Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Christian Apologetics and Popper's Non-Justification

Popper on page 29 of Unended quest: An Intellectual autobiography, wrote “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: there will always be some who misunderstands you.”

On this point I agree with Popper, but Popper applied this approach to all knowledge. No knowledge could be justified as being absolutely true. We can approach truth but we can never quite get there. His opponents on the other hand believed that knowledge can be “justified,” i.e, proved true in a scientific laboratory.

Popper wasn’t a Christian as far as I can tell; so he was dealing with any spoken or written text when he wrote “it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood,” and also when he argued that scientific knowledge cannot be justified as being absolutely true. He wasn’t being a nihilist when he said that. He would say (I imagine) that science should move ahead with its work based on a 99.9999 percent confidence in the lab results.

It is true that evaluations in a laboratory can substantiate some physical facts and discount others, but as Wittgenstein implied at the end of his Tractatus, the most important knowledge can’t be demonstrated in a lab. Wittgenstein was converted to Christianity by reading Tolstoy’s paraphrase of the New Testament while fighting on the German front during World War I. He demonstrates that it is possible to understand and believe in the Scientific Method without believing that method to be the only source of knowledge. Whereas Scientists typically view their epistemology supporting an open-ended enlightened quest; Christians view the scientists’ parameters as forming a box from which they cannot hear the Holy Spirit that Wittgenstein heard.

The writer of Hebrews in Chapter 3 verse 15 wrote, “As has been said, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” And again in 4:7, “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David as was said before: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” But as a result of the scientific box that excludes any voices that cannot speak through its laboratory walls, these philosophers and scientists cannot hear ‘his voice.’” The scientific method and hardened hearts seem to go hand in hand, but it needn’t be so, and using Popper’s “falsification method” we falsify that belief by means of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

The term “fideism” means a reliance upon faith rather than reason. This term is normally applied to religion, but Popper admits a kind of fideism in that he has faith in reason. He cannot demonstrate “reason” or “rationality” in a lab. This is an assumption that he holds by faith. Are we Christians fideists in relying upon faith and not on reason? Some Christians are, but Thomas Aquinas believed that the religious truths of Christianity could be proved using reason. He believed (according to Steven Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550, page 35, “that universals were really in things and, as so-called intelligible species, also really in the mind, so he believed that grace was really in sacramental rituals and elements and, as an accidental form, also really in the soul.” This belief didn’t remain unchallenged. William of Ockham and the Nominalists challenged this overweening reliance upon words.

Few Christians today would follow Aquinas or Duns Scotus in the belief that God can be proved by verbal argument. Thomism didn’t disappear but Ockham’s Nominalism weakened it fatally. The Fourteenth Century was a time of great insecurity, for if the proofs of Aquinas and Duns could not be relied upon, then perhaps God didn’t really exist. A fideistic approach to belief was a viable alternative, but it didn’t satisfy everyone.

Luther and Calvin followed Ockham in rejecting Aquinas and Duns. Justification was to be by faith and not by philosophical “proofs.” Assurance of salvation was to occur through reliance upon the testimony of Jesus and his disciples as quickened in the believer by the Holy Spirit. This process is not demonstrable in a scientific lab, but no generation since the Church was formed has lacked believers and evangelists.

Peter (1 Peter 3:15) writes “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” So how would Peter answer Popper’s opponents? He wouldn’t have quite as much trouble with Popper who admits to a fideistic belief in reason, but is this hope that we have truly fideistic? Not according to Cornelius Van Til, the recent Professor of Apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary. He has been accused of fideism, but his “hope” was never a blind one. He made assumptions equivalent to those of Popper’s opponents and then argued with as much acumen as the most sophisticated philosopher. They assumed the Scientific Method, Van Til assumed the truth proclaimed in Scripture.

But wait, if it is impossible to write in such a way that ambiguity is eliminated (a paraphrase of Popper) how shall we know what Scriptural truth is? Won’t it all be ambiguous? In this regard, Christians rely upon the Holy Spirit to provide enough understanding for salvation. But we should at the same time understand that Scripture is not self-authenticating. In every generation some bright fellow will think it is, read the Bible and rely upon his own understanding and produce or more likely reproduce a heterodox theory of Christianity. Luther and Calvin advocated sola scriptura, scripture only, and by this they intended to object to the Catholic traditions that the RCC claimed equivalent to Scripture, but much confusion has resulted from this expression. If we accept Sola Scriptura then surely Scripture is self-authenticating, many have tended to think, and it is therefore in no need of an exegete. Of course this isn’t a tenable position. Both Luther and Calvin spent much of their lives explaining Scripture. We have always needed teaching. The best way to avoid a heterodox tangent is to familiarize ourselves with the great teachers provided to the church down through the ages. Are any of us as wise as they were? Perhaps, but if so we will surely agree with them. If we discover that we do not then we are on shaky ground. Sola Scriptura yes, but let us consult the teachers who have wrestled (with the help of the Holy Spirit) with the ambiguities of Scripture. Who are these teachers, some will ask? Here we can apply Popper again. We should strive to accept the teachers who stick closest to Scripture but as our studies grow we can compare teacher to teacher and more closely approach a thorough understanding. We should choose wisely. Someplace it is written that we shall be held accountable for the teachers we set over ourselves.

We are not alone in this. He has not left us comfortless, and he has told us he will be with us until the end of the age. As to the ambiguity in that statement, we don’t know quite what “the age” is or when it will “end,” but whatever it is and however long it lasts, Christ has promised to be with us, and with the help of the Holy Spirit we accept that knowledge as justified – not in a lab, but with quite as much confidence as the lab technicians have as they pursue their experiments. 99.9999 percent? Perhaps.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ridgebacks in coyote country, 6-13-11

[Using the Pentax K20d camera and the Pentax 18-55II lens]

Today we followed some coyote trails through some foxtail fields:


You can make out the coyote trail Ginger is walking on:IMGP1025

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We didn’t see any coyotes but had a good time anyway.  Time to head back to the Jeep:




Saturday, June 11, 2011

Re: Patrick in Ireland

Someone asked, You mention that Patrick had difficulty with Latin.  Why would he need Latin when people in all of England and Ireland spoke languages other than Latin?”

In order to preach or evangelize as Patrick did, one needed to know Latin. The Evangelist would need to know the native language in order to preach, but he would have needed to know Latin in order to study the Scriptures which were readily only in that language.

On page 87-88 of The Barbarian Conversion from Paganism to Christianity, Fletcher writes, “Christian churches imply Christian texts. Patrick was soaked in the Bible, as may be readily seen from passages in his Confessio . . . and he would have seen to it that the priests he ordained were too. Familiarity with the Bible and the Christian liturgy presupposed two things: learning Latin and acquiring the technology of writing. Ancient Ireland had a rich oral repertoire of poetry and narrative but early Christian leaders there seem to have been reluctant to translate Christian texts into the vernacular and write them down; possibly the Irish vernacular was held to be tainted by association with paganism. (It should be said that these inhibitions were overcome at a later stage and that in the course of time Ireland developed a rich Christian literature in Old Irish.) Whatever the reason, early Irish converts, unlike Ulfila’s Goths, were not presented with a vernacular Bible. So Patrick’s clerical disciples had to learn Latin. Moreover, they had to learn Latin as a foreign language. The Proven├žal audiences of Caesarius, the flock of Bishop Martin in Touraine, even the rustics of Galicia, all spoke Latin of a sort. The Irish did not. Learning Latin, for them, meant schools and grammar and a lot of hard work. It was the need to acquire facility in Latin – in an environment which lacked the educational system which was such a central feature of later-antique literary culture in the Roman Empire – which made the pursuit of learning an essential feature of Irish Christian communities in the early Middle Ages. Much was to follow from this. Early results were impressive: the first Irishman who has left us a substantial body of Latin writings was St Columbanus. He was born in about 545 and devoted his youth to ‘liberal and grammatical studies’, in the words of his earliest biographer: this would have been in the 550s and early 560s. The Latin of Columbanus was confident, supple and elegant, altogether different from the raw uncouth Latin of Patrick. It is plain that by the middle of the sixth century it was possible in Ireland to acquire a really good Latin education.”

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fog on the mountain, 6-10-11

  [Using a Pentax K20d camera and a Pentax 18-55 II lens]

From my study window I couldn’t see the mountains, and even when I went down to the river I couldn’t see them clearly, but the fog stayed up the mountain and didn’t interfere lower down where we walked.




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Although Raggedy Ann told us it was okay to go on, we heard some gunfire up ahead.  The girls stopped in front of me; which told me they wanted to go back.  So we did.





Patrick's "Voice of the Irish" vision and prayer

On page 82 of The Barbarian Conversion, from Paganism to Christianity, Fletcher writes, “Patrick is famously difficult for the historian. It might be easiest to start by indicating some of the things which he did not do. He did not expel snakes from Ireland: the snakelessness of Ireland had been noted by the Roman geographer Solinus in the third century. He did not compose the wonderful hymn known as ‘Saint Patrick’s Breastplate’: its language postdates him by about three centuries. He did not drive a chariot three times over his sister Lupait to punish her for unchastity: the allegation that he did first occurs in a life of Patrick which is a farrago of legend put together about 400 years after his death. He did not use the leaves of the shamrock to illustrate the Persons of the Trinity for his converts: true, he might have done; but it is not until the seventeenth century that we are told that he did.”

I have read other accounts of the establishment of Christianity in Ireland, but Fletcher’s account takes into account the latest scholarship (at least as of the time of his book, copyrighted in 1997) and his approach is refreshingly modern. Here is his description of Patrick’s knowledge of Latin: “Patrick wrote in Latin, but of a very peculiar kind; indeed, his Latin is unique in the whole vast corpus of ancient or early Christian Latin literature. He had received little formal education – it was to cause him shame all his life – and he did not handle the Latin language with any facility. He longs, passionately longs, to make himself clear to his readers but has the utmost difficulty in so doing. His Latin is simple, awkward, laborious, sometimes ambiguous, occasionally unintelligible. It follows that there is a large latitude for debate about what his words actually mean, a latitude of which Patrician scholars have shown no bashfulness in liberally availing themselves.”

Patrick (c. 340 to 440 A.D.) was born in England and captured by Irish raiders when he was fifteen. He lived in Ireland for six years, after which he escaped and returned to England. He tells us what happened next in his Confessio: “Again a few years later I was in Britain with my kinsfolk, and they welcomed me as a son an asked me earnestly not to go off anywhere and leave them this time, after the great tribulations which I had been through. And it was there that I saw one night in a vision a man coming from Ireland (his name was Victoricus), with countless letters; and he gave me one of them, and I read the heading of the letter, ‘The Voice of the Irish’, and as I read these opening words aloud I imagined at that very instant that I heard the voice of those who were beside the forest of Foclut which is near the western sea; and thus they cried as though with one voice: ‘We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.’ And I was stung with remorse in my heart and could not read on, and so I awoke. Thanks be to God, that after so many years the Lord bestowed on them according to their cry. And another night (I do not know, God knows, whether it was within me or beside me) I was addressed in words which I heard and yet could not understand, except that at the end of the prayer He spoke thus: ‘He who gave his life for you, He it is who speaks within you,’ and so I awoke overjoyed. And again I saw Him praying within me and I was, as it were, inside my own body, and I heard Him above me, that is to say above my inner self, and He was praying there powerfully and groaning; and meanwhile I was dumbfounded and astonished and wondered who it could be that was praying within me, but at the end of the prayer He spoke and said that He was the Spirit, and so I awoke and remembered the apostle’s words: ‘The Spirit helps the weaknesses of our prayer; for we do not know what to pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspeakable groans which cannot be expressed in words.’”

Fletcher adds, “No one can doubt the authenticity of the experience or fail to be moved by the writer’s efforts to describe it.” Or, Fletcher might say if pushed, Patrick really did have a dream but it was probably caused by friends and unfinished commitments he had made in Ireland. A modern-day Charismatic and possibly most orthodox Christians will believe, as Patrick did, that the Holy Spirit really did inhabit Patrick’s dream and inspire him to return to the Irish with what success we are aware.

I recall the arguments of modern Christian orthodoxy that Charismatic gifts ended during the Apostolic age. There was a need for them early on, but once the New Testament Scriptures were readily available there was no longer any need for these gifts. But most of the writings that Fletcher quotes clearly imply that these gifts were present, or at least believed to be present by those who witnessed and wrote about them. Also, it is interesting to note that it is only the Orthodox Protestant Church (by and large) that has declared these gifts to have ended. The Roman Catholic Church still looks for miracles in the lives of men and women they are investigating for possible sainthood. And the Eastern Orthodox Church looks for similar miracles. I once listened to a long narration by a member of the Russian Orthodox Church of Los Angeles describing the “miracles” associated with the death of his priest.

I am an orthodox Christian and not an atheist; so I have no need to explain such accounts as Patrick’s in modern scientific terms. An atheist would find everything he needed to account for this event in Patrick’s psychology and credulity. However, an atheist presupposes that only which meets the standard of the Scientific Method can be accepted as true. (from Wikipedia: "Modern science owes its origins and present flourishing state to a new scientific method which was fashioned almost entirely by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642)" —Morris Kline”) Therefore, the atheist would argue, since Patrick’s visitation cannot be verified in the laboratory, it is ipso facto a mere dream – his belief that it was more notwithstanding. While the Scientific Method has produced many wonderful things, it is presumptuous it seems to me for its adherents to argue that it is the only path to knowledge and truth. Early adherents did not so claim. The scientific method was merely a way to understand the natural world which had been created by God. Wittgenstein would have said much the same thing. His Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus described a world that Galileo or Bacon would have understood, but at the end of it he writes, “My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up beyond them (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

“He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

“What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.”

Those of us who are orthodox Christians, whether Protestant, Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, accept the idea that the Holy Spirit works in our lives. This is a Christian presupposition that doesn’t conflict with the Scientific Method. It does conflict with the Atheistic assumption that the Scientific Method is the only way of knowing.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Relationship of Church and State in the time of Eusebius and Augustine

Eusebius didn’t believe in the separation of Church and State. He was a prominent member of the “little circle of court clerics who helped to school Constantine in Christian ways and to shape an image of him for contemporaries and for posterity.” [Fletcher’s The Barbarian Conversion, from Paganism to Christianity, page 22]

Eusebius dates, c. 260 to c. 340, overlap Constantine’s rule, c. 306-337, surely one of the most important times in church history. In our modern times it is anathema to advocate the combination of Church and State, but if we attempt to put ourselves back in Eusebius’ situation we probably would have agreed with him. Christians had been hounded, persecuted and martyred off and on since the time of the apostles, but now the most powerful person in the world had become a convert. If we had an opportunity to mold him, what would we do? It wouldn’t do to tell Constantine that Church and State should be separated. That wouldn’t have meant anything to him. His conversion from all we know was genuine. He wanted to help the Church grow, so why not let him?

“. . . his adhesion to Christianity from 313 onwards was not to be doubted. Its most enduring manifestation was in open-handed patronage. Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, though this is often said of him. What he did was to make the Christian church the most-favoured recipient of the near-limitless resources of imperial favour. An enormous new church of St. Peter was built in Rome, modeled on the basilican form used for imperial throne halls such as the one which survives at Trier. The see of Rome received extensive landed endowments and one of the imperial residences, the Lateran Palace, to house its bishop and his staff. Constantinople, begun in 325, was to be an exclusively Christian city . . . Legal privileges and immunities rained down upon the Christian church and its clergy. The emperor took an active part in ecclesiastical affairs, summoning and attending church councils, participating in theological debate, attempting to sort out quarrels and controversies.” [Fletcher, 19-22]

And if we somehow had an opportunity to talk to Eusebius during this period, could we talk him into a belief in a separation of Church and State? I doubt it. Eusebius was an historian. He knew how bad the Church had it during earlier times and how good Constantine was making it for the Church during the time in which he lived. We would have no evidence to present him of the evils we would be trying to warn him against.

It was Augustine who would make the argument for this separation, but not the argument we moderns might expect. When we read his presuppositions they are hard for a modern Christian to accept. He was influenced by Monasticism. “Monasticism offered, or demanded, a manner of life in which individualism had to be shed. To be ‘of one heart and of one soul’ within a community, to have ‘all things common’, was not simply to follow the example of the apostles commended in Acts iv. 32: it was also to be liberated from the insidious temptation of private cares, selfish anxieties. Such liberation offered the possibility to humans of building a heavenly society upon earth. The monastic vocation was a call to a new way of apprehending, even of merging into, the divine.”

Augustine, if he could be brought forward in time, would be appalled at our definition of the separation of Church and State. Why bother to separate, he might ask us, since he could see so little difference? The Reformers were influenced by many of Augustine’s arguments, but not this one. They found no justification for Monasticism and no reason not to influence the State if they could. Augustine’s arguments can’t easily be set aside, even if we reject Monasticism, but the separation of Church and State that we recognize today began with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. One might say that we in the West learned how to be tolerant of each other’s religion the hard way. We fought each other for thirty years and got tired of it. That’s not quite the same as saying that we suddenly became enlightened, but it will do.

There are Christians today who worry that we in the West have gone too far in the other direction, that is, that whereas in the past the church had power over the State, now the State is assuming an inhibiting power over the Church. Organizations, especially the ACLU, are going through State and Church activities much as Rudolf Bultmann went through the New Testament, rejecting this and that as they see fit. The Western Civilization and the Christian Church grew together as an integral unit, but some now feel they can pull the Church out and cast it aside. Most of the time (at least here in the U.S.) most of us know how to be both Christian and citizen. The two don’t need to be in conflict. Of course most of the Church in the U.S. isn’t resisting ACLU inroads. They may complain a bit, but that are too used to getting along with the State to make a fuss. Would we “make a fuss” if the State went too far, whatever we might mean by that? I think so. The “Spreading Flame” may have grown dim, but it isn’t out.

Monday, June 6, 2011

River morning, 6-6-11

[Pentax K20d, Sigma 28-80mm.]







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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Are Alisande's photo's art?

Alisande writes, “I have a small show at the library this month, most of the images taken with my E-520 and the 35mm macro. Some were processed with Topaz. I can remember when it wouldn't have occurred to me to exhibit "photoshopped" photography, but times have changed. Any why not? If an image is presented as art, anything goes. And my Topaz adjustments aren't exactly over the top.

“In any case, they're getting a lot of favorable comment. Some viewers think I simply shot the hydrangea twice--once in color and once in black and white, even though the Topaz version is much more purple and green than B&W.

“I'm happy to have this positive experience right now, because following cataract surgery a couple of weeks ago I can no longer use my left eye at the viewfinder. I suppose I'll get used to making the switch, but so far it's a struggle.”

The above site provides an oblique view of some of her photos, enough to get an idea of what she is about. While I am not interested in anything like an exhibition, I have her early prejudices against “photoshopping” -- sort of. That is, I photograph scenes from my hikes and they either come out the way I want or they don’t. If they don’t, when I look at them later on my computer, I simply delete them. But I do have Adobe Photoshop 9 on my computer and have played with it a time or two. Perhaps if I took an unusual photo that had a flaw that was not due to my photographic inadequacies, say a bit of “cotton” floating down from a cotton-wood tree, I wouldn’t see anything wrong with deleting it. I did delete some “orbs” and spots caused by sensor dust on my Pentax K20d and didn’t feel any guilt. (I do have the camera she refers to as well as the lens. I can sympathize with her difficulty with the viewfinder; which is one of the reasons I prefer an E1 when I am shooting Olympus and one of the reasons I bought a Pentax K20d.)

On the other hand, if my current photographic approach on hikes becomes boring, I may do some “experimenting” which would require my storing my photographs in “Raw” rather than in “JPEG” – something of a nuisance because one must “do something” with them in order to make them useable. Also, a Raw file is much larger than a JPEG file. I may indeed do that at some point, but I may still doubt that whatever I produce, even if it is as good as the photos of Alisande, is art. On the other hand I don’t feel critical of her or her photographs. I’m probably only a bit more ambivalent than she is.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Cloudy Morning, 6-4-11

[Pentax K20d camera and Sigma 28-80mm lens]





Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ridgebacks out in the midday sun, 6-1-11

[Olympus E-520 camera & Zuiko 18-180mm lens]