Theological Kobayashi Maru

Recently on the blog Unreasonable Faith, theological arguments were likened to the Kobayashi Maru scenario in Star Trek. For fans, it needs no explanation, but for others, it is a training simulation that is unwinnable.

I wonder whether, like James T. Kirk, many of the folks discussing this at Unreasonable Faith (as well as many religious and other people in general) may not have missed the point. Theology is indeed unwinnable, in the sense that it is about exploring the unfathomable and pondering the unprovable. There are a great many theological and philosophical conundrums which we ponder, not in the hope that we may cleverly reprogram the computer so that we can win, but so that we may learn from precisely the experience of wresting with an unwinnable situation.

This recent Dilbert cartoon made me think of this topic, too. Sometimes even when an argument is winnable, “winning” doesn’t feel like “winning.”

 

  • http://triangulations.wordpress.com/ Sabio Lantz

    James, you said:

    Theology is indeed unwinnable, in the sense that it is about exploring the unfathomable and pondering the unprovable.

    Well, certainly Theology is pondering the unprovable, but we have no evidence it is exploring the unfathomable.

    Theology is like a twisted knot.

    Now, let’s see if this HTML works on Patheos:

    [if not, see the knot picture here]

    I agree about “winning” — it is not always the best goal! Weird, that, eh?

  • JenellYB

    Something I adopted into my thought system regarding matters of belief on faith alone, is that while I can accept and believe, on faith alone, something that has not and even cannot be proven true, I cannot accept and believe on faith something that has been proven not true. Faith and reason are not in conflict, when both are ‘sound.’
    That given, I ran across an article yesterday on a right wing conservative religious blog, that I can’t get out of my mind, for how SCARY it was, in how what appears to be a sound, well-reasoned argument can be constructed so as to be very convincing, once one has accepted beyond questioning, some very unsound premises upon which it has been constructed.
    When I studied formal logic, my first glimpse of the textbook for the college course nearly sent me scrambling to drop the course before it even began, for that I realized what was in that textbook looked like MATHMATIC! Algebraic formulas and equations! And my absolute WORST area, in which I had till that point really believed indicated some defect in my brain, was MATH! Even getting started in college meant, for me, having to get through two levels of remedials in algebra!
    But by the time I had actually aced that formal logic course, the previously obscure and senseless world of mathematical reasoning opened up for me, and I was no longer ‘math-impaired.’
    The conservative argument I read yesterday was toward why we must reject mere (faulty, defective, insufficient) human reason in favor of the “authority” of the Church, certain religious doctrines peculiar to a particular form of Christian religious belief, and the divinely inspired “leaders and teachers” within the Church. The scary part was how WELL the argument was constructed and how smoothly and consistently is was presented. And because it so totally struck down the value of mere human reason over ‘divine revelation’ as it called it, but which was Church authority AS the source of that authority, it “effectively” short-circuited the very sound reasoning that would be needed to question the validity of the original, foundational premises it was constructed upon. It was comparable to someone having quite correctly and flawlessly worked out an algebraic equation, but with incorrect values assigned to “X” and “Y” and there can be no questioning or challenged to those values as they have been assigned.
    It is something I keep going over in my mind, and even going back to that article, for it demonstrates to me so well how easily so many people can be led to accept the most outrageous and preposterous of things despite what seems clear factual evidence to the contrary to most of us.

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    First of all, I must acknowledge unreasonable faith is one of the best and most respectful atheistic blog out there.

    Certain theological theories are refutable (and have been indeed refuted) but other (like the possibility we’re living in a computer simulation) are probably forever unknowable.

    • VorJack

      First of all, I must acknowledge unreasonable faith is one of the best and most respectful atheistic blog out there.

      Hush. You’re wrecking my street cred.

  • VorJack

    I wonder whether, like James T. Kirk, many of the folks discussing this at Unreasonable Faith (as well as many religious and other people in general) may not have missed the point.

    Did Kirk miss the point? In the original version he received a commendation for “original thinking” and a star ship.

    Perhaps the question becomes, who gets to decide what the point is? Kirk refused to play with the stacked deck they handed him, and so he stacked the deck in his own favor. He seized the problem and made it his own. In doing so he probably revealed more of his character than most of the usual participants.

    Anyway, it’s hard to imagine James T. “Prime Directive? What Prime Directive” Kirk behaving in any other way.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I think that there is something important and appropriate about Starfleet’s aims, and also think that the crafty workaround says something important too. If that were not so, presumably it would have been the end for either Kirk or the Kobayashi Maru within Starfleet.


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