“The Godless Delusion”: my truth-in-advertising concern

Image result for Patrick Madrid and Kenneth HensleyA Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism is the subtitle of Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley‘s 2010 The Godless DelusionI applaud their popular presentation of the presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics in the course of taking down contemporary atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and many others. They rack these naturalistic bowling pins and knock them down, with strike after strike. Readers can cull a rich bibliography from the reference notes.

But what is distinctively Catholic about their challenge to atheism?

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Patrick Madrid

Granted, Madrid and Hensley are Catholics. So are some (but not all) of the authors they cite in illustration of their arguments. Paragraphs of The Catechism of the Catholic Church are cited on many of the book’s pages. But, unlike virtually every other book by Madrid, it’s not a primer of Catholic apologetics, that is, a case for joining the Roman Catholic communion.

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Kenneth Hensley

They argue that the Christian worldview alone makes sense of our sense-making. But that approach to apologetics has been a Protestant, largely Reformed (Calvinist), enterprise for more than a century. Madrid and Hensley do not make that clear. Continue reading ““The Godless Delusion”: my truth-in-advertising concern”

Christ, our philosophical GPS

Image result for christ the wisdom of godThe Apostle Paul speaks of “gnosis falsely so called” (1 Timothy 6:20). Why not also “philosophy falsely so called”? How would that differ from philosophy according to the elements of this world? (Colossians 2:8)

And what should stop a Christian who accepts Paul’s line of reasoning from suggesting “misosophy” as le mot juste for the false gnosis, the foolishness, the vain babblings?

Taking Christ’s words seriously, we conclude that neutrality toward Him and his claims is not possible. It is a self-deceptive feint. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters” (Matthew 12:30). One is either in Christ or at enmity with Him (Ephesians 2:16), a hostility only He can overcome.

Therefore, a discourse rooted in the fatal conceit, namely, that the term “unaided reason” has real reference, is not open to the claims of Christ. Its proponent hates Christ and does so “without reason” (John 15:25, alluding to Psalm 35:19).

The fatal conceit of “unaided reason” is incapable of taking Christ’s self-identification seriously. It not only bakes no bread, but it is a vine that bears no edible or press-worthy grapes. Continue reading “Christ, our philosophical GPS”

Brand Blanshard: rationalism’s “working hypothesis” and the Van Tilian verdict

Image result for brand blanshardIn the discourse we call philosophy, noncognitive interests are in play, interests that compete with, threaten to interfere with if not overwhelm the interest in knowing the truth.  Brand Blanshard—the one member of my pantheon of former philosophical heroes whom I could have met, but now regret never having exerted myself to do so—acknowledged their efficacy:

What our intelligence wants is, of course, the truth.  What the rest of our nature asks from our intelligence is not what is true but what will satisfy. By that we mean what will appease our impulsive and emotional nature, our longing to be liked, our desire to see our future secure, our character respected, our faith vindicated, our party shown to be the party of sober sense, or nation triumphant. When one considers how hidden and barricaded the truth commonly is, how definite it is, allowing no alternative, how feeble is our passion for it, and how overwhelming the tendencies in us to look for it through distorting prisms, the wonder is not that most of us are irrational but that some of us are as rational as we are.[1]

He denied, however, that non-cognitive interests smothered the interest in truth. He thought it worthwhile to cultivate the latter to see (almost experimentally, ironically enough) how far one could go if one gave reason its head.

Unlike Blanshard’s empiricist and pragmatist critics, however, I affirm an irreducibly distinct love of truth. But that’s because I presuppose that the One who is Truth (John 14:6) created the context within which human truth-seeking takes place and makes sense.  Continue reading “Brand Blanshard: rationalism’s “working hypothesis” and the Van Tilian verdict”

Bill Vallicella on Cornelius Van Til: An open mind and heart

Image result for bill vallicellaBill Vallicella, the Maverick Philosopher, is currently reading Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith, and that delights me no end. Bill was the first philosopher to welcome my old site (now 15 years old) and greet the launching of this one (which occasioned his republishing a generous and stimulating critique of one of my efforts).

I thank Dave Lull (the “Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian,” now retired) for alerting me not only to Bill’s “Van Til and Romans 1:18-20,” but also to “God, the Cosmos, Other Minds: In the Same Epistemological Boat? The latter is Bill’s response to my “God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument.” (I’m grateful to Dave for many other unsolicited yet invaluable leads he has sent my way over the years.)Image result for dave lull

After reading the second post, though, I wonder whether after a few chapters Bill’s thrown Defense against the wall in exasperation—one of my reactions, decades ago—figuratively speaking, of course.

In a blog post I can address only some of the issues Bill raise. That is, what follows does not answer Bill point for point. I’ll only suggest the lines of a fuller response.

Bill is ambivalent about Van Til: his “presuppositionalism is intriguing even if in places preposterous.” Bill doesn’t specify what merits that assessment. In any case Van Til’s distinctive charge was that all non-Christian thought—including much that is professedly Christian but infected with non-Christian presuppositions—is preposterous at its roots.

Continue reading “Bill Vallicella on Cornelius Van Til: An open mind and heart”

Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics

Image result for evidence that demands a verdictThe new edition Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World, edited with his son Sean, recently caught my eye on Amazon. The first edition did that over 40 years in Christian Publications’s bookstore in Manhattan (8th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets).

Gabriel Monheim (1936-2015: this pic is circa 1979-80), who preached on Wall Street, recommended it to me in 1978. The occasion was my asking questions that someone (certainly an ex-Marxist graduate philosophy student) might have about the Bible.

The McDowells’ 700+-page tome is a compendium of orthodox Christian answers to (mainly) historical and archaeological objections to belief in the Bible as the Word of God written and to the many propositions that this belief logically commits the believer. That is, it’s a contribution to apologetics.

Mainly, but not exclusively. To address new versions of perennial philosophical objections the McDowells have added six chapters: “The Nature of Truth,” “The Knowability of Truth,” “Answering  Postmodernism,” “Answer Skepticism,” “Are Miracles Possible?,” and “Is History Knowable?”

Complementing this approach to apologetics for me are the works of Norman  Geisler (PhD, Loyola, 1970; b. 1932), whom I met at the 1982 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. Geisler starts with defending theism, grounding his premises in principles that one cannot coherently deny. He then defends the historical reliability of the Bible. On its basis he argues for the deity of Jesus. Whatever Jesus teaches is true, and He taught the divine inspiration of the Old Testament and promised an inspired New Testament. Image result for norman geisler

Geisler’s apologetical method is commonly labeled. “evidentialist.” It’s also categorized as “classical” as distinct from the “presuppositional” approaches of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) and Gordon H. Clark. (1902-1985).

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But facts bear an evidential relationship to each other only if certain background conditions obtain. They connect (a) facts to each other causally and (b) each of them to our evidence-weighing minds (c) within a world created by God. That’s the worldview that grounds the premises of sound classical apologetical arguments. It would take me years to accept that from Van Til (above, on the steps of Federal Hall, Wall & Broad, NE corner, 1978, the year I met Monheim; the man in front of him, resting his chin on his left fist, is my old friend Eric Sigward. ). My reading and interacting with Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) made the decisive pedagogical difference.

God has (as it were) encoded these conditions into every human mind (Genesis 1:27; John 1:6; Romans 1:18-20), even minds that reject the Bible. The worldview expressed in the Bible, and only that one, explicates them. The Bible confirms as divine revelation what every human knower tacitly and spontaneously works with, but can justify (when justification is called for) only on the basis of the Bible.

When apologists argue with an unbeliever about, say, the authorship of Isaiah, they should be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to foreground the conditions of intelligible discourse.

Continue reading “Evidence that demands a worldview: or how apologetics requires a metapologetics”

God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument

My lifelong interest in arguments for and against the existence of God was never the same once it dawned on me that unless the God of the Bible exists, there wouldn’t be any such thing as argumentation (and therefore no theistic argumentation).

A study of Cornelius Van Til Image result for cornelius van tiland his interpreter Greg L. Bahnsen occasioned that dawning.

Not even “God does not exist” is intelligible unless God exists.

Image result for greg bahnsenRare is the philosopher who, inferring God’s existence from the existence or character of the world, asks whether inference itself would be possible in a non-theistic world. If it isn’t, then theistic inference is redundant. Our ability to investigate is itself a divine intention.

Professions of atheism are spiritually insincere because they result from the affirmers’ suppression of their basic awareness of God’s existence. (Romans 1:18-20) We all know the latter as incorrigibly as we know that the world has existed for millennia independently of any of us, a world that has included billions of human selves.

Further, one knows the existence of God, the world, and other selves “primordially,” that is, neither by deduction nor by induction, but prior to any deduction or induction one performs. (See my discussion of Augustus Hopkins Strong’s notion of “first truths” here.)

Continue reading “God: “behind the scenes” (or “under the floorboards”) of every argument”

Bernard Lonergan’s “Insight”: on becoming an intellectually fulfilled theist

“Well, they’re deductivists. And you know what I think of deductivists.”

That’s how Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J. (1904-1984) answered when I asked him about the Austrian school of economics.

Yes, I did know what he thought of them. More on that presently.

On June 22, 1983 I was on the campus of Boston College, engrossed in an afternoon session on Lonergan’s then-unpublished “Essay in Circulation Analysis, the economics section of that year’s Lonergan Workshop. (An unofficial edition circulated among Lonerganians.) My aunt, the late Anne T. Flood, Sister of Charity, Ph.D. (Catholic University of America; dissertation on Bishop Christopher Butler and Lonergan) beckoned me from the hallway.

Would I like to meet the great man?

I didn’t return to the classroom.

Patricia “Pat” Coonan, who had known Lonergan since 1945, drove us from Chestnut Hill to Weston, where he was convalescing at the Campion Center. When we arrived, it wasn’t certain that Lonergan was up to a visit. We might have to turn around.

But soon he was ready [my diary shows] and greeted us [from his hospital bed] with a smile. Pat introduced me to the master, and I managed to comport myself properly. I did not interview him, but I did tell him about myself, what his work has meant to me, and even raised the question [of] macroeconomics with him when Pat brought up her difficulties with the “Circulation Analysis.” Lonergan stressed his own macroeconomic approach, not seeming to be aware that [Ludwig von] Mises’ and [Murray N.] Rothbard’s “microeconomic” approach has addressed the “Depression” argument against the free market.

Image result for bernard lonerganIn the aftermath of the Great Depression, immersed in theological studies and spiritual formation between his profession of vows in 1924 and ordination in 1936, Lonergan produced that manuscript. In the ‘70s, after his methodological work was done, he returned to it.

Continue reading “Bernard Lonergan’s “Insight”: on becoming an intellectually fulfilled theist”

Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order

“What ‘banged’?”

That was the derisive reaction of Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) to someone’s mentioning the prevailing cosmology, the Big Bang theory (not to be confused with the television comedy whose theme song’s lyrics encapsulate the disordered cosmology Voegelin analyzed*).

He asked that rhetorical question on March 26, 1983 in Newton, Massachusetts during a Friday night-Saturday afternoon conference arranged by organizers of the annual Lonergan Workshops. (During that year’s meeting in June I’d meet Bernard J. F. Lonergan, SJ, whose mind I revered as much as Voegelin’s.)voegelin

Being a Rothbardian libertarian, I could hardly resist asking Voegelin about the seminars that Ludwig von Mises led in Vienna in the twenties. Smiling, Voegelin said he appreciated learning from Mises that inflation is not an increase in prices but rather the central bank’s increase in the money supply not commensurate with an increase in production of commodities. (A government may politically “freeze” prices, but then the economic effect of the inflation, that is, of the physical increase, is a shortage of the goods whose prices were frozen.) 

At the cocktail hour I asked Voegelin (I paraphrase from memory) how he could communicate with scholars whose grasp of the historical material was far below his (among whom he did not number Father Lonergan, but I certainly include myself). “With a kind of controlled irony,” he deadpanned. 

Continue reading “Eric Voegelin: no debate without accord on existential order”