Tuesday’s talk

In anticipation of my lecture Tuesday, I thought I’d offer a preview.

This will be a “big-picture” sort of talk. The big picture is this. I think that, given the available evidence, it is reasonable to adopt the view of “scientific naturalism” — namely, that the world is pretty much as science describes, Einstein and Darwin are largely right, and there are no ‘supernatural’ forces at play in the world. (Of course, science can always turn out to be wrong, but right now there’s little reason to think it is.) But that leaves very little room for most ancient religions — including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism (in some versions) and Islam. So, if you accept scientific naturalism, religion has to change.

One possible change is to go the route of Spinoza, and “water down” religion so it ends up fitting with science. But the changes are severe: you have to give up divine creation, the soul, and providence. The other possible route is Nietzsche’s, and give up on religion altogether. But there is a cost here as well, since I don’t think it is obvious that naturalism provides enough of a foundation for morality. So, it’s a dilemma.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who were able to attend, and offer comments and raise questions. If you weren’t able to make it, but are interested, here are an mp3 recording of the lecture and the accompanying PowerPoint presentation:

Huenemann on Spinoza vs. Nietzsche

Spinoza/Nietzsche PowerPoint


54 thoughts on “Tuesday’s talk

  1. Mike

    I’m interested in this topic but it’s unlikely I’ll be able to attend the event. Maybe you can post a paper after the fact?


  2. Blood_and_ashes

    I second mike’s suggestion. I won’t be able to attend either, but perhaps I can drop off my camcorder (for all young people out there, it is a pre cell phone camera device that also stores moving images and sound, often with better quality and more functions) to the talk so that it can be recorded for future use.
    Also, is there any estimation as to when the event might end and move to fredrico’s? I can surely attend that after a change of clothes. I just don’t want to walk in on the talk and be disruptive.


  3. Blood_and_ashes

    Ah! I should make there after class, or if I’m early or late I can just sit about and wait for either the group or frustrated cops, whichever comes first.
    Dr. Huenemann, did you receive my paper email? If that is insufficient I can bring you a hard copy or sneak into old main and slide it under your office door.


  4. Kleiner

    I regret that I cannot make the paper, since it sounds like a really interesting topic. My comment here might pull us off track, since Huenemann is (rightly) concerned with preserving morality in his paper. That said:

    Huenemann argues that there is “little room” for “ancient religions”, and that we will have to give up divine creation. I would be particularly curious to know how scientific naturalism can answer what Heidegger calls the fundamental philosophical question: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’

    Keep in mind that, for Heidegger, this is not an “origins” question. It is not something that a more sophisticated Big Bang theory (or elasticity theory of ongoing collapses and bangs) can answer. This is because it is a question about “being as such in its entirety.” (see Introduction to Metaphysics).

    We cannot avoid the question. Heidegger suggests that it always looms large, in moments of despair, rejoicing, even boredom. From my point of view, no matter how sophisticated our science gets, it cannot answer this fundamental question.


  5. Huenemann Post author

    Why is there something rather than nothing? I can only imagine two answers to this question. The first is “cuz there has to be.” A natural reply is “why?” And to that I say: I don’t know. But it seems to me possible that if we were to truly understand the parameters which allowed for the possibility of existence, we would see that nonbeing, though seemingly conceivable, in fact is not. I guess this would be tantamount to an ontological argument for existence.

    But my favorite answer is the second one: the question is illegitimate. Consider this. Of each object we encounter, we can ask, “What’s its shape?” and expect and answer. And so we might be led to think we can ask of the whole of space and time, “What’s its shape?” and get an answer. But that last question might be illegitimate. For it could have been true that the universe is infinite in extent, with no shape at all. (I’m aware that modern cosmologists think of the universe as a ‘hyper-sphere,’ but that’s beside the point; we can imagine them being wrong, the universe being infinite, and the question of its shape being illegitimate.) Similarly, of each particular thing we can legitimately ask, “Why does this thing exist?” and expect some sort of answer. But perhaps asking the same question of the whole of everything is illegitimate — even if it seems legitimate.

    So I think I CAN avoid that question!

    I don’t know of any other possible answers. Of course, many people answer with “God did it.” But that dodges the question, inasmuch as there’s no clear answer to why God should exist. (Saying he exists necessarily is just my answer #1.) Someone might answer “dumb, brute chance,” but that implies some sort of metaphysics of probability — the whole of being is such that there are probabilitistic principles determining whether anything comes into being — without any account of why there should be those probabilistic principles rather than nothing.

    So, in all, I think the best answer is either (1) there just is, and no one really knows why, or (2) the question doesn’t make sense.


  6. Kleiner

    Heidegger’s predictable rejoinders:

    1) “What is most thought provoking is that we are still not thinking” (from What Calls for Thinking). To rephrase, what is most thought provoking is that you are avoiding that which is worth thinking.

    2) You reduce the question because you are trapped in a thinking that is really “enframing” (technological thinking). The question only makes sense to the questioner who knows how to question, to the questioner who has learned how to think, to the questioner who has learned to LISTEN to mystery rather than how to respond to problems. (Heidegger ends up being big on the distinction between problem and mystery, and I think, at the end of the day, thinking for Heidegger means listening to mystery – something Marcel picks up on in hs own profound treatment of that distinction).

    You may or may not find that at all satisfactory.


  7. Huenemann Post author

    Maybe I’m not understanding the question. If it is a question that wants a genuine answer, like “How do I get to Smith’s from here?” or “Why are there so many lube places in Logan?” then I stand by my earlier reply. This thinking is “enframing,” I guess.

    But sometimes a question is more of an expression of a mood, feeling, or attitude. “Why me?” is such a question, as is “Why did he have to go and do that?” In that sense, I do appreciate the value of the mood expressed by the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” But I think the best answer to that mood is poetry, music, and art. I wish I had the skills for providing those answers, but alas I do not; I can only appreciate the answers others have given, and offer a grateful nod in their direction.


  8. Kleiner

    Yes, the mood point gets closer to what the question is asking, though Heidegger does not want to reduce it to a mood (as Sartre might). The mood discloses as an essential part of Heidegger’s “aletheialogy”. But the question is, really, a question without an answer. At least, a question without an answer in the ordinary sense of answering a question (enframing thinking).

    It is no mistake, then, that Heidegger turns to art and poetry. He must. But here is where he (and I) part ways with Huenemann. Heidegger is on the road to writing a “theology”. It is almost a theology of listening. To use some of Heidegger’s wonderfully obscure terminology:
    “When we are enowningly-thrown we are brought to a thinking-ground that belongs to a trace”. That is what art discloses – traces. (see the under-read but extremely important book “Contributions to Philospohy: From Enowning”)

    Are you listening to the traces as disclosive? “Disclosive of what?” you might ask. Wrong question, Heidegger says. There is no “what” to which the disclosure refers. The “trace” is a trace of the “beyond”.

    Heidegger did not finish his task. Others, both before and after him, made more progress. See Marion’s God without Being or Levinas’ Otherwise than Essence. See also Nishitani whose “existentialist zen” has been an important part of Buddhist-Christian dialogue. See also Kierkegaard and, before him, Meister Eckhart. Even Pascal. All people who have thought profoundly about a God that is not a “thing” and so a God who can only be encountered on the hither side of “technological thinking”. This is also why pomos take up “the trace” with such vigor (Derrida, Levinas, Marion in particular).
    Why isn’t there more time in the day so we could read all of this stuff together?!


  9. Mike

    I for one view religion as primarily “enframing” over exploring “mystery” but more in the sense of giving up (to some extent) working out your own point of view for the sake of someone else’s (Jesus/Buddha/Barth/Mohammed/Joe/Darwin/whoever) but I guess a lot of people think they’ve come up with religious conclusions ‘on their own’. This is possible maybe but at the very least it’s rare.

    Anyhow, some other questions/thoughts…

    What constitutes a “fundamental philosophical question” and why?

    I don’t really feel the pull of a lot of questions other philosophers consider “foundational”. One I do feel the pull of is “how should I live?” To counter “I don’t feel the pull of your question” with “you’re not thinking” is not a path that leads toward understanding.

    To some extent isn’t the project of theology generally a “watering down” in the sense Huenemann is describing? At the very least it seems to have a sanitizing effect. Lay theology is the same but without as much care. The “water” is generally culturally accepted values, currently most of these are drawn from science?

    Isn’t the phrase “abandon religion” packed with ethical implications?

    Usually “religion” represents some sort of structure and depending on how a person defines that structure, another counter structure is revealed. Abandoning religion is not simply the removal of a particular set of beliefs. At least I wouldn’t initially think of it that way.

    An example… religions generally accept particular types of group interactions as a way of life. Refusing to take part in those types of interactions is a moral statement about how people should live. I think there is a positive statement implied in the negation.

    Note: this was written before reading Kleiner’s most recent post. I think Nate worked through a little of Nishitani with Steinhoff. I’m interested in Christian/Zen monasticism because they’re philosophies with lived practices. Unfortunately neither seem like traditions I could embrace fully so I’m left looking to the precursors of those and working out my own rule of life (with my wife).

    If anyone’s interested I turned the lecture into an event on facebook and realized the size of the Utah State network there (7500).


    an oversimplification –> Just say no to analytic philosophy because it doesn’t matter how much care you put into your thinking unless this care-in-thinking is applied. Just say no to continental philosophy because care is similar to imagination in this regard. Embrace the ancients because they knew philosophy as a way of life.

    I’ve been influenced recently by a Pierre Hadot essay “philosophy as a way of life”. It helped me gain the appreciation for the ancients in this regard. I’d put it online but I think I’d be violating copyright.


  10. Kleiner

    Nicely put on the “just say no” lines. But I have a bit of a rejoinder:
    A very well respected philosopher and theologian at Boston College once made this claim in a seminar on Heidegger and Aristotle:
    “Heidegger has made reading the ancients possible again.”

    I agree. This is in part because Heidegger thinks with the Greeks rather than just reading them. He recovers their questions. In short, I think Heidegger also knows that philosophy is a way of life. It is, to borrow a title from one of his essays, a “conversation on a country path”. It is a way. A “holzwege” (a woodpath). That is why I am that curious breed – a “Heideggerized Thomist”.


  11. Luke Stepan

    Mike said: “I for one view religion as primarily “enframing” over exploring “mystery” but more in the sense of giving up (to some extent) working out your own point of view for the sake of someone else’s (Jesus/Buddha/Barth/Mohammed/Joe/Darwin/whoever) but I guess a lot of people think they’ve come up with religious conclusions ‘on their own.’ This is possible maybe but at the very least it’s rare.”

    It seems like you are saying 1) the acceptance of someone else’s point of view as an answer to metaphysical questions implies “enframing” (I assume the metaphysical question part given the context of this discussion) and 2) the working out of your own point of view implies exploration of mystery.

    First of all, (1) doesn’t seem to be representative of what is meant by “enframed thinking,” at least in the context of this discussion. I don’t see how one’s faith acceptance of all the teachings of Jesus or Buddha, etc. implies that one is limiting themselves primarily to technological thinking.

    Secondly, (2) seems to be at least a great reduction of what the exploration of mystery would involve, if not completely opposite. How is religious acceptance of authority (Jesus, Buddha, etc.) an impediment to the pursuit of mystery? It seems more likely that the answers to mystical questions (like the one posed by Heidegger) would require a surrender, rather than a pursuit, of your own subjective point of view.

    If I have misunderstood you Mike, I apologize. Please clarify further what you mean if this is the case.

    Lastly, I think it is a mistake to generalize your claim to “religion” as a whole. The question of whether any religion has true creeds and practices remains an open one, but the fact that each religion’s creeds and practices are different in fundamental ways is not. Thought that is rebellious to religous teachings might indeed be useful in a cult that is not concerned with truth, but with manipulation; or a religion that pursues truth, but whose creed(s) are wrong in fundamental claims. Thus, in these circumstances, the ‘rebel’ thinker would be pursuing mystery by breaking the intellectual bonds of a flawed system; but to say this is true of all religion begs the question of whether any religion’s creeds and practices conform to the truth.

    Mike said: “To counter “I don’t feel the pull of your question” with “you’re not thinking” is not a path that leads toward understanding.”

    I’ll agree that such a counter may not lead to understanding the feelings of the person who is arguing, but that would be an ad hominem as it is unimportant to truth. I disagree if you mean that such a counter would impede the understanding of truth itself (for either party); it is merely a clarification of what type of statement “I don’t feel the pull of your question” is- one that doesn’t involve thinking.


  12. Mike

    I meant enframing in the normal dictionary usage. To enclose life in a frame (authority/tradition/scripture). I was deliberately playing with the word demonstrating a contrast to “technological thinking” (I hope).

    Your point about generalizing religion as a whole is fair enough but it’s hard to speak at all really without some generalizations. I didn’t mean “all religion” when I said religion. To be fair, the generalization was made before I joined this thread and I was going with it :).

    I think the counter of “you’re not thinking” doesn’t leave open the possibility that they are thinking and simply think differently. So it sounded like an ad hominem to me.

    Life itself is a surrender and a surrender to an individual or thought system (in exchange for the surrender of simply paying attention) seems offensive to the Creator if there is one and Nature if there is not. I don’t want to “enframe” (dictionary usage again) except to the extent it’s demanded by existence itself. Surrender to authority in this way may be an option for humans but it seems to me a form of idolatry. “your own subjective point of view” is what you uniquely have to offer. Offer it.


  13. Kleiner

    Sorry that we hijacked your topic, Huenemann!!! All of this is probably exactly the kind of “gibberish” that he will argue in his paper that we need to cut out! That said, I think Huenemann is somewhat sympathetic with Heidegger, so perhaps “continental philosophy of religion” is more palatable to him since it is concerned more with lived, existential questions.

    Two things:
    1) I should say that when I introduced the word “enframing” I did not mean it in just the ordinary dictionary usage. I was took the word from Heidegger, who has (as always) a distinctive meaning in mind as it ties in to what Heidegger calls “technological thinking”. See Question Concerning Technology for the best introduction to these terms (all part of Heidegger’s critique of reified metaphysics).

    2) Mike has referred to religion as a “structure” than “enframes”. It does not seem to me that this is what religion most primordially is. I’d follow Kierkegaard here, religion is relationship. Religious people (at least those that I know) don’t surrender themselves to a “thought system”, they surrender themselves to God.

    I also am skeptical of Mike’s assertions that religiosity can only be authentically taken up if it is done “on one’s own” or through your “own subjective point of view”. This smacks of a very modern and Romantic (and frankly Protestant) understanding of religiosity. I would insist, to the contrary, that there is no such thing as “working something out on one’s own”. We are, to use Girard’s turn of phrase, not individuals but “inter-dividuals.” I think Luke and I take community much more seriously (as Catholics tend to). I don’t think grace is mediated individually, and internal consciousness states are not the measure. Frankly, I reject those modernist notions of “authenticity” (sorry Sartre, sorry Emerson). We cannot be the sacrament of our own salvation. Instead, grace is mediated corporately.
    In other words, I place tradition over the individual. I don’t think mystery is “enframed” (covered over, “lethe”) by tradition, instead it is disclosed by it (aletheia)! Mike places the individual over the tradition. An oddly modern bias given that, in a previous post, he seemed to have some affinity for the ancients.

    Now, I would grant that religious people (of whatever stripe) do not always get the best formation, and when tradition is not existentially appropriated, religiosity becomes ‘mechanical’. I rather suspect that it is these mechanical instantiations of religiosity that Mike is (rightly) attacking.

    One more thought: Mike seems concerned (again, I think rightly) with “lived questions”. But he seems to treat “religion” as if it were not concerned with those “how ought I live questions”. That seems odd to me. If religiosity is really relationship, then it has to be lived. The religious life is more praxis than theoria. This is why Mother Theresa once rightly attacked us academics, saying: “Theologians talk too much, they should shut up and sweep the floor.” The lived experience of faith is always already a question of RELATIONSHIP with God and neighbor. (Again, there is no such thing as an “individual”, Levinas rightly calls that a metaphysical construct). This is why Marion and Derrida see very little difference between “ethics” and “religiosity”. They are both concerned, first and foremost, with the Other.


  14. Mike

    You might consider what i mean when I say “what is demanded of existence itself” before you dismiss my point of view along with those you’ve already appropriated. I think you’re assuming all sorts of things in your last comment but it’s a bit too third party ridden for me to get into. I used enframed in the ordinary sense because I thought it was a striking contrast.

    Instead I have a question. How far do you think your way of thinking goes toward defending a religion like Mormonism? At what points does it differ? are those things that could be worked out to your satisfaction philosophically? I think your affinity for authority and tradition is really interesting and I just wonder how far it extends and into what areas. How far can we parallelize these arguments?


  15. Anonymous


    Your use of the word “enframed” is a fallacy of equivocation. There is no “striking contrast” even if it is granted that religion “enframes” (although we disagree on this point, to the extent that it is applied to every religion and not just some) in the sense you mean, since Kliener’s definition of “enframed thinking” was entirely different. You did not supply a defintion or a distinction from the context of this discussion in the original post, so it was somewhat misleading if you intended the dictionary definition of the word rather than the sense in which Kleiner (and Heidegger) meant it. The example you provided about giving up your own point of view for the sake of someone elses (Jesus, etc.) was not a definition of enframing, but a proposed implication of enframing in regards to religion. However, I think this was a minor mistake and probably not intentional and the thrust of your point remained clear.

    In regards to “I don’t feel the pull of the question” with the response “you’re not thinking,” was this supposed to be a representation of what was said between Kliener and Huenemann? If so, it seems to be misrepresentative, at least on Huenemann’s part. He wasn’t saying “I don’t feel the pull of the question.”

    After looking at what has been said, I interpret what you wrote to be a anticipated response from Harrison (“you’re not thinking”) to your expression “I don’t feel the pull of your question.” If this is the case, I think it would be an appropriate response, in the sense of clarifying that your lack of interest in the question says nothing about the importance of the question itself.

    I think I see what you’re saying in that you obviously think about a great many important questions (such as “how should we live our lives?”), but because you don’t think about this question (“why is there something rather than nothing?”) does not mean to say that you don’t think at all. However, if this is your meaning, you are attacking a strawman. No one in this discussion is implying this.

    Please provide further clarification of what you mean by “I don’t want to enframe, except what is demanded of existence itself.” In what way does existence itself require enframed thinking in the sense of “enclosing life in a frame?”


    Your synthesis of what has been said along with the ideas you offered to the discussion was excellent. I fully agree that community should be taken seriously, in regards to the importance of tradition and that tradition is appropriately placed over the individual.


  16. Kleiner

    This is in response to Mike’s post:

    First, I did not mean to “dismiss” your point of view (your thoughtful contributions to this blog are appreciated), I just expressed my disagreement with it. Blog sites are never as good as real conversations because the “author is dead” – you have to make assumptions about the subtext since the person is not there. I apologize if I misread you.

    The faith-reason question is, of course, a very good one. I don’t pretend to have all of this worked out in a way that is entirely satisfactory to me or anyone else, but I have a few comments:

    1) I do not think that all faiths can be worked out to equal philosophical satisfaction. In other words, not all faith traditions can make the same claim to reasonability. Some might even have patently irrational commitments, and as a result I am inclined to call those faiths false. (I am utterly convinced that faith and reason cannot conflict).

    2) That said, I do not think that all of our commitments can be rationally grounded. This is why I think we must start with a hermeneutic analysis of the ordinary and the everyday. We are human which means we cannot escape the hermeneutic situation. Everyone always starts with an “always already” – call it facticity, history, inheritance, whatever. There is no starting from scratch. We are in a “hermeneutic circle”.

    3) But just because not all of our commitments cannot be reduced to rationality does not mean that our commitments don’t participate in reason. We just have to determine how far rational distinctions can be applied. While I would subscribe to an Augustinian “faith seeking understanding” model, I think the relationship between the two is dynamic. Faith informs reason and reason informs faith. So reason would, at a minimum, work as an important “check” on faith claims. Some things are not possible (are contrary to reason). Obviously I don’t think we should believe in such things. (I’ll leave aside for the moment which faiths might have those kinds of commitments, though anyone who has taken my Intro course knows which direction I tend to push here).

    If a claimed authority teaches something contrary to reason, well, I am inclined to think that the authority is a false authority. Of course, there is room for apologetics (which is in part the task of demonstrating that while certain beliefs cannot be proven, they are at least not irrational and impossible). I always encourage my LDS students to do more in the way of apologetics, there is so little work there in that tradition. They might find that they cannot “apologize for” (defend) their beliefs, or maybe they can. Again, I’ll leave that debate aside for now. Point is, not all traditions nor positions derived from them are created equal. One has to work that out.

    But at some point we make an existential commitment (to a particular faith tradition, to no faith tradition, to atheism, to whatever) that is a “leap”. But some leaps are better than others. For my part, I tried to look before I leapt. This “looking” is not a method, it is a “way”, an “art”. I cannot put it better than this:

    ‘Wood’ is an old name for forest. In the wood are paths that mostly wind along until they end quite suddenly in an impenetrable thicket.
    They are called woodpaths (holzwege).
    Each goes its peculiar way, but in the same forest. Often it seems as though one were identical to another. Yet it only seems so.
    Woodcutters and foresters are familiar with these paths. They know what it means to be on a woodpath.
    ” (Heidegger, Holzwege)

    Some traditions end in impenetrable thickets. Others end up in clearings. You have to walk though, you have to choose a path.


  17. Mike

    I was posing those questions/thoughts initially because I was thinking about them, not because I had all the answers worked out. I posed more of my thoughts there just so there was some idea of the direction I was thinking at the time I wrote it. I’d like to know other people’s actual answers to the questions not just listen to more people nit pick at my immature and indirect thoughts on a few issues. sheesh. I’m going to start equating Heideggerians with nitpickers, I thought that was something usually attributed to analytic philosophers. Live and learn i guess.

    After I used the word “enframed” I said “but more in the sense of” to give readers a clue I wasn’t after the same, precise definitions. I took “you’re not thinking” as what Heidegger might have said to Huenemann. If you think what I said is crap that’s fine but I’m not going to turn it into detailed propositional logic for the sake of unsympathetic readers. If you want to give it a sympathetic reading and you’re hung up on logic and want to see the true weight of what I’ve said, see how logically careful you can re-phrase it with a more sympathetic eye.

    Shouldn’t we use the thread to comment on the paper that’s presented eventually? I’m really just waiting for that. My first comments were directed to Charlie, actually. I didn’t really expect anyone else to understand them.

    I think if I gave Heidegger some time I would be quite sympathetic to his views from what I’ve heard from Kleiner and my friend Rob. I’m just not ready yet. It’s going to be hard for me to discuss Heideggerian issues and I’ll want to steer clear until I have a better handle on him.


  18. Luke Stepan

    Mike- I apologize for the nit-pickyness- it is more a result of boredom on a Sunday afternoon than anything. It wasn’t fair to pack more weight in what you originally posted than what you intended. I see your point. I too, like Kliener mentioned, think that online discussions can be detrimental in many ways, one of which is that the person is easy to forget (at least for me). I’ll try better to guard against that next time. At any rate, it is clear that you are intelligent and I appreciate the ideas you’ve posted.

    Also, I am probably mostly responsible for the derailing of this thread. I concentrated efforts so much on the religion/mystery question without any effort to tie it back to the paper. I am sorry for that as well. Anyway, how ’bout them Jazz? lol


  19. Kleiner

    Mike, please take no offense, I have not meant to be nitpicky. Again, you make really thoughtful contributions to the blog.

    Of course, calling Heideggerians “nitpicky” might actually be a compliment! No one ever accuses Heideggerians of being “hung up on logic”!! Usually they get blasted for being loosey-goosey poets with no rigor!

    I am also looking forward to Huenemann’s paper. But I’ve enjoyed this conversation while we wait! Perhaps, AFTER his paper is presented, Huenemeann might start a new “stream”, so that all of this stuff does not get in the way of discussion on his actual paper. There will be other fish to fry there, I am sure.


  20. Luke Stepan

    BTW, I am in no way a Heideggerian, if being a Heideggerian implies that you have to have read Heidegger! I have heard only snip-its of his works, and the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” does intrigue me. I hope to soon read Heidegger (or at least something more in depth about his philosophy) but I cannot claim any knowledge in this arena.


  21. Mike

    I didn’t really take offense but I did hope to shift the tone. For my part I’ll try to write more exploratory since that’s really how I feel. Are there areas you’re learning about life/friendship/love that are worth mentioning? Or a current dominant philosophical thought? For as much as I like to make remarks complaining about religion I don’t find very many substantive differences (in lifestyle) between myself and philosophically oriented Christians. Three of my closest philosophical friends are Christians. One of them has a fairly negative view of God though, I find the dynamics of that really interesting. I do think religion tries to answer questions about how we should live.


  22. Huenemann Post author

    Please, no one should feel ‘guilty’ about hijacking this thread! The whole point is to encourage philosophical discussion, so I’m very happy to read along. I haven’t contributed because I don’t have much to say on the topics that have been raised. Also, I have a fairly shallow and literal mind, so I don’t understand a lot of what’s been said. That being admitted….

    It seems to me that individuals have to begin with the questions and concerns that interest them and pursue them with both reason and heart. I don’t think we can gain a radical independence from our cultures and our individual internal complex of emotions, inclinations, and whatnot. At most, we can try to uncover them and compensate for them, and try to develop views that fit our temperaments and have some reason behind them. I can readily conceive someone working out their views and discovering, “Wow! This great old philosopher has exactly the views I’m after! I’ll sign up as a disciple!” And that wouldn’t be inauthetic or some act of bad faith; it’s just meeting a traveling companion on the path. Usually we end up walking with them for a bit before going our separate ways, but that separation needn’t happen.

    I also think, though, that religion and philosophy (narrowly conceived as a project in which reason trumps emotion) don’t fit together all that well. They are different responses to the big concerns that pull at most of us. I’m astonished that Kleiner is absolutely convinced that faith and reason agree; I thought Kierkegaard put an end to that, at least in the case of Xianity. Religious people have to, at some point, say, “I know reason tells me Z; but I simply cannot bring myself to believe that.” The “Z” here might be simply, “Thou hast not the competency to judge.” That’s the point at which the religionist and the philosopher can only give one another long, cold stares (supplemented, of course, with a nice scotch and some crackers, shared in the joy of fellowship).


  23. Kleiner

    Yes, Vince has my meaning – I am not meaning to say that reason and faith completely overlap. I am also interested in apologetics in this regard: faith claims should at least be possible. In other words, even those faith claims that cannot be reduced to reason should at least, in principle, be shown to not be irrational (see, for instance, Aquinas’ treatment of transsubstantiation).

    By the way, I am also not convinced that the “irrationalist” reading of Kierkegaard is the right reading. A good friend of mine who knows Kierekegaard far better than I do has shown me multiple passages in Kierkegaard’s journals (which are not widely read but should be) that work against this common (mis)interpretation. We need to keep in mind that Kierkegaard is writing under pseudonym when some of these “irrationalist” passages are written. And I think he has a broader notion of reason in mind that can be preserved. He is attacking Hegel in particular but also Plato (there is no philosophical ascent to paradise). We must also remember that reason itself is “transfigured” by faith, so it is at best a “suspension” of customary rationality/morality. So what might look irrationalist to a restricted notion of “rationality” would not look irrationalist to a broader “redeemed rationality”.
    Anyway, that is a whole other debate. Just wanted to point out that the irrationalist reading of Kierkegaard is not the only reading, and may not even be the best reading.


  24. Mike

    Re-reading some of Kleiner’s comments I noticed he said

    religiosity can only be authentically taken up if it is done “on one’s own” or through your “own subjective point of view”. This smacks of a very modern and Romantic (and frankly Protestant) understanding of religiosity. I would insist, to the contrary, that there is no such thing as “working something out on one’s own”. We are, to use Girard’s turn of phrase, not individuals but “inter-dividuals.”

    Might one also have a more thick conception of what it means to work something out on one’s own? That doesn’t immediately imply the denial of the connectedness in ordinary living (that which is implied by existence itself)? I’m afraid from my point of view the supposedly “modernistic assumptions” were brought in with your interpretation. Just thought I’d try to spell that out a little more clearly. It’s interesting how quickly I can become completely misunderstood, great arguments against the non-me me though :). In ordinary language when someone says they’re going to spend some time “on their own” for instance they don’t mean they’re going to head off into a vacuum somewhere. If this is the type of thing Heidegger is trying to redefine, language “removed from modernistic assumptions” I think I’ll stick with Wittgenstein and keep working on understanding language a bit better over working towards my own “corrected” language.

    Now something like Elvish, that’s a language worth making up.


  25. Mike

    Vince and I took a class on Kierkegaard that basically takes the point of view Kleiner is talking about. [if i recall correctly] Interpretation wise, the class focused on the edifying discourses, basically sermons written over the full range of time Kierkegaard was writing philosophy. He used this to define Kierkegaard’s “genuine” view which, to the teacher, was not faith against reason but rather faith beyond reason. I’m sure it was more nuanced than that.

    But I don’t think it’s as important what Kierkegaard’s view of his own work was so much as what parts of his works have proven to be compelling over time. To put it another way, it’s more important to focus on what’s true in a work over authorial intention.

    Vince’s comment:

    This is a bit unfair. I could say that the sillyness of ancient science leaves no room for continuing scientific thought. Religious thought progresses and grows in parallel with naturalistic thought. Your comment is building a straw man to beat.

    Is a different form of my question about theology as a form of sanitizing. How does Christian theology generally differ from the way of Spinoza? Not that you have to answer that but I was wondering if you were going to address that in your lecture.


  26. Huenemann Post author

    Two quick things. I’m no Kk scholar, and am ready to learn, but why do people think what he didn’t publish is more authoritative than what he did publish? I usually make the opposite assumption. ‘Course, in his case, it’s complicated by all those pseudonyms. I thought Fear and Trembling pretty clearly marks out the knight of faith as acting confidently even in the midst of deep absurdity — not just making supernatural hypotheses, congruent with lines of natural inquiry.

    Second, I think some Christian theology has been done in the way of Spinoza. I think Bultmann’s theology is very Spinozistic, in the sense that Bultmann values scripture for the way it might shape our living, without being concerned with its being metaphysically true. You get to keep the main Xian moral message, but don’t get to keep the metaphysical goodies (like a soul, afterlife, creation, resurrection…).


  27. Huenemann Post author

    The chief problem, I think, is that the Jewish synagogue existed only by the good favor of the surrounding Christians in Amsterdam; so the Jews had to keep their people in line, for the sake of survival.


  28. Luke Stepan

    Kleiner said: “Religiosity can only be authentically taken up if it is done “on one’s own” or through your “own subjective point of view.” This smacks of a very modern and Romantic (and frankly Protestant) understanding of religiosity. I would insist, to the contrary, that there is no such thing as “working something out on one’s own.” We are, to use Girard’s turn of phrase, not individuals but “inter-dividuals.”

    Mike said: “Might one also have a more thick conception of what it means to work something out on one’s own? That doesn’t immediately imply the denial of the connectedness in ordinary living (that which is implied by existence itself)? I’m afraid from my point of view the supposedly “modernistic assumptions” were brought in with your interpretation. Just thought I’d try to spell that out a little more clearly. In ordinary language when someone says they’re going to spend some time “on their own” for instance they don’t mean they’re going to head off into a vacuum somewhere.”

    The “connectedness” issue you debate here is a strawman, given the context of Kleiner’s entire post.

    Even if it is given to you that it is possible to perserve the notion of “inter-dividuality” without sacrificing preference to working things out on your own (which I personally wouldn’t be convinced of until reading Girard), you have left out the essence of Kleiner’s post.

    Kleiner’s main point, in reference to your “modern understanding” or “modern bias” was that you seem to be putting the individual above tradition; this is the bias that would not have been shared by the ancients. This seems very clear from the comments you have made in at least one of your posts:

    Mike said: “Surrender to authority in this way may be an option for humans but it seems to me a form of idolatry. “your own subjective point of view” is what you uniquely have to offer. Offer it.”

    Mike said: “It’s interesting how quickly I can become completely misunderstood, great arguments against the non-me thought :). ”

    This comment is ironic in light of the above.


  29. Mike

    Because I address one point rather than another that doesn’t mean I’m attacking a straw man. I may have missed the point like you say but I think he was making multiple claims. You’re right that the third parties in the posts make it difficult to discuss much of anything.

    Another point on which I probably agree with Kleiner is that tradition has some impact on our view of the world no matter what we choose. Descartes never could have cleared his mind to the extent he suggests in the first meditation. So tradition/culture/environment informs our understanding. It’s a further step though to take tradition as authority. And Socrates may have had some respect for tradition but he still worked out his own point of view.

    The point is, I understand the relevance of a lot of these postmodern views but I don’t take them to the places Kleiner does. I’ve been influenced by them but I don’t think Kleiner’s response is the only response. It seems to me he hasn’t given me the benefit of the doubt of even knowing about the issues.

    Luke: Do you really want to keep bringing up logical fallacies when you’re ultimately trying to defend the appeal to tradition and authority?


  30. Kleiner

    One of the things that is great about philosophers is that they can vehemently disagree without taking it personally. Most other disciplines are, to my mind, too “sensitive” in that regard. So I don’t tend to apologize much in philosophical debate, but I’ve found myself feeling the need to do so several times in this stream. Mike – I presume you to be well read and intelligent. As I have said above, your contributions to the blog are thoughtful and interesting. I just don’t know where or how I have doubted your knowledge of the core issues.

    Regarding the worry that my posts make too many “third party” references, well, I don’t know how else to do philosophy. I am not a great thinker, I ride on the coat tails of others. Besides, philosophers are so careful about their words, I think it is important to reference our meaning by pointing to the figures on whom we are relying. I have, in that sense, a very historical approach to the philosophical life. I am – in very un-postmodern fashion I suppose – a very “cannonical” thinker. (Of course, what pomos who want to tear down the cannon forget is that their prince of deconstruction (Derrida) was also a very cannonical reader.)

    But there is an even bigger reason for the third party references, and it ties in to several of the points about the role of tradition and the issue of whether we have any purely rational beliefs:

    “The facile delusions which conceal from us our true situation all amount to this: that we are, or can be, wiser than the wisest men of the past. We are thus induced to play the part, not of attentive and docile listeners, but of impresarios or lion tamers. Yet we must face our awesome situation, created by the necessity that we try to be more than attentive and docile listeners, namely, judges, and yet we are not competent to be judges. As it seems to me, the cause of this situation is that we have lost all simply authoritative traditions in which we could trust, the nomos which gave us authoritative guidance, because our immediate teachers and teacher’s teachers believed in the possibility of a simply rational society. Each of us here is compelled to find his bearings by his own powers, however defective they may be” – Leo Strauss

    Now, Mike is quite right, just because we are influenced by the community in which we find ourselves, does not mean those traditions are authoritative. But Strauss’ point is that without a tradition considered authoritative, you cannot move (unless you are “wiser than the wisest”). One might well ask, though, why take this tradition to be authoritative over that one? Well, I don’t think this is the kind of thing we could really prove. Traditions are like first principles, they are not subject to proof because they are that “always already” from which we derive everything else. But I would, again, appeal to Heidegger’s holzwege – some woodpaths (traditions) lead to impenetrable thickets, while others lead to clearings.


  31. Mike

    I don’t really take offense at this sort of thing so there isn’t really a need to apologize. What I’m trying to articulate when I say I’m misunderstood or misread is that there is a way to read and understand that can move people forward. You might call it believing in order to understand (in an ordinary sense). If you fill in the blanks of another person’s point of view then when you disagree with them the disagreements are substantive rather than trivial. I’m not saying I meet this requirement all the time and I’m sure I’ve failed here but that’s what I shoot for. I just want good discussion. The other option is to write in propositional form which is way too boring for me. So I deny that we’re even to the point of having genuine disagreements and that’s the tragedy.

    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do criticize them, you’ll be a mile away, and have their shoes.

    -Jack Handey

    Kleiner’s discussion of faith and reason is well worn territory and I think he articulated it really well. To me the quote below is very existentialist and points toward Kleiner’s subjective point of view. I take the philosophical tradition to be more authoritative than the religious. I don’t mean this in the sense of “submit to authority” though I do mean it in the sense of “pay attention”, recognition and participation. If catholicism seems like the right match for Kleiner I don’t see how I could say “no, it doesn’t match who you are, it’s not your clearing”. The other way to say this is I think the quote below is a beginning of inquiry, I guess Kleiner thinks it’s the end of his own point of view? If one precludes the other for some reason I’m not seeing, let me know. (I’m sure that paragraph wasn’t written clearly and carefully enough hopefully you can get at my meaning.)

    why take this tradition to be authoritative over that one? Well, I don’t think this is the kind of thing we could really prove. Traditions are like first principles, they are not subject to proof because they are that “always already” from which we derive everything else. But I would, again, appeal to Heidegger’s holzwege – some woodpaths (traditions) lead to impenetrable thickets, while others lead to clearings.

    One last thing… If I say “work it out on your own” I don’t mean go hide in a closet until you come up with the right answer. I mean do it without just repeating what I or someone else has told you. Listen to as many voices as possible and decide what you think and why. When I say “he didn’t work it out on his own” I mean someone else did the thinking — plagiarism. Even if you decide regurgitation is your artform at least spend some time deciding what you want to regurgitate. We all probably only regurgitate anyhow, I just don’t believe in giving up editorial control (subjective point of view). But I think Kleiner agrees on this point although language still seems to be separating us.

    To me Huenemann, Kleiner, Vince and myself at least are all just heretics who have abandoned the traditions and authorities we were born into for the sake of our own (always-already situated) points of view.


  32. Kleiner

    I think we have some rapprochement here, Mike. A few thoughts:
    1) You cite my lines about the role of tradition/woodpaths and you say they are the beginning of iquiry but then wonder if I would call them the end. If I understand you rightly, I agree with you. Religion has to be “worked out”. Even orthodoxy is not a “completion”, it is a starting point in the sense that it is mystery to be explored. Marion calls it an “endless hermeneutic”. There is no real Archimedian starting point and there is no real end of inquiry (at least with mysteries, but not with problems). Both philosophy (properly understood) and theology, I think, begin in wonder and are “endless hermeneutics”.

    2) No matter what tradition one chooses (and no matter how much authority they give to it), I think everone (religious and secular) makes a similar move to get started. Why? Because even “philosophy or science, however you might call it, is incapable of giving an evident account of its own necessity” (Strauss).

    3) On the “work it out on your own” point, here is another way of making your “regurtitation” point: traditions and beliefs can be appropriated “existentially” or they can be appropriated “mechanically”. I would say of the former that they are “thinking for themselves” (even if that means “thinking with the tradition”) while the latter are not. I think that is what Mike is saying too.

    4) I was “born into” an atheistic tradition. So I guess I am a heretic to that tradition – but I sure hope I am not a heretic to the Catholic tradition!! :) But I am still learning what it means to “think with the Church”, and am still working out the proper relationship between philosophy and theology (reason and faith). I tend to rely heavily on Fides et Ratio, something that is worth reading for anyone interested in the role of reason in faith.



  33. Mike

    Kleiner: So maybe the real disagreement is the extent to which we believe in limiting the scope of inquiry. You would say when you choose Catholicism you deliberately limit your scope, right? (probably also you think the limitation is freeing in some sense) I think my scope is limited but not deliberately. I’m also limited in the sense I can never experience the real experience of any religion that could only come via participation/surrender-to. I think I’ve experienced this and that it’s really overrated but maybe if we talked more about it my experiences wouldn’t count as genuine to you, they were definitely more “mechanical” but also very much concerned with “relationship”.

    Is that a fair characterization? If not, how would you characterize the difference between the life of the perpetual seeker and the believer? Or is your faith (like the views I come across and tend to agree with) held contingently?


  34. lstepan

    (I’ve formerly posted as “Luke Stepan”)

    Mike Said: “Do you really want to keep bringing up logical fallacies when you’re ultimately trying to defend the appeal to tradition and authority?”

    There is a difference between obedience to intellectual authorities (Catholic tradition) and the fallacy of appealing to an authority, in the pretence that such an appeal would make a claim true. Please demonstrate in anything I have written how I am guilty of the later, if you think this is the case. From reading some of your most recent comments, it seems like you at least have respect for philosophical tradition, in the sense that you are not claiming originality in your ideas, but that you allow for a synthesis of what you find true that has already been said to form your beliefs. Perhaps that is misrepresentative, but it demonstrates some humility to tradition, if I am reading you right. However, I think obedience to tradition and humility before great thinkers are quite different… More later, I need to get to work!


  35. Mike

    Luke: I understand the difference. What I’m saying is that you’re advocating a whole way of life that isn’t solely rational but you seem very hung up on the particulars of logic over the larger sense of what’s been said. And yes I was playing with words again, it’s too fun for me to avoid.

    Very true that “humility before great thinkers” is different than obedience to tradition and authority.


  36. Kleiner

    Mike –
    I guess I don’t see myself deliberately “limiting the scope” of my inquiry by choosing to be Catholic. My reason is, as best as I can tell, fully operational (I have not shut it down). I am not afraid of questions, I don’t take seriously the warnings about “the philosophies of men” (I think that warning appears in an lds scripture). As best as I can tell, my tradition encourages reason and philosophical inquiry, both taken in a robust sense.
    Maybe by limiting you mean that I am taking on a particular perspective over and against others. But everyone has to do that, don’t they? I guess skeptics (perhaps Huenemann) might say that they avoid making any commitments. But I don’t think anyone really does that (Huenemann tries valiantly, but at the end of the day he has his commitments – materialism, naturalism, etc). Besdies, skepticism limits inquiry more than anything else.

    I think philosophy is a noble pursuit, and I see no reason to limit it. Compared to Huenemann, I might even have a pretty high estimation of human reason (I am something of a Christian humanist). So I don’t want to limit philosophical inquiry, in fact I encourage it. That said, we should wary of
    “philosophical pride which seeks to present its own partial and imperfect view as the complete reading of all reality. In effect, every philosophical system, while it should always be respected in its wholeness, without any instrumentalization, must still recognize the primacy of philosophical enquiry [wonder], from which it stems and which it ought loyally to serve.” (Fides et Ratio).

    Regarding the contingency of my faith. Well, there is contingency and then there is contingency. I have to accept, of course, that it is possible that my beliefs are false. I hold them contingently in that sense. But I don’t hold them lightly or loosely.


  37. Mike

    Well, i think accepting any system is different than accepting particular beliefs as different scenarios are encountered in life. Charlie is much more into accepting systems of belief (e.g. scientific naturalism) than I am. The moment at which I hold a belief most tightly is when I act (when I’m on top of my game). Then the negotiation continues.

    Of course I also make particular commitments that I stick with, like marriage.

    Side topic: “grace is mediated corporately” is a big piece for the average American evangelical, fundamentalist, and mormon I think to understand. I hope you’re teaching that in your classes. It’s a much more sane way to think about community and religion and it side steps some of the particularly negative modernistic biases found in American religions. Actually your whole discussion around that is stuff I would think is a better formulation of religion. Those viewpoints help people to be who they are in the best case scenario.

    I would have much rather had a Catholic prof than some of the others I had as an undergrad. I won’t name names but a prof actually used Joseph Smith’s King Follett Discourse in an ethics class.


  38. Mike

    I think for a lot of people scientific naturalism is compatible with their religious beliefs basically because they believe that in this era, God no longer communicates to people via miracles. (this is a gross simplification of both covenant and dispensational theology) That sort of belief allows them to accept science as the winner in the present (and be skeptical of the many Mary “miracles”). The common sentiment is something like “now that God has revealed himself via the Bible, there’s no longer any need for miracles”. I’ll leave it to the Catholics and the Hebraic Christians to describe the problems with these sorts of views.

    The biggest problem I find with Huenemann’s argument is the presumption that ideological points of view on the level he’s discussing have a fairly direct impact on behavior (morality). If we look at the human situation, people draw all sorts of different behaviors from the same ideological viewpoints. On the other hand, if you look at cultural norms, or something like that, you get a closer correlation to behavior. If you were to take two people, both raised in exactly the same neighborhood with the same socio-economic situation and one was Spinozan and the other Nietzschian, I think you’d find their lives varied little. Even looking at Spinoza and Nietzsche themselves, how much did their widely varying ideologies impact their morality (pragmatically speaking)? (replace Kierkegaard with Spinoza or Nietzsche at will above)

    The larger danger to me is that people are being taught that their morality (and meaning in life more generally) is contingent upon their religious belief. I think this often has the effect of people losing their moral compass (for a time) when they lose their religious belief. I also think this belief about belief has some bearing upon the suicide rate among homosexuals in the US.


  39. Kleiner

    Charlie –
    Do you think empirical science has to have a materialist metaphysics? I don’t think it does. All of Aquinas’ arguments begin (but do not always end) with empirical data. I would argue that without something immaterial, science (or any kind of intelligibility) is impossible (see recent Machuga lecture).
    In short, what I resist is your tendency toward reductionism. Moving from the claim that the body matters to full blown materialism. Moving from science to scientism. I just don’t see any real justification for these moves. In fact, making those moves undercuts your science. I think Hume is right, if you are going to restrict yourself to saying that only ideas with a corresponding impression have meaning, then you cannot even justify your science (causation).
    Being is said in many ways, and so is thinking. This is one of the later Heidegger’s fundamental insights. There are various modes of disclosure (thought), but most modes cover over as much as they disclose. In light of that, why insist on just one mode?


  40. Mike

    Vince –

    I need to think more about how exactly the relationship between world view and culture works. I think it’s very messy. I also think there is something crazy (and too common) about how people hold the same worldviews but very different views about what their worldview means. I think there are “nearer” views (whatever it is I mean by that) that impact the meaning (in practice) of the broad (distant?) views or something like that. more later, after I get some time to think on it more …

    If anyone can explain Nietzsche’s view on morality and give the death of God overview that might be helpful. I think I disagree with him (i don’t think the state of humanity changed nearly as drastically as he implies) but it could be I just haven’t read him correctly.


  41. Mike


    I think the claim is that some views somehow protect morality while others don’t. I don’t see how this could possibly be the case since we’ve seen (historically) all sorts of people with all sorts of views do all kinds of horrendous things.

    But there is a relationship and there are different sorts of views (some much more influential like Martin Luther King JR’s pacifism) and that’s what I’m trying to parse out. The pop-level view is more influential but I don’t think that by itself explains it either. Something about people being basically irrational might get at it.


  42. Huenemann Post author

    Some thoughts —

    First of all, if we are looking to society at large, it’s largely true that working out the relation between science and religion is irrelevant. Most people, I think, believe inconsistent things: during the week they believe in dinosaurs, and on Sundays they believe in Gensis, and the two beliefs just don’t get a chance to meet, because life is busy and we generally are discouraged from any sort of intellectual reflection. So long as the economy is ok, and McNuggets are available, life is good and moralish behavior is strong.

    But, second, that’s not to say that philosophical reflections are completely ineffectual. Cultures change over time, and the engines of those changes are scientific, philosophical, and artistic reflections. There’s a “trickle-down” effect, so to speak. And so, in particular, though it may be possible today to be an atheist and a moral person, there is a legitimate worry that this is possible only because of cultural inertia. Over time, will atheism eventually trickle down to social disaster? (Jeepers, I hope not, but I think it is a legitimate worry.)

    Okay, turning now to the reflections on religion and science, it seems to me that what Vince is saying about the life-transforming experiences people have is best accommodated with a Neo-Spinoza type of view. Bill Wilson has a transformative experience; he interprets it as the intervention of a higher power. Great, so long as he doesn’t start thinking that laws of nature are being violated by such experiences. If he does, he’s given into superstition. But if his thought is, basically, “Here’s how I want to interpret this experience, without drawing any metaphysical or scientific conclusions from it,” then well and good. His myth is a useful and powerful device for organizing his life (indeed, for saving it).

    In short, let science tell us what’s going on in the natural world. Let poetry and religion give us wonderful ways of expressing the joy and pain of being alive.

    Vince, I’ll admit that the hardest task of the naturalist is to explain the first-person perspective. But I believe the problem is tractable. Dennett’s book “Consciousness Explained” points the way.


  43. Mike

    Isn’t “social disaster” just the common situation and aren’t there a million other factors (besides mass athiesm) that could produce it? At the very least, even if “philosophical reflections are not completely ineffectual” aren’t there bigger fish to fry? I mean if we’re genuinely concerned with avoiding social disaster?


  44. Mike

    ha ha ha :)

    i’ll keep that in mind. I think i’ll start with working towards getting a few crazies out of office myself. But I’ll keep working on fighting the belief that athiesm cannot sustain any form of morality as far as the importance hierarchy of philosophical beliefs go. I mean there are so many athiests around, I don’t want them thinking they get a free ride.


  45. Mike


    I too don’t feel like a particularly good person but I don’t feel free in that. Like you I don’t really feel pacified by “cheap grace” in any form. What have you been reading by Schopenhauer? I’d like to read more. Brian Magee turned me on to him in “Confessions of a Philosopher”, he thinks Schopenhauer is the limit of philosophical progress so far and that subsequent “big” philosophers (especially Nietzsche) just started dealing with side questions.


  46. Kleiner

    Vince posted above that “Superstition and miracle are part of pop religion”.

    I am afraid that this is what Vince is saying (and please correct me if I am wrong):

    ‘There are no “real miracles” but only physical events that some people choose to interpret with supernatural significance. Since that can shape their lives in profound ways, then that is good enough. But we enlightened few know what is really going on, there are no real miracles.’

    That is, essentially, the position of the “demythologizers” (Bultmann). I disagree. On pain of Huenemann perhaps thinking I am an idiot, I want to defend this view:
    There are real miracles. If there are not, we are screwed. Why? In the Bill Watson example (who chose to believe in something as a transformative experience) he does not get “saved” (that is, salvation) from an interpretive move. Salvation is an ontological affair. I think Christians have to believe that miracles really happen (Christ resurrected). I’m not willing to water it down.

    Now, is it ludicrous to believe such things? Well, I think we have to say that the “problem of miracles” is one of the chief objections to theism (Aquinas in the Summa thinks that there are only two real objections to the belief in God – the problem of evil and the problem of the miraculous). But should we be swayed by the view that science has disproved miracles? A few responses, many of which come from Prof Kreeft:

    1) Science has not disproved miracles. If you think it has, please show me which science, what proof, who discovered it, and when it was proven. I don’t think you can do that.

    2) Modern science certainly has proven that some things that people thought were miraculous, really were not (lightning does not come from Zeus, etc). But science has not explained away any of the NT miracles (Resurrection, feeding of the 5000, etc).

    3) Now Huenemann will say that science, sometime in the future, will disprove these things. But that makes science a faith. Who knows what will be known in the future? Science doesn’t. In other words, this is not really a scientific argument.

    4) Miracles are not just “powerful subjective experiences” based on interpretations of events. That move guts the meaning from the term, and it guts Christianity. Christians have to believe in miracles, real ones rather than imagined. If Christ did not really rise from the dead, well then Christianity is a load of crap. “If Christ is not raised from the dead, your faith is vain” says Paul.

    5) I don’t think miracles “contradict” the laws of nature. Laws of nature are generalizations drawn from observation about how nature usually works. They do not preclude exceptions. Besides, I think of miracles as additions rather than subtractions. To believe in miracles is simply to believe that there is a deeper (and hidden) order in the world which science cannot reveal. So no scientist should out and out deny the possibility of miracles. Instead they should critically test the miracles, to see if there is a real suspension of natural laws. (Many times I doubt that there is, but sometimes I think that there is).
    William Lane Craig puts it this way, “Only an atheist can deny the historical possibility of miracles, for even an agnostic must grant that if it is possible that a transcendent, personal God exists, then it is equally possible that He has acted in the universe.”
    Since science should be, at best, agnostic, they should not deny the possibility of miracles. I would welcome scientific scrutiny, by the way. I don’t want to get caught up believing something is a miracle when there is a perfectly good natural explanation.

    6) Miracles might sometimes be the most reasonable explanation for events. Regarding the resurrection – who moved the stone? Where did the body go? Who would have started the “myth”, and why? They did not benefit from it, in fact, they were mocked, hated, boiled in oil, and fed to lions.
    If it is a false miracle, then we have to say that 12 jewish men invented the world’s biggest lie, propagated it for no reason and died joyfully defending it (as did millions of others). Does that sound like a very reasonable explanation?


  47. Huenemann Post author

    Two quick things: a really enjoyable book on Schopenhauer is the one by Safaranski – Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy.

    Second, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that the alleged miracles of the NT were either made-up stories or exaggerations of nonmiraculous events. It’s — unfortunately — far from rare for people to kill themselves (or others) or to allow themselves to be tortured and killed while under the influence of these things. Every religion has got ’em. If your #6 were to hold, we ought to embrace Christianity, Islam, and Judaism with equal fervor.


  48. Mike

    I asked this question at Huenemanniac but I’ll ask it here as well.

    We might associate a moral person not as one who holds the correct beliefs so much as a person who holds their beliefs in the right way. That being the case I think philosophy is still the best avenue towards creating that sort of moral person. I don’t think any religion or ideology by itself leads to that. And if you assume for some reason that the consequence of athiesm is moral bankruptcy does that consequence hold for an athiesm where the belief is held correctly (with epistemological care/humility)?



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