Tag Archives: ideas

How some atheists might do circular reasoning

Last week, I introduced “circular reasoning” to my students. It’s not only about bad reasoning; it makes for bad sentences, too!

Before that class, I had searched Google Images for illustrations and cartoon strips related to circular reasoning. So many of the them related to Christian circular reasoning:

The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God because the Word of God is the Bible.

That’s just a quick summation.

Not being particularly annoyed with that kind of illustration of circular reasoning, I did become a little annoyed at the sheer number of these things in the Google Image results. The sheer number seemed a little too triumphant, and to my way of thinking, triumphalism is poor taste even when you’re trying to answer annoyingly triumphant opponents.

Then, walking to the library a bit later on that class day, the following occurred to me, about how some atheists might be equally circular:

There is no supernatural dimension or anything beyond observable nature. Unexplained phenomena ultimately have a natural explanation because there is no supernatural dimension because all things have a natural explanation. 

Perhaps crudely put, here in the library during an hour’s break, but the above is basically an operating premise for many atheists, and a circular one.

If you’ve read any of this blog lately, you know I’ve tried to record and analyze the nonsense and unhealthiness in American Christianity. I agree with the circularity of the Bible-is-the-Word-of-God-because-it-says-so. This blog could say it is the Word of God and you could even feel like it is the Word of God, but would that mean anything in any ultimate sense? No.

That circularity does not make an atheistic argument non-circular.

Why say, “My natural senses have never detected anything supernatural; therefore there is no supernatural”? It seems like “natural senses” would by definition not be “supernatural senses.”

Just to be crystal clear, the existence of the word “supernatural” and the phrase “supernatural senses” do not create or necessitate any kind of supernatural realm any more than the existence of the word Narnia creates a real place.

Some tangentially related things bugging me:

  • Why should anything in a supernatural dimension have to meet my standards of natural proof?
  • But if we claim to know there’s a supernatural realm, then our knowing might be based on natural experience, which is manipulable.
  • What is the survival function of our ability to imagine a greater, supernatural realm? What is the evolutionary necessity of believing in an imaginary supernatural realm? (These questions spurred in part by something I once heard Malcolm Guite say at a C.S. Lewis conference.) If the supernatural realm is only a delusion, what evolutionary purpose does a belief in the supernatural — especially such a belief among otherwise sane and intelligent people — serve for survival and reproduction?
Image

‘Public response to an idea’

Quotation from Christianity and Western Thought Volume 1 by Colin Brown, with crowd meme

Ideas just as real as the neurons they inhabit

Biological neuron schema

Image via Wikipedia

James Gleick, from an excerpt of his book The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood:

“Ideas have ‘spreading power,’ he noted—’infectivity, as it were’—and some more than others. An example of an infectious idea might be a religious ideology that gains sway over a large group of people. The American neurophysiologist Roger Sperry had put forward a similar notion several years earlier, arguing that ideas are ‘just as real’ as the neurons they inhabit. Ideas have power, he said:

Ideas cause ideas and help evolve new ideas. They interact with each other and with other mental forces in the same brain, in neighboring brains, and thanks to global communication, in far distant, foreign brains. And they also interact with the external surroundings to produce in toto a burstwise advance in evolution that is far beyond anything to hit the evolutionary scene yet.

Ideas just as real as the neurons they inhabit? Very interesting.

Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/What-Defines-a-Meme.html#ixzz1L2OFeAAU

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Christianity’s tension between ideas & practices; Ken Myers & James K.A. Smith talk it out

I loved the way Francis Schaeffer engaged ideas. However, ideas can be overemphasized, both in apologetics and church life.

What follows are excerpts from a conversation between Mars Hill Audio Journal‘s Ken Myers and Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith.

MYERS: The concern that I had — and I had this concern with Schaeffer — is that, Schaeffer makes it sound like all of Western history is a kind of excretion of practices which were purely based on ideas, rather than a complicated intermix between ideas, and economic and technical developments — and particularly economic developments. Well, anyway, this is taking us …

SMITH: Well, it’s interesting … I find this conversation about the relationship between practice and ideas really important, and I find it important for the church … that dialectic between practice and reflection is exactly the process of sanctification.

MYERS: Exactly … We participate in practices before we know what we are going to learn from them.

SMITH: Yeah. Yeah.

MYERS: We don’t participate in practices because we’ve learned all the things they represent, and now having signed the contract that we agree with all these things, we’re going to now do them.

(From Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 82)

This reminds me of a quotation by another contemporary Christian philosopher, Linda Zagzebski, from a personal essay she wrote for the book Philosophers Who Believe:

“The natural order of religious belief is not usually to form propositional beliefs first and only later to engage in the faith life of a community. If we disengaged ourselves from the practice of faith in order to ‘find out’ if it is justified, there is very little chance that we will ever find out.”

I think these things can, in part, point to the value of liturgical worship. Participation in liturgy is a kind of externalized practice that can work in conjunction with ideas to develop a whole person.

Solzhenitsyn: The wrong kind of recycling

“…whole countries and continents repeat each other’s mistakes after a while; it can happen even now, in an age when, it would seem, everything is clearly visible and obvious! No indeed: what some peoples have already suffered, considered, and rejected suddenly turns up among others as the last and newest word.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Nobel Lecture on Literature

Ramesh Ponnuru’s recommended books: a short, original interview

I contacted Ramesh Ponnuru, author and senior editor at National Review, via email for a quick e-interview. I asked him what books he would recommend to a layman who wanted to read about the history of ideas or intellectual history. I asked him because I had recalled that he had studied the history of ideas while in college.

Replying that “intellectual and cultural history” were his “alleged fields of concentration” in the history department at Princeton University, Ponnuru gave the following two lists.

First, Ponnuru’s Recommended Reading:

John Farrell, Freud’s Paranoid Quest

Robert Nisbet, A History of the Idea of Progress

Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre

Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy

James Ceaser, Reconstructing America

Second, Related Books on Ponnuru’s To-Read List:

James Bowman, Honor: A History

Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club

Rochelle Gurstein, The Repeal of Reticence

George Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945

Have you read any of these books? Comment on this post with your reviews.

-Colin Foote Burch

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