Friday, December 14, 2007

That dirty old ditch has gots to be dugged

On October 26, I posted about the "positivity" of Christianity. This was in response to the blogs Brandon is/was doing about Lessing's various "ditches" poised between historical truth and rational faith. I have been busy with my own matters for the past month+, but I was finally able to get out of my system some points I had tried to make along the way in the comboxes there. I strongly encourage anyone interested to re-read both my post about the positivity of Christian faith and my post about paganism and history. Read them before or after reading these comments, I don't know, but they are all intended to hang together.

Mr. Loftus's argument seems to be that something of infinite value cannot be mediated by way of historical knowledge. Because historical knowledge is contingent and finite, then commitment to something absolute and infinite is not possible, historically speaking.

I find this to be a fallacious objection, since, first, all truths are historically mediated, and, second, I am certain Mr. Loftus acts according to infinite commitment with respect to at least one historically mediated matter: namely, his own personal identity. As for the first problem I have with his quibbles, we note that even deductive truths "make sense" given the proper historical context and experience. A being who had never handled more than one object could simply never grasp how 2 + 2 make 4. Nevertheless, that proposition is true and the being's failures to live according to it do not speak to truth value of my own commitment to it. My experience, my existential "handling" of life, is simply different from that of Mr. Loftus's, and hence, his own difficulties with Christian faith, while unfortunate, are not probative against my own.

As for the second, matter, personal identity, it cannot simply be assumed we are the "I" we think we are. In other words, the "I" we invest infinite and ceaseless care into protecting, cultivating, and preserving, is but a conjured suppositum of value based on a series of empirical stimuli we have, for who knows what reasons, assembled into an infinitely extensive, irreducible nexus of commitment. We cannot help but value our own ego as an object of infinite attention, since as soon as we lessen its value for altruistic, aesthetic, metaphysical, etc. reasons, we are but simply restructuring the materials at hand (Da-sein!) into a new form of egocentrism. JFK's assassination and the Lord's Resurrection may both be irrelevant ('ditched', so to speak) to Mr. Loftus, but the constant index of what arranges them in relation to his own commitments is nothing less than the historically constructed Self he chooses to assert, valuatively, over this evidence or that, this event or that claim.

The point of all this is that Mr. Loftus's reservations about history prove too much, so much in fact that he is left with no basis for countenancing ANYTHING as worthy of infinite commitment. Indeed, as I asked at the very beginning of this series of posts about Lessing, what does Mr. Loftus consider meet for such commitment? If nothing, then he simply has no ability for assessing the value of Christian faith, as it proclaims a category of commitment he can't even countenance. If anything, on what grounds does he lay hold of it? Is his atheism worthy of infinite commitment? Why? Because the evidence compels him beyond all ditches? Denial of God is an infinite claim about the universe; such claims about the All are inherently religious and therefore inherently fraught with leaps beyond what we KNOW deductively. Anything short of such an infinite denial of God, aka agnosticism, is only a personal objection to Christianity, not an argument against it. There is no countering an absolute claim with personal diffidence. I may believe, wrongly, there is a green unicorn under my bed, but it is not a RATIONAL objection against that belief to say, well, I myself don't think there is. Until Mr. Loftus is willing to say, not simply that the evidence sure seems weak to him, but that, in fact, there is evidence that manifestly refutes Christianity, then his problems are more pastoral than philosophical.

All this is because the human person is ESSENTIALLY relative, essentially trinitarian, essentially opened-upwards -to-God and outwards-to- neighbor. The human person is ESSENTIALLY faith-based and naturally guided by created desires for good. We act based on trust incalculably more than on knowledge. Absent a knock-down inductive proof against Christianity (or some long-sought deductive argument there against), Mr. Loftus's only weapon is to argue it is irrational to believe without the evidence he assumes we need. But unless there is already a common fund of lexical, conceptual, cultural, etc., background about what counts for and against the question, he cannot so easily parse rationality for me or someone else.

Further, faith is eminently rational; it fulfills two core criteria of rational choice theory.

1) It does not stand in flagrant violation of pertinently known evidence. The whole point of this Lessing business is that, while evidence is certainly there, it's not "there enough".

2) It accords with numerous other rational goods, namely, that of extending the field of trust (as we see it in families, companies, relationships, teams, societies, mobs, scientific communities, religions, languages, etc.) in a wholly human way, and securing the good of peace of mind, empowerment through love, peace with others in light of higher goodness, guidance for unresolved issues based on higher truth, etc.; as such, religious faith is a coherent good among other goods, and in fact a higher good, since it integrates and orders many other goods. Mr. Loftus must show it is almost always irrational to believe in and act according to what we believe, with whatever knowledge we have, is a great, and perhaps our greatest, good. If we are famished, is it irrational to lunge at a sandwich if we believe it will stop our hunger, even if we don't know what's in it (for good or ill), where it came from, if someone else has a claim on it, etc.? Not at all evidently so. In short, Mr. Loftus's objections to faith ignore the bedrock of emotional, moral, social, etc., inclinations and "lenses" we live by (or die without), a bedrock which makes countless decisions, even if lacking knowledge, rational. And that's really all it comes down to: faith is rational if it is not irrational (regardless how hard Mr. Loftus finds such rationality to make his own). Mr. Loftus will say the believer always "falls back" onto faith. What he fails to grasp is: when or how does anyone not do the same thing in innumerable, extremely important matters?

His clinging to an outdated foundationalism is all of a piece with his individualized, "de-relationalized" conception of human nature. It doesn't help that he's now got a small second career riding on his atheism. The irony: in his own (proverbial) book, having personal, emotional entanglements about these issues counts against making a rational assessment of them. Where Mr. Loftus's personal, emotional attachments to atheism fit under that stricture, I'm not sure.


John W. Loftus said...

The ditch is only one aspect to my case. See here. And I don't think you truly understand the nature of the ditch.


the Cogitator said...

Mr. Loftus,

I would have preferred you specifically addressed the matter of the ditches and the historical positivism which grounds your obsession with it. Please demonstrate how I fail to understand the 'stakes' of Lessing's problem. Also, please reply to the substance of my post; as it stands, your lengthy post against Christianity is just a kind of plug for your book. If I have time, I would get into the meat of that post, but, as I say, I am discussing Lessing's ditches. You are welcome to do that here too.