Thanks for all the comments and questions that you’ve left on my Monday post on my attraction to G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I’m working my way through them and I anticipate that will be my main source of inspiration for posts this week and possibly next if your questions continue. So here goes…
Matt asked a question that was aimed at the heart of my post:
It’s weird to me that someone would use theology to substantiate their own claims about the world. Wouldn’t you use investigation and reason to substantiate those claims?
In other words, reason and empirical investigation are “truth-telling” things, and they directly conflict with theological claims. I’m surprised to read an atheist that values Lewis for anything other than his literary prowess. He was an absolutely horrid apologetic and most of his arguments were riddled with logical fallacies and faulty premises. His “three L’s” argument should be mandatory in any introduction to logical fallacies.
Ok. So I’m not going to defend C.S. Lewis’s Mad, Bad, or God trichotomy, which I also don’t find logically compelling. I’m going to return later this week to the question (which others have asked) about what specifically about Lewis’s world view attracts me (in the meantime, check out the posts tagged C.S. Lewis). What I want to address is Matt’s claim that empiricism and rationality are intrinsically opposed to and a negation of theological thinking.
Theology is not prima facie irrational, or, at least, it’s not necessarily any more rational than philosophy generally. Some religious questions can be studied empirically (medical effect of prayer = pretty much zilch), some make empirical predictions that are hard to falsify and test (God was the force behind the Big Bang, Jesus turned water into wine at Cana), and some are outside the realm of empirics all together. When religion and empirics intersect, I trust empiricism and the scientific method as my truth-telling thing.
Unfortunately, not all interesting questions fit into a this epistemological paradigm. I do think of it as a truth-telling thing, but it’s not complete. There are true (or probably true) propositions that are unprovable using empiricism. The actual existence of the physical world (contra the brain-in-a-vat) is hard to prove according to my usual empiricist standard. Also hard to pin down with empiricism alone: causality, absolute morality, and consciousness.
These questions are too interesting to pass over in silence, so I have to make a choice. I don’t think empiricism negates or disproves these claims, so if I want to examine them, I’ll need a new truth-telling mechanism. It may be that these two schemata exist in non-overlapping magisteria, or I may need to figure out which one trumps the other. But if I want to talk about them at all, I’m going to need to tweak my epistemology.*
*The last option is for me to decide that I am more sure that empiricism is the correct truth-telling thing than I am sure that morality exists and needs a truth-telling system that helps me examine it. As you can guess, I’m more confident in morality than the scope of empiricism.