edit to this post]

  32. bigbird says:

    Science demands proof before acceptance; Faith demands acceptance before proof

    This seems nonsensical to me. To start with, ‘proof’ should replaced by ‘evidence’, otherwise we have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of science (as others have pointed out).

    Secondly, without some evidence, how does God expect the serious seeker to distinguish between the many religions that are out there? Should we just pick the most irrational looking religion? Or should we try to use reason to eliminate the religious options that are more obviously flawed?

    It should be noted that Jesus’ disciples based their apparent eventual martyrdom on evidence as well as faith. They were there – they knew Jesus was crucified, they saw him resurrected. Their faith was solidly founded on evidence they had seen with their own eyes.

    I don’t believe God wants us to abandon reason when it comes to seeking him.

  33. lambda.calc says:

    Doug, in the PhilPaper’s survey, if you adopt a coarse-grained view, you’ll see the numbers you suggest but if you switch it to fine, you’ll see that the number of correspondents who accept nominalism, lean towards nominalism, endorse some kind of intermediary, or reject both out numbers the number of platonists (or rather, those who outright accept platonism).

    Food for thought at least. Another is that there are naturalists who think that naturalism is compatible with platonism. At least as a doctrine in philosophy of mathematics. Platonism in the philosophy of mathematics does not mean endorsing all of Plato’s views. Usually it means being a realist about mathematics, and thinking that mathematical statements just refer.

  34. Doug says:

    @Lc
    Not sure why you’d prefer to include “lean toward” on one side while not including “lean toward” on the other side? I do agree that the results are fascinating – especially when we appreciate that the majority opinion derives from the thinking of a man who lived 2400 years ago – and particularly when some folks feel that they can simply dismiss that majority opinion as “weird.” ;-)
    And thanks for the accurate description of what Platonism means in the current context.

  35. lambda.calc says:

    I think Platonism is weird, and I work with an ardent Platonist ;)

    Anyways, all I was trying to get at was that it’s not really an overwhelming majority. 55% is a majority, but there’s lots of room for dispute. And if you look at the numbers, you only get 55% if you include folks who lean towards, but don’t accept Platonism.

    And, if you go outside of philosophers, and hangout with linguists and whatnot, you’ll get things like Lakoff and Nunez’s book (whose title escapes me at the moment). I just wanted to stress that Platonism/Anti-Platonism is an open debate in philosophy of math.

    And as far as weirdness, Mackie famously argued from weirdness against moral non-naturalism. So I’m not too sure if arguments from weirdness are that amiss. But that’s all I have to add on this thread. The other one is almost too much for me to keep track of as is.

  36. Crude says:

    John,

    Sorry, science requires proof; faith requires acceptance before proof. That is elementary.

    No, it’s not – certainly not the way you’re setting it up, as others have pointed out. ‘Proof’ here, again, seems to be ‘evidence’, and there can be and often is plenty of evidence involved with and prior to faith.

    If a person has evidence for the existence of God or for the truth of Christianity, does that mean they don’t have faith in God or in the truth of Christianity? You tell me. Or tell me that there’s absolutely no evidence for either.

    In the end, you’re going to have to either give up your claim on this front, utterly mangle what ‘proof/evidence’ are, or paint much of science (or history, or…) as a faith-based endeavor.

    Perhaps we will have to disagree on that one, but I think the evidence on that one is clear.

    And others have responded aptly that the imago dei being focused on our mental aspects principally doesn’t entail what you’ve said it to.

    I think you are splitting hairs with the difference between paganism and thoughts that pagans had.

    Because the hairs deserve to be split. Accepting or leaning towards Platonism with regards to mathematics doesn’t entail believing that beans are evil a la Pythagoras.

    I would like to stick with Biblical concepts (like God being outside of the material universe).

    How can this be possible if you take the imago to be bodily? So we’re made in God’s image and likeness, which means physical body, and also God is outside the material universe?

    Actually, this is precisely the point about Platonism – numbers are inseparable from divinity.

    Are you saying that every Platonist is therefore a theist, they simply have a non-Christian God in mind? I’d love to see this one claimed.

  37. Tom Gilson says:

    John,

    There seems to be a lot of opinion stacking up against what you’ve said about faith/science/proof and the imago dei. Not just opinion, but supported opinion. I think I’ve also made a case against your claim that Christians aren’t much different from non-Christians, and I’m not the only one to work that here.

    So I wonder where you stand now with respect to all this. I’m also eager to hear from you on the Koukl quote.

    Thanks for the opportunity to converse with you on these things.

  38. Hello everyone, Sorry it has been so long – I was doing a conference on the book. Some really great stuff this weekend. Anyhow – lets see if we can’t make some headway here and try to summarize a few things . . .

    @Melissa – I think you (and others) have an exceptional point with proof/evidence. In the hopes of coming to some kind of constructive end, I don’t want to get bogged down between the difference between proof and evidence. So yes, I agree that the better word to use here would be evidence.
    So let’s back up to the original purpose for the word – I said that science asks for evidence before acceptance whereas faith asks for acceptance before evidence. I am almost one hundred percent sure you will disagree with me on this, and both of us could make very good arguments for our perspective. I just come at Biblical faith from the position of one who (in the manner of Anselm and Augustine) believe so that I may understand Credo ut intelligam. And I am sure there are some who would quote me its corollary, but that is the way that I see it.
    And great point on God thwarting the proud. You are correct to point out that it is not so much that God resists the intelligent, but those that take pride in their intelligence. I will have to make sure that I articulate that point.
    On the ANE idea of image/tselem/tsalmu, I still think the linguistic and archeological evidence is in my favor that the idea in Genesis 1 has very little to do with the ability to reason. But maybe that is where we disagree.
    @ Charlie – Thanks for the article. My ego was soothed by the fact that the author said that even respectable scientists often make this common error . . . (as if I am even close to a scientist).
    @bigbird – Thanks for your comment, I hope you get to read the book! Perhaps I take a bit of literary license to articulate a feeling that the majority of people feel. I do enjoy a good debate, but most people I have talked with feel like some people are so stubborn that it feels like you never get anywhere. I have met more victims, rather than products of argument.
    And I am glad you asked about the I Peter 3:!5 section – “always be ready to give an account of the reason for the hope that you have within you” – later emphasizing gentleness and respect. It does not say “be ready to give an answer for the divine logos that you bear witness to.” It merely says to tell people why you have the hope that you do. Some have taken this to elevate reason to the only mode by which we transmit our beliefs. Reason is a God-given gift that we cannot survive without, but it is not the sole arbiter of truth. In fact, there are many things about the faith that run counter to reason.
    In Peter’s day this could mean the public magistrates to people in the marketplace. They still lived in the era of sophists and mystery religions springing up all over the place. It was important for Peter to tell people to stay sharp. Our current address is not as concerned with evidences and proofs as it is with story. You (and others) may disagree with me on this, but this is how I understand it. I hope that helps.
    @Tom – I have not looked at your other discussions. Are you seeing people come to faith through them? How many in the last few months? Just wanting to know as a gauge of how accurate my skepticism of blogs being a good vehicle for the Gospel is.
    Sounds like you have an interesting book in the works. I would agree that Barna’s research is not the most thorough methodologically. I don’t know if I would use “Soul Searching” as a reference for your point, though. The smaller point you make is true, but SS has some pretty interesting things to say about Next Gen Christians.
    Your support through history is undisputed. Don’t forget the plagues, famines, and wars that Christians have shown incredible testimony to the presence of God in their lives. My point wasn’t that epic – it was more along the lines of the fact that from the more day-to-day items of everything from pornography to divorce, Christians do not exhibit clear head and shoulders above non-Christians.
    So no, I wasn’t inverting the argument to say that Christ was ineffective, but rather that contemporary Christianity has an unimpressive transformational resume.
    Let’s see if we can close up these holes first before we head into too many more definitions.
    My case is with the skeptics and those that would argue (I was reading “Demon Haunted World by Sagan at the time I wrote the chapter on reason) that reason is the sole arbiter of truth are wrong. So when you say that no believer considers reason to be the sole arbiter of truth, that may or may not be true. And I agree that reason has a role in determining the truth – the Acts 17 reference should probably be read more Hebraic than Hellenistic and in such a reading would not bear resemblance to what you are hinting at.
    When I said that it was in the theological air, that is another term for saying that it was talked about and considered – the more Greek-centered idea of reason doesn’t come until centuries after the Genesis account was authored (or at least spoken). And I am not sure what you are saying about having changed the subject with modus ponens . . .
    You and I might have to disagree that anachronisms are the essence of the Bible. That just seems really strange. Anyway, it was an anachronistic reading of the Bible that I was concerned with. I would not equate prophecy with anachronism – this is what skeptics would want us to think. And I am sorry, but I think your article is a little strange too, it quotes from Russell at the beginning. I don’t know how we get the divinity of math from an atheist? I could be shortsighted here, though so I apologize if I am dense on this.

    Let me jump into the role of the moderator here and try to help us come to a common ground:
    I think we can agree on this
    • There are many assertions of what “made in God’s image” mean. Some say it is reason, others say it is more physical. The point was that God is over and above His creation and imparted them with something that made the two connected in purpose. There are elements of creation and God Himself that run beyond man’s ability to fathom and comprehend – perhaps we might say they are META-rational. So when skeptics say that God is irrational, there is a window of opportunity to agree with them on a certain level so that we can further the discussion toward a higher purpose.
    • Math, science, physics as well as reason and logic in general are not the last word on anything. In fact, as mankind discovers more and more about the universe and adds to his theories and laws, he cannot make the mistake that he is understanding anything per se, but rather observing things. To understand them fully, he would have to know why they do what they do – and human logic is limited to what is there rather than why it is there.
    Maybe that is a good starting point for agreement?

    @Doug –
    • Okay, you don’t accept what I put. That’s okay. So what proof do you have that math is divine?
    • I like to keep my understanding of the texts in the vein of what I think the author intended. Since it is in Hebrew and the Hebrew text points a particular direction, I take it that way. Perhaps we just don’t see eye to eye? Not sure what the sticking thing is.
    • Again, just to back up. You and I disagree about the idea of math, that’s okay. When you bolstered your opinion with references to Platonism, that is where I voiced my discomfort with Platonism as a whole. There are many who share my thoughts on this. Wasn’t there someone who shared that about half agree and half don’t? Again, we’ll have to disagree.
    • Okay, I understand that you feel I have an outsider’s perspective on these things. Again, we’ll have to disagree.
    • Since we have hammered away on this perhaps we should just part ways with disagreement as our agreement? I think you have a keen mind and I appreciate all you are doing, but we both have very good supports for our very different ideas. After 3 or more rounds, perhaps we should just shake hands and disagree.
    @Crude –
    • Yep, I think that you have a point on the proof/evidence thing. So if we run it like this:
    o Science requires evidence before acceptance while faith requires acceptance before evidence.
    • I still don’t think we are going to see the same thing (just a hunch).
    • Good point about Platonism being theistic – although those were not so much my thoughts as was the idea that somehow I have to accept Doug’s thesis about math because it agrees with the ‘majority’ that are Platonists. I was only saying that I am comfortable disagreeing with the majority – Platonism has some weird aspects to it.

    @ Tom –
    • Not sure what to make of your last entry – is this Tom the person or Tom the Moderator? Are you wanting something different? Perhaps was summarize what we have agreed on and go for a second round?

  39. Mike Anthony says:

    Well as usual I am in late on the discussion but I see the author is still commenting so perhaps not that late. This might be of interest (if maybe just a little) or not. I didn’t read the book because I simply did not find the premise presented as compelling enough to explore further. SO perhaps this is more a critique of how it is presented rather than substantive to whats actually in it. However from what I have read here by way of discussion it at least seems that my initial opinion of its premise fits with reality. why did I not find it compelling enough to read further? Three practical reasons and three factual reasons.

    Practical?

    A) a philosophical argument that rationality ought to either be reinterpreted or demoted in importance with Faith or revelations being elevated is still at its base an argument made for the defense of a deity albeit in a secondary sense. So its in fact a contradiction to the title.

    B) I am quite confident that the new atheists that the author refers to would see this argument as nothing less than a full scale call of retreat – an admission that the church cannot compete on rational grounds.

    C) the author seems fixated on Atheists without taking into account the wider population that still sees an intelligent creator as intuitively more rational explanation of beauty and order in the universe than it does a universe without him. I feel that far more people would be impacted negatively in regard to the kingdom than would be helped (and as stated I doubt many would among atheists either).

    Factually

    A) a premise that faith demands acceptance before proof is a terribly unbiblical premise. Only Eisegesis would have us reinterpret the bible and in particular the New Testament to make such a claim. Adam both saw God’s goodness and conversed with him at the onset of their relationship. Moses was given authenticating miracles before and while delivering the law, Jesus performs miracles to rationally indicate he was the messiah, Peter converts the first 5,000 of the church by appealing to fulfilled prophecy (rational argument). Paul nearly convinces Agrippa on the basis of appealing to the evidence. Peter instructs that even in the absence of eye witness testimony and miracles fulfilled prophecy (rational) is a surer word that we can look to to build faith on. Finally for me but not exhaustively Paul tells us in Romans that creation is an evidence instructing us in what would be known of God if we are not blinded (and that served as such for centuries until Darwin and beyond him for many even today). So regardless of reason faith being blind or not based on evidence is a post biblical invention.

    B) There is nothing irrational or crazy about the virgin birth, Parting of the Red Sea or anything else in the Bible. The author (Again based on how the book is presented to be read) merely buys the narrative that it is. That is not to say that it is apparently true that such things happened but neither is it irrational that they would have. Why? because as a matter of rationality the universe could have not have been created by infinitely regressing causes which means that its ultimately initiator was uncaused and came about by no process but simply was (that it/he was) which is miraculous by any modern standards in our universe. It/he was also eternal and all powerful (since all abilities flow form it/him). Whats more irrational? that everything and the multiple universes the rational new atheists believes was created from an uncaused source or uncaused genetic material fusing with an existing woman’s genetic material? One is no more miraculous than the other on rational grounds.

    C) We are now at the point in modern science when extra dimensions are not considered irrational, multiple universes with entirely different laws are not considered irrational and Quantum physics can call causality into question. Biblical miracles are beginning to look pale in comparison so there is little reason for People who assume the possibility of a creator to consider what would normally be considered miraculous as very rational

  40. Doug says:

    @John,

    I think that it is possible that a lack of an appreciation for the value of reason might be one of the factors driving the present disconnect.

    Okay, you don’t accept what I put. That’s okay. So what proof do you have that math is divine?

    Funny: you claimed to be able to demonstrate that math was manufactured. You didn’t. You asserted that math was manufactured. I called you on it. And you are now claiming that it is a matter of my not “[accepting] what you put”?

    On my side, I cannot “demonstrate” that math is divine, nor have I ever put it that way. But the evidence for something beyond human manufacture is something that every mathematician who has actually DONE math has experienced. (Did you actually read that Russell quote? — don’t you see that if an atheist can experience transcendence in mathematics that is most interesting?)

    Proof? Hardly. But it is like explaining music to a deaf man if you’ve never had the experience. The analogy makes me also recall: there is also the experience of transcendence with music and with language. All three of these things point to something beyond humanity (and my area of scientific study is language, so please don’t attempt to tell me that language is “simple” or “understood” or any such nonsense).

    I like to keep my understanding of the texts in the vein of what I think the author intended.

    So I reiterate: your exegetic principle is at odds with the existence of prophecy – how do you respond?

    …my discomfort with Platonism as a whole.

    I and others have tried numerous times to explain that “Platonism as a whole” and “Platonism in the context of this discussion” are different animals. Why do you persist with the red herring?

    I understand that you feel I have an outsider’s perspective on these things.

    Actually, it isn’t just a “feeling” – this (and not the manufacture of math) is what you have “demonstrated”.

    Finally – about your “reason is simple” comment. How is it that after sixty years of research, Artificial Intelligence (which is “simply” the formalization of reason) has been such a failure if reason is “simple”?

  41. @ Mike – Hi Mike – welcome to the conversation! I hope that we can talk some more, but it would really help for you to actually read the book. Your first three assumptions can be answered in the first half of the book. I think you may find yourself stretched in good ways. The book is an extension of a more academic paper presented at a conference hosted by Cambridge, and my friends there were actually eager to ‘nick’ it because of its unique take on epistemology. So I am glad that there are some who have been interested enough to read it.

    So I hope that perhaps in the future we can discuss the ideas of the book on equal terms. Otherwise you have a round and round experience where there is no learning from each other. And (ironically) by arguing you wind up supporting one of the central tenets of the book!

    So do let me know if you are able to get a copy and read it and we can talk some more. Sounds like we could have lots to talk about!

    John

  42. Doug says:

    @John,

    Toward a convergence on your “two points of agreement”:

    • God is over and above His creation and imparted them with something that made the two connected in purpose. There are elements of creation and God Himself that run beyond man’s ability to fathom and comprehend – perhaps we might say they are META-rational.

    Agreed – it is always a shame when folks confuse what it beyond human rationality with what is contrary to human rationality. To superimpose two lines from Pascal: “There is nothing so conformable to reason as the recognition that there is an infinity of things that are beyond it.”

    • Math, science, physics as well as reason and logic in general are not the last word on anything. In fact, as mankind discovers more and more about the universe and adds to his theories and laws, he cannot [but appreciate] that he is [not] understanding anything per se, but rather observing things. To understand them fully, he would have to know why they do what they do – and human logic is limited to what is there rather than why it is there.

    I almost agree. Human logic, in so far as it can be formalized, is indeed limited to what is there rather than why it is there. However, the entire scientific endeavor would be nothing without the exercise of the very human activity of causation-identification. While the exploration of “why” isn’t formalizable (and hence beyond the strictest sense of “human logic”) it certainly “feels” conformable to what we usually call “human logic.”

  43. Mike Anthony says:

    So I hope that perhaps in the future we can discuss the ideas of the book on equal terms. Otherwise you have a round and round experience where there is no learning from each other.

    I don’t share that perspective. yes I realize we could discuss it further if I had read the book and I certainly would not have even have commented if tom had not opened it up but once in blog comments you make statements I think it is possible to discuss it productively on that basis. We do that constantly on this blog especially on something quite easy to discuss like

    Does faith really require acceptance before proof?.

    Thats a biblical discussion based on the authority of the biblical text not a recently published book. I assumed that opening up to people who didn’t read the book indicated that there were issues in regard to it that could be productively discussed and I still do.

    However My point was why I don’t find it compelling in terms of how the book is presented and I ‘ll include the first chapter as well. Thats what I stated in my post. So it isn’t isolated to the content of the book. The average reader has time constraints and reading a book merely to converse on a comment section on a blog isn’t something they would do nor would I.

    So you may take it for what its worth – perhaps marketing research material? – If the presentation of it does not provide compelling enough arguments (and they most definitely are arguments) to be considered legitimate then many people will not go on to buy the book. The presentation does lay out some arguments and those arguments can be evaluated by an intelligent person in regard to deciding to invest either time or money in it.

    They nor I will be shortsighted either. There is some issue in what I am saying because the same sense of what I got from its presentation is the same sense that is expressed in tom’s review and he has read the book.

  44. @Doug – Glad we could come to some agreement. We might still hold different opinions about whether things like the virgin birth or (Moltmans) ‘death in God’ is beyond or contrary to reason. I just hold the opinion that reason is not as important and therefore can be contradicted in favor of something greater.

    Either way, I do appreciate your energies toward convergence, thank you.

    @Mike – I have been thinking about how to respond to what you are saying for a day or so. I have wrestled with what I am about to suggest – so I really hope that you understand it is meant with the proper amount of respect and goodwill. But I also want to be of some help in a gracious and non-condescending manner as well. So with that said, I don’t mean to offend in any way or presume anything about you.

    I may be completely wrong about this (and if I am let me know) – but I would want someone to share with me that I think perhaps you might do well with a ‘basics in philosophy’ course or a good primer in theology (Erikson’s is a great good start). I also would recommend something like Philosophy’s Journey by Kolenda or Sophie’s World as a start. I am only mentioning this because it seems like some of your critique just came across as jumbled. Now maybe it is the forum we are in (which doesn’t allow for a whole lot of depth) but I fear it may be something else. I would suggest coming to more breadth of the subject before you critique any more.

    Now my experience on the blog has led to me to think that you may take this as a jab, but really I mean it out of good intentions. I hope you can receive it as such. I looked for a way to do this more individually, but didn’t see how to address individuals one-on-one. So again, I hope I haven’t offended you. Hopefully the opposite – that I have helped.

    -John

  45. Mike Anthony says:

    I’ve always thought that Purtill was pretty solid as a primer in logic when I took my first classes long ago but I will pass on to my seminary (perhaps at a 25 year reunion) your assessment of my rudimentary knowledge of theology. I also picked up a minor in psychology along the way and its a pretty standard human trait to profusely deny behaviours of prejudice and assumption right before exhibiting it. We all do it at some point to help cover the inner voice that tells us what we areabout to do is wrong.

    I understand it might be unnerving to consider that someone who actually has been educated in both theology and philosophy would not consider your premises presented in the advertising of your book compelling. It might even be jarring to pride that can develop from authoring it but brother to brother in Christ how can you sincerely ask me to consider your false assumptions of my background with no basis in reality to be offered in good faith? You simply cannot. That kind of assumption is neither biblical nor christlike. What theology or philosophy guided you into thinking that your lack of information on my training had any high degree of propability in being helpful? Thats on top of everything else counterintuitive

    Further in any intelligent coversation where you know (because you expressed it) that you may be wrong you ask first not presume to give reading assignments as if you know the background of who it is you are talking to.
    Thats indicative of a person whose pride has been hurt and despite all denials fits the biblical definition of being haughty.

    Anyway I’ve reread my last post and i don’t find it jumbled at all. Sometimes the jumbling is on the receiving end particularly when emotions are involved.

    For the third time my critique is on the point and premises IN THE PRESENTATION of the book. I’ve made that clear in the most unjumbled way possible as I do now again. I’m sorry that you feel the need to claim that you can take no critique on that issue as if a critique of the presentation by a priori can have no sufficient deppth worth talking about but that also is quite prideful which is neither theological nor philosophically sound.

    Since we are on the subject of philosophy you might have addressed the logical unjumbled point that my assessment of the book based on it presentations had me sensing some of the same points that tom raised in his review AFTER READING the book.

    Finally I’ like to point out that I have followed the rules tom spelled out for participation of those who didn’t read the book

    Those who haven’t read it may now join in, provided that your comment relates directly and specifically to something in the preceding discussion

    Given those ground rules which I have adherred to it is spurious (At least in my training in logic) to then claim that not reading the book invalidates a critique of the presentation specifically based on the discussion.

    So we will disagree and if this argument (alleging in title to not being one) actually has a meaningful change in reversing atheist attitude toward faith then I will admit my error. Until then I continue to see it as uncompelling paticularly since the reviewer here (and people logically buy or not buy books based on reviews) indicated some of the same weaknesses.

  46. Mike Anthony says:

    I looked for a way to do this more individually, but didn’t see how to address individuals one-on-one

    It was so simple John. all you needed to do was ask what my background was. This is a discussion area so the floor for that courtesy was wide open staring at you. Wanting to address someone on assumptions about their educational level who happens to disagree with you is self serving. Assumptions such as those are theologically what we are instructed not to make by way of Proverbs and by way of christian humility. Its also the bedrock of sound thinking which is what philosophy is all about. So the quandry you claim to have found yourself in was so easy to resolve. The next move was to ask not assume unless you were also assuming on some level that you couldn’t learn anything from me but that I could only learn from you.

    So either way it was and is extremely prideful.

    So with that said, I don’t mean to offend in any way or presume anything about you.

    Just wanted to point out that that is the classic manifestation of the psychology I was talking about. if you think about it for a second perhaps you will see how that is working in you in our discussion . If there was no intent there would have been no further action of the will to push past the voice that was rightly telling you it was presumption

  47. @Mike – Hey, one thing you learn quickly is that first time authors have no arrogance. Really. So your post gave me a chuckle. Seriously though, sorry I offended you – wasn’t my intention. It was a risky move on my part and it blew up, sorry about that. I deeply apologize and truly wanted to be of some help.
    -John

  48. Mike Anthony says:

    Oh come on John now let brush up on that basic logic :) . Non authors are capable of great arrogance so being a first time author hardly disqualifies anyone from being arrogant and frankly no one is above it because it comes in a great variety of forms some quite self deceptive. I realize that in many respects writing a book is like having a child in that you are very protective of it but there is no need to be quite that defensive.

    I was trying to help you as well. We never quite have the grasp of things that we think we do and even less so when we are certain we do. As someone that has engaged Atheists in discussion for approaching two decades I can tell you if the church at large ever embraced your approach to that dialogue the likes of Dawkins and Krauss would have a field day with it.

    Tom AFTER reading your book writes what I consider a chilling consequence of your book that I can’t fathom how you would brush of if in fact you do.

    Someday someone is going to tell these kids there is no reason to believe in God, so they might as well give up the faith. I can hear them answering, “You’re probably right. It sounds a lot like what my youth pastor taught me. He even wrote a book about it.” The youth pastors I know best would hate to leave their students a legacy like that. I believe Wilkinson would hate for his book to have that effect, too. I just don’t know how he’ll prevent it now.

    If Tom who is versed in these kinds of debates and issues regarding apologetics can take this away then it is likely that at least one of the the impressionable minds under your care that have nowhere near Tom’s sophistication will one day in a moment of weakness succumb to just that thinking. I could not live with myself even at the possibility and can’t see how any youth pastor could

    I too have had youth ministries and their spiritual well being under my care though never in an official capacity as youth pastor but I would be willing to change style, modify presentations listen to criticisms and move my words and illustrations around endlessly to avoid all possibility of even one person stumbling over my position but that may be just me and my over vigilance.

    I certainly wouldn’t be close minded to hearing how even the presentation of my book might come across especially since young people often don’t follow through and read books closely. I think you had an opportunity to get some valued feedback on that but your pride stood in the way of you receiving it. Thats a pity and if Tom is right it could end up being a travesty with eternal consequences.

  49. [...] truth about real­ity lies out­side of our grasp”. Now as far as I can tell, Wilkin­son isn’t a post­mod­ernist, so what does he mean? For exam­ple, else­where Wilkin­son speaks of Jesus him­self being the [...]

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