As Flannery O’Connor put it, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” But a falsehood, as Chesterton notes, is engineered precisely so that the listeners would in fact be able to stomach it. Stomachability is a design feature when it comes to a lie. Who would invent lies that nobody is going to want to believe?
But the truth simply is what it is.
This is why truth tellers are always troublemakers. And this is also why the postmodern heart loves the coherence view of truth, and detests the correspondence view of truth. The coherence view includes all those things that might be pleasant to digest, and the correspondence view encompasses the rest of the world, which is not really all that edible. It is measured by criteria other than how it might make us feel half an hour after dinner.
This is why, incidentally, C.S. Lewis is beloved by conservative American evangelicals even though he wasn’t one. He hated subjectivism, and saw that subjectivism was the portal through which every foul error makes its way into the lives of believers. It is the same portal, come to think of it, from which Rob Bell made his escape. The world is simply there, and we are the ones who must conform to it, and not the other way around.
When we conform to the world we are doing with natural revelation what God has trained us to do with special revelation. The issue for us must be “what does the Bible say?” and not “what would we like the Bible to have said?” We learn to read the world because we have been trained by the primer of the Word, and the very first lesson we must learn in order to become “men with chests” is that the right kind of sentiment rests upon an objective moral code that will not budge, however much we wheedle about it.
Here is a postmodern math problem, a story problem, for the current crop of Mark Studdocks that the government school system is busy right now shaping into that shapeless . . . you know what I mean. “There are ten redwoods on the mountainside. Loggers have come with a permit and have cut three of them down. How does this make you feel?”
This modern goo thought is capable of seeping into all kinds of surprising places. I have seen it get to places that at one time I would have said were entirely inaccessible. But denominational walls cannot keep it out. Institutions cannot save themselves with little pieces of paper called founding documents. The only thing that can spare us is truth defended at the testing point, which is to say, the need of the hour is courage.
But Doug, my postmodern professor at the newest Christian university taught me that we define courage by our experience. Which means that if we love sinners (if sin does actually exist, we’re not sure yet) without judgment and let them into our churches without repentance we are being courageous. Therefore you are wrong, and that is in the bible.
True dat! …. (Now, let’s all pretend that it is absolutely true that we now have another line beginning with the next sentence.) …. The problem with subjectivism is that nobody believes it – because nobody can believe it. Oh, they may claim to hold tightly to that slippery incoherent nonsense; but any proposition that claims that truth itself is not absolute is actually making the ultimate absolute truth assertion. It covers everything everywhere at all times. If our postmodern friends present any arguments to the contrary, these are necessarily grounded in a presupposition of absolute truth. So again, while… Read more »
Um, OK, but which of the following is more “stomachable”: (1) There’s a benevolent heavenly father who cares about my life, and the creator of the universe is my best friend, and I get to go to heaven forever and ever; or (2) we’re all alone, there’s nothing out there that cares if you live or die, and this life is all there is. I absolutely agree with Doug that the truth is often unpleasant, and that doesn’t change what’s true. I find it curious, though, that he would emphasize that point given that his entire belief system strikes me… Read more »
Eric, if we are all alone, there is no such thing as “we” that is capable of being alone. Consciousness is simply brain fizz, which means that I have no reason for believing that my beliefs are true, and therefore have no reason to believe that I have a brain capable of fizzing. Atheism is to be rejected, not because it is not palatable, but rather because it is incoherent. Wishful thinking is only possible in a universe in which thinking is possible — viz. a world that God made.
Eric, Your next problem is that there was never a Christian that did not arrive at your scenario (assurance of heaven) without first facing the terrible reality that they are absolutely damnable in and of themselves. That is precisely the truth trying to be avoided by the “wishful thinking” of Atheism.
Doug, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that consciousness is merely “brain fizz”. In fact, let’s go a step further and suppose that consciousness is an illusion, and that everything I believe to be reality is in fact a figment of my imagination. Let us assume that, even though it’s a complete parody and caricature of what most cognitive biologists actually believe (not that far removed, conceptually, from the mirror image caricature of all Christians being neo-Nazi wannabes with room-temperature IQs). Now, assuming all of that to be true, for the brief moment in time that my brain… Read more »
Ian, I would be much more persuaded by your argument if not for the fact that most Christians (especially of the Calvinist branch of Christianity) also believe that they dodged the bullet by being one of the elect. If you could find someone who believed in Christianity, but oh, darn it, I’m not one of the elect so I’m going to spend eternity in hell and there’s nothing I can do about it, then that would be a far more persuasive argument for Christians being willing to believe unpalatable things (at least that one). But I’ve never met a Calvinist… Read more »
Eric, I think Doug is saying that your consciousness CAN be trusted to give you good information about the world. He’s pointing out the inconsistency between materialistic determinism (i.e. the laws of physics unalterably governing everything, even the atomic motion that makes up thoughts) and the idea that thoughts are meaningful. If you had no choice but to think what you think, because of physics, there’s no real free will, no value to your thoughts. People argue this way: “You just think that because you’re white.” They see that if the person’s thought or speech was determined without free will,… Read more »
In addition, The Abolition of Man is very short: you can work through the whole thing in a couple of hours. Time well spent.
Eric, I know someone who is not an atheist. He believes there is a God who will judge him to hell. He had an “experience” and spent a period of his life going to church and abstaining from pursuing his carnal desires. He ultimately realized he preferred living his life indulging in the lusts of his flesh. Because his affections were not changed to desire God’s glory after his “experience” he believes he was not chosen by God and therefore will face judgement of hell upon death. There is nothing stomachable about knowing many billions of people will… Read more »
Eric, perhaps we could take a different tack here. Suppose there is an infinitely righteous Being that happens to be your maker. He gives you life and power of conscious moral choice. Like any normal human, you can reason that certain bad behaviors are made more heinous – depending on whom we have wronged. So if, for example, we were to shout insults at a piece of lint, there would probably be no corresponding guilt. If we tried this same tactic on an avowed enemy whose sole intent was to do us wrong, who would blame you then? If we… Read more »
Carson, not all atheists are pure materialists. Atheism per se goes no further than that there aren’t any deities, which tells us little about what actually does exist, and atheists are all over the map on that question. And science has not answered the question — yet — as to what exactly it means to be conscious, and how consciousness works, and even whether it’s a trait that humans share with other organisms. So the fact that my consciousness appears to be working just fine — not that I’d know if it weren’t — doesn’t really answer any questions. However,… Read more »
John, here’s the why: Millions of years of evolution have hard-wired the human brain to desire to live in community, which means that certain behaviors must be suppressed and others encouraged. People want to leave the world a better place for posterity for the same reason they want posterity in the first place: To pass along their genes and to make their genes more likely to survive long enough to continue to pass along their genes. It’s the same principle under which any number of species in the animal world protect their young from predators, often at great physical risk… Read more »
Eric, What if the cat somehow came to consciously understand the concept of the freedom of the will itself?
He would now have another potential factor in making choices. Namely freedom of choice itself.
He would have chosen the tuna – but now he knows about the power to choose otherwise.
Now a motivating factor is freedom itself.
If a motivating factor in your choice is you know that you may – or may not – choose, do you not therefore have a truly free choice?
Jay, every drug addict in the world knows he’d be better off clean and sober, but lacks the will power to become clean and sober. I know I’d be better off if I lost 20 pounds but I just can’t resist homemade ice cream, especially on double chocolate truffle cake. Put another way, you can do whatever you want, but you have no choice as to what you want. We are largely governed by our desires; when I see double chocolate truffle cake, what I do will depend entirely on which passion is stronger: The passion for the cake, or… Read more »
Eric, to those of us who are not committed to a naturalistic presupposition your statement appears breathtakingly irrational. As your comment so vividly illustrates, scientists who are committed to naturalistic origins for life, are forced to use words that imply intelligence when giving an account for our existence.
Eric said, This is a two-way street; your ability to read the Bible depends on the same observational skills as my ability to understand cause and effect. Try to keep your argument in order. You began by saying “for the sake of argument, let us suppose that [what Pastor Wilson was saying is true].” And it’s on this basis that you’re saying even Pastor Wilson can’t rely on his interpretation, and then faulting him for this as though he actually believes what you’re taking for the sake of argument. It’s only upon your worldview that he would have reason to… Read more »
What I meant was, what Pastor Wilson was saying about your worldview was true. Apologies.
As well, let’s keep in mind that Pastor Wilson said, “Stomachability is a design feature when it comes to a lie.” When it comes to truth, any Stomachability (or otherwise is completely incidental. Surely you would have to admit that many parts of Christianity are naturally un-stomachable (as I believe the Westborocrats have made abundantly clear). Also keep in mind that Pastor Wilson is not making an argument for truth of Christianity on the basis of its Stomachability or otherwise. I’ve heard objections to Christianity on both bases, and I can’t help but wonder whether these folks need to be sent to… Read more »
Eric, you seem to have missed my main point – while making it in your comments. Yes, it is true that you will only do that which most strongly motivates you, for that is, by definition, what moves the will to act. —– But my point is that the conscious awareness of concept of the freedom to choose is another motivating factor. —– It is sort of like the Hawthorne Effect in scientific experimentation. If we were to behave as we normally would without being aware of observation, we should do X, Y, and Z. But once we become aware… Read more »
John, scientists sometimes use metaphors, as do I when I comment on blogs, with the expectation that the reader will understand it’s a metaphor. Matthias, it is one thing to say that observational skills require God for their existence. It is quite another to grant that observational skills do indeed exist but then to have different rules for theists and for atheists; his allow him to read the Bible just fine, but mine don’t allow me to draw conclusions by looking at the world around me. Regardless of where those skills came from, we both acknowledge they exist, so he can’t… Read more »
Eric said: Matthias, it is one thing to say that observational skills require God for their existence. It is quite another to grant that observational skills do indeed exist but then to have different rules for theists and for atheists; Believe it or not, that isn’t the case. It’s saying the same thing, in a nuanced way. The fact does not change simply because you disagree. his allow him to read the Bible just fine, but mine don’t allow me to draw conclusions by looking at the world around me. Regardless of where those skills came from, we both acknowledge they… Read more »
Um…”God doesn’t exist” cannot be true*. My apologies.
Eric said, John, scientists sometimes use metaphors, as do I when I comment on blogs, with the expectation that the reader will understand it’s a metaphor.
Eric, that is the elephant in the room. Scientist are forced to use words that imply intelligence while attempting to account for what they observe. Their statements would be much more rational if they gave up on the fantasy that everything that appears to be designed and purposed by an intelligent agent is actually the result of a impersonal force called natural selection.
Thanks for the clarification, Eric. I didn’t know you admitted the possibility of the non-material. This is interesting, and if you don’t mind taking the discussion further, I think a few more questions would be good. ————— As I see it, there are a couple positions here: you might think that science is the best tool we have for discovering knowledge (I’m… Read more »
Oops, I guess formatting works now. I’ll do it right next time.
Back to the beginning of this, and leaving behind the stream of comments.
From discussions in another time, and another place…it’s really all about the character of the men and the grace of God.
Matthias, when you say something like “God doesn’t exist cannot be true” or “if God didn’t exist, the universe shouldn’t exist”, you need to offer some support for it. Otherwise, it’s no different than any other unsupported declaration, like “If All-Father Odin doesn’t reign in Valhalla, then arithmetic would be impossible.” (What do you want to bet, by the way, that Norse theologians made comparable arguments about the gods of Valhalla?) It’s easy to make those kinds of statements; it’s not so easy to back them up. Other than your own personal conviction, do you have anything to back… Read more »
No, John, scientists are not forced to use metaphor; they do so because it makes science easier to understand for people who don’t have graduate degrees in science. Jesus told parables for the same reason. If you’ve ever done any teaching at all, then you know that telling a story makes it far, far easier for students to understand your point then boring them half to death with long explanations. I only understood calculus when one of my math professors told an absolutely brilliant parable in which Zeno got pulled over for speeding and Newton wrote him a ticket.
Carson, in order for me to flatly rule out the possibility that God exists, I would have to prove a negative, and as you know it’s usually difficult if not impossible to do so, which is why those claiming a proposition is true have the burden of proof. However, by that standard, I also can’t conclusively rule out the possibility of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, so that standing alone doesn’t get us very far. What I can say is that so far, nobody has offered anything in the way of evidence, either physical, material, philosophical, or otherwise, that… Read more »
Well, this comment thread has far surpassed the point of diminishing returns, but I’m interested in whether you are referring to the correspondence “view” of truth as a criteria for knowing truth (epistemological) or a definition of truth (ontological).
I try to apply coherence criteria because I believe that there is an actual correspondence definition, but getting there is a glorious mess. There is real truth, but God tells it slant (the epistle of Emily).
Oh no! “Scientists aren’t forced to use metaphor”. This statement saddens me. How do we refer to basic scientific ideas of time without applying metaphors grounded in space. “Back in time”, “forward in time”. You can replace these with graphs, but you never get around the spatial metaphor; and what is science without speaking of time. You can try to replace natural language with equations, but equations in string theory, relativity, etc. simply use a mathematical metaphor for time that treats it like other spatial dimensions.
At this point Eric, you’re asking me to persuade you. I’ve given the proof. God’s existence is such that without Him, there wouldn’t exist anything. As one example, consider the Münchhausen Trilemma. Without God as self-determined and self-existent, one has no recourse but to opt for1 of 3 contradictory foundational explanations for their knowledge. Surely one might opt for this if he wanted to evade belief in God, but it is not a reasonable alternative.
Eric said, Otherwise, it’s no different than any other unsupported declaration, like “If All-Father Odin doesn’t reign in Valhalla, then arithmetic would be impossible.” Since Odin isn’t the precondition of intelligibility (nor claims this for himself), this does not apply. If you really consider that statement to be “no different,” I suggest you have yet to think through the implications of God’s existence. “Given God as described in the Bible,” you need to ask yourself, “what part of my experience should be the case? What shouldn’t?” As soon as you entertain the idea that some random other god could do this you’ve… Read more »
Eric, isn’t the universe, at the very least, awfully fishy?
Let’s try a far out thought experiment:
Suppose we achieve deep space travel and land on a distant planet. Sentient life no longer exists there. How could we know whether intelligent beings ever were there? How, in other words, do we interpret whether something is the result of intelligent agency – or simply complex (along the order of crystal formation, etc.)?
Matthias, I will admit to not being familiar with the Munchausen Trilema; I’ll take a look at it and get back to you. But in the meantime, what you’ve given me is so much arguing in circles I’m surprised you’re not dizzy. So, from the top, what’s your argument that nothing can exist without God? Don’t just make the bald, naked assertion, tell me why you think that’s true.
Jay, there is a huge revolution underway in quantum physics, and it now appears that much of what we’ve believed about physics for a very long time may not be true after all. And there is still a lot that we don’t understand. But even after all of that has been acknowledged, the fact that there are unexplained gaps in my belief system is not evidence for the truth of your belief system. And the bottom line reason I’m an atheist isn’t that science has explained everything — it hasn’t — but rather because I don’t see any actual evidence… Read more »
Sorry, I overlooked your last sentence: We would look to see if there’s actual evidence of intelligent agency, or of everything there can be explained by purely natural phenomena.
What I’m trying to ask, Eric, is what, at minimum, qualifies as evidence? What are the telltale signs that lead any reasonable person to infer sentient activity?
I am not here talking about mere human evidence like watches, clipboards, candy wrappers, etc… these we know from direct experiential and historical knowledge. The reason I ask about alien intelligence is because, while we might not have seen anything like their artifacts, there is still a minimum threshold of data whereby any reasonable person may assume sentient causality.
I have a feeling based on life experience and the observation of others that truth is an acquired taste.
Matthias, I clicked on your trilemma link and read the article, and I don’t think those are the only three options. In fact, I would argue that there is only a dilemma if someone doesn’t understand that there are different methodologies for establishing different categories of facts, and uses the wrong method on the wrong category. For example, the scientific method is accepted, not because it can be tied to a particular axiom, but because empirical experimentation has established that in fact it works. And since it works, we don’t even need to care why it works. I am confidant… Read more »
Jay, evidence is something that tends to prove that a proposition is either true or false. If we have no experience with aliens, you are right that we might not recognize the products of alien intelligence. However, we do have experience in natural phenomena, and if we find something that does not appear to be the result of natural phenomena, we would then have to leave open the question of whether it might be something else. And we would then have to go looking for evidence to guide is, or wait for further evidence to come in.
Are you suggesting that the scientific method rests neither on circular argument, regressive argument, nor axiom? If not, and all things must rest on something, then what? Further, are you seriously applying a pragmaticism criterion to this question? Ignorantly speaking in confidence does not make one less ignorant, but it may make others more so. Transcendental arguments for God’s existence won’t land fully with anyone unless they’re familiar with such things, granted.