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← The Dawkins Challenge

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Cartomancer

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This guy calls himself an academic? Academia should be ashamed...

Dawkins and Krauss would first have to see that there is more to what we know about the world than what the natural sciences tell us.

Is there? Like what for instance? What the social sciences tell us? Sure. What the humanities tell us? Yes, that too. But those are still rational, evidence-based disciplines. Everything we truly KNOW about the world comes from reason and evidence. Theology does not contribute anything to our knowledge of the world because it doesn't have a valid epistemological basis. It has no evidence and its reasoning is deeply flawed

there would have to be preliminary discourse about a richer sense of rationality, one not limited to the natural sciences. To say that only the natural sciences reach truth is to make a philosophical claim about truth, which goes beyond the sciences themselves.

Yes, and? That's very much a philosophical claim we'd like to make thank you. If you haven't got reason and evidence then you haven't got a valid epistemology, you haven't got a way of approaching truth. There is no "richer sense of rationality" because the evidence-based world view of science is already maximally rich in rationality. How can you get more rational than completely rational? What additional element could you incorporate into the pure rationality of science to improve its rationality? That's like trying to saturate an already saturated solution, kill someone who is already dead or teach someone a language they already know.

The vocabulary of faith, like that of physics, needs to be understood in technical terms. But Dawkins does not allow for the kind of specialized vocabulary in theology and philosophy that he is so willing to grant to physics.

Oh, Richard is more than willing to grant that theology has its own specialised vocabulary. Of course it does. What he is not willing to grant is that said specialised vocabulary is in any way consonant with the way the world actually works as revealed by methods which do have a valid, empirical, epistemological basis. Merely having a specialised vocabulary does not mean your vocabulary is of any use. Star Trek fans have their own specialised vocabulary, but that doesn't mean Romulan cloaking devices are real.

The specialised vocabulary of physics is constantly, minutely, incessantly and unforgivingly subjected to tests against reality to see if it is useful. Theological vocabulary is made up on the spot and left to fester, or else borrowed from other disciplines (Aristotelian natural philosophy for instance) and then left to fester just the same. The Aristotelian categories of substance and accident were cutting-edge science once, about 800 years ago. They really were. To a Europe working mostly on neoplatonic ideas they were a very promising and seemingly much more apt description of reality than what could be cobbled together from half of Plato's Timaeus and bits of Augustine, Macrobius and Martianus Capella. But science has moved on since the Twelfth Century.. Science has realised that there are much better, much more relevant, much more accurate ways to talk about reality - not by simple fiat but by examining that very reality in ever greater detail.

The body of Christ, present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, although real (neither symbolic nor metaphorical), is vastly different from the ordinary bodies subject to empirical analysis. It is sacramental presence and theology, aided by philosophy, that help to make intelligible what is believed.

The fundamental question here is still not answered though - how do you know that this is true? How do you know that the wafer on the altar cannot be fully understood by usual means? Theology makes it intelligible, apparently. But how does theology separate what is true from what is not? What valid method does a theologian bring in to settle this question? Many theologians don't believe there is anything more than symbolism to the Eucharist, so who is right and how do we tell? The answer is that they're all just making stuff up based on wish-fulfilment and make-believe. There is no compelling reason to believe that there is anything more to the Eucharist than ordinary matter behaving as ordinary matter does. All theology does is tell fantastical, unevidenced stories about what's happening. One might as well say that Danish history cannot be properly understood without Shakespeare's Hamlet, or the true nature of King's Cross Railway Station without Harry Potter.

The arguments in theology and philosophy may not seem compelling – or even worthy of rational attention – to Dawkins and his followers. But informed Catholics ought to be far better prepared to use reason itself to defend what they believe on faith.

And there's the rub you see - if there's a rational reason to believe something then you don't need and indeed can't have faith in it - you just believe it because it is rationally apparent. By definition, if you believe it on faith then you don't have a rational justification for it. Faith and reason are polar opposites. Reason precludes faith, faith is incompatible with reason. And until you realise this and stop trying to pollute the well of rational inquiry into the world with the poison of unevidenced fable there is no reason why we or anyone else should take your arguments seriously.

Thu, 14 Jun 2012 03:15:20 UTC | #947318