Monday, February 7

Challenge: Atheism essay 2

George Smith's Atheism: The Case Against God is the book I am reading as part of a challenge I made almost a month ago. My counterparts, are reading N.T. Wright's The Challenge of Jesus and producing their respective commentary on that. Mr Smith, in his book, has divided his polemic against God into four parts, and as a result, I have chosen to write four essays. In the second section, Reason, Faith, and Revelation he discusses how reason is incompatible with faith and revelation.

Before I begin, I have three rhetorical questions for Mr Smith. First, he feels that reason is paramount. Faith has no part in his makeup. One might wonder then, how he arrives at any ethical decisions. Whence come his assumptions on which he basis his ethical framework. If he doesn't call it faith, he kids himself, for the distinction is merely semantics. Secondly, he extensively quotes theological sources. If he has in fact carefully read Augustine and Aquinas (not to speak of later theological writers) and not merely mined their writings for quotes, one might wonder that he can blandly say, that reason takes no part in theology. He certainly does not ascribe to the same postulates, but to say that reason is not employed in the practice of theology is not sustainable. Finally, this is part of the reason I chose the book by Mr Wright who uses modern historical methodology (reason) to investigate Jesus (and the resurrection), but his results are not the same as Mr Smith might expect.

Mr Smith starts this section of his book delineating the dividing line between faith and reason. He quotes, Ayn Rand as an Objectivist and Bertram Russell as a Logical Positivist delineating on the grounding in which reason finds its basis. He quotes Augustine in the City of God quoting:
Being led ... to prefer the Catholic doctrine, I felt that her proceeding was more unassuming and honest, in that she required to be believed things not demonstrated ...
I find it telling that he did not choose instead from the Confessions the following:
Your entire creation never ceases to praise you ... animals and physical matter find a voice through those who contemplate them
But I guess, Augustine calling the faithful to the pursuit of understanding nature is not on message, after all in an argument showing the division of faith and reason, the call of one of the faithful to express their faith by using reason to understand the creator's universe is not helpful (but certainly not unique to Augustine). Mr Smith also uses the example of Galileo to show how religion and science have long been at loggerheads (for a debunking of that particular historical myth see this). He also claims that in ancient times, men were more ready to believe the fantastic, like virgin birth and resurrection. Now, after the Enlightenment I will agree that we take as an article of faith that the miraculous cannot exist, but I don't think that the common man would find miracles very much more likely.

Mr Smith says faith cannot rescue us from the inadequacies of reason simply because reason is not inadequate. Logical Positivism is not a going concern in the ethical realm because it has been found inadequate. Now I'll admit, I'm running the tables just as he is. Mr Smith runs his arguments against what was attacked by the Enlightenment and I, for my part, drive my hammer against the inadequacies of reason. I'm not going to go head to head with each of his arguments, but he does show a tendency to cherry pick theologians and their arguments. I'll take one of his arguments for example. He picks out articles from the Old Testament and New which are interpreted to show that Jesus was the Messiah, fulfillment of the hope of Israel. That Jesus and his followers did find it reasonable that he was the fulfillment of the hope of Israel it seems not to enter in the discussion. That Paul, a Pharisee, could on meeting the resurrected Christ believe, matters not.