First Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) in his medieval best-seller 'Spiritual Exercises' [hat tip Thrutch]:
To arrive at the truth in all things, we ought always to be ready to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it.And Tertullian, another prominent theologian back in the early days when people were making up the Gospels, who wote of religion and the resurrection myth that
it is believable because it is so foolish. . . it is certain because it is impossible.You just can't make this stuff up. In the same tradition is this line from a pre-modern destroyer of knowledge, German nutcase Immanuel Kant, who declared that
I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.As Christopher Hitchens has been heard to say, religion poisons everything. Observed Ayn Rand:
The alleged shortcut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit, destroying the mind.Worth thinking about.
UPDATE 1: If you want to see how a prominent contemporary theologians arguing that white is black, have a browse through some of the pseudo-scientific sounding drivel spouted by the so-called 'Intelligent Design' school, or the word games of Alvin Plantinga -- an 'analysis' here for example of the "Free Will Defence" that puts the 'sophist' back into sophisticated.
UPDATE 2: Commenter Matt F. has provided many word games in the comments section here in an attempt to defend what I would characterise as the indefensible. There are more word games at his blog fromMatt, who seems to take Mr Plantinga as one of his models. Matt is himself a contemporary theologian, albeit not yet well known or prominent, but this is what he does professionally. It might be cruel to Matt to attribute to him views which aren't his, but that means however that if he takes his Loyola seriously, his job is "to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it."
One has that sense when debating him.
Now Matt has repeatedly accused many of us here of erecting strawmen with which to attack religion -- which is an interesting wriggle considering I was quoting some of the church's own founders and defenders -- so I was interested to see the account he has over at his own blog about the exchanges here, since what he's erected over there is a whole field of stunted little strawmen.
Given that Matt is, as I said, a professional theologian, I'm frankly disappointed that what I would call his basic standards of debate are so low, and his thickets of misdirection so tangled.
It is instructive, however, because it indicates how difficult a discussion is when one participant hears only what he wants to hear, just how disappointingly low are a professional theologian's standards of evidence, and how of necessity they need to be in order to believe the "foolish" and the "impossible."
Here's just a few of Matt's strawmen in the most recent posts on his blog which, since the substantive responses should be obvious enough, I'll mostly just point out rather than answer (yes, some grammar has been corrected to make the comments as understandable as I can make them):
- Says Matt: "In recent correspondence with non-believers I have repeatedly met with the following argument. This is usually touted as a kind of self-evident mantra.  There is no proof that God exists  It's irrational to believe something unless you have proof. Therefore:  Belief in the existence of God is irrational."
Now he may or may not have been referring to exchanges here at Not PC, but if he is then proposition 2 is misstated. What I've said here is that a proposition without proof is flatly arbitrary, and the arbitrary is out. Arbitrary statements don't even get to be called irrational; they don't even get to the table. Matt then goes on to base a whole post on this misstatement.
- Matt begins another post: "Not PC has a blog on "How Faith destroys Knowledge". The basic line of argument appears to be as follows: three famous thinkers appear to hold that faith and reason are at odds and that faith is the preferable stance."
First, as all assiduous listeners of Monty Python are aware, "an argument is a connected series of propositions intended to establish a conclusion." What I posted above was not an argument. It was one post with four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it; some thoughts for a Sunday on how faith undercuts reason. It was not an argument, however I'm happy for Matt to keep providing evidence for it as a proposition, since it seems to me that his methodology provides abundant evidence for the point.
Second, the "thinkers" quoted (whose "fame" if at all is irrelevant, and whose thinking is at the very least highly suspect) wrote in a time when clarity was valued. They did not "appear to hold" those views. In fact they did hold them. Specifically they held the view that faith is antagonistic to knowledge and reason, a divorce which those thinkers approved.
Third, Matt seems to ascribes to me in his tangled way the idea that faith is the preferable stance. As any reader of this blog will know, that is the opposite of the case.
- Matt again: "PC also makes some fairly dubious clams. He cites Tertullian as a Fidest and states that the Gospels were written around in the third century AD."
No, irrelevant as it might seem, in fact I make no such claims. I do not "cite" Tertullian as "a Fideist." I simply quoted what he said. And what I call him is "another prominent theologian back in the early days when people were making up the Gospels."
You'll notice too that I do not "state" that the Gospels were written "around the third century AD." Tertullian's dates were 155-230 (ie., the second to third centuries). The earliest surviving copies of the Gospels were dated from the fourth century, and were probably written somewhere in the second or third (arguments about for the age of their composition still rage). However, quite apart from being irrelevant to any current argument here, from the distance of the twenty-first century what I said is more than accurate enough. And it wasn't "stated" as a "claim."
- He carries on in this manner, ascribing to me all sorts of things I haven't said and positions I haven't taken, eg,"First, [PC] provides some counter examples to anti-evidentialism..." and "Second, he offers some criticisms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument...". In other words, he faults me for insufficiently countering in the comments section two very specific theological sallies, when my response was simply to two fairly general and poorly argued points.
- There is more of this, as you'd expect, but what he's working up to is this, right at the conclusion of his substantive post: "I suspect however that PC has not read Christian thinkers he has read Ayn Rand and various libertarian caricatures of Christian thinkers. On the basis of these caricatures he denigrates Christians as irrational and politically dangerous."
Now Matt is entitled to suspect what he likes, and he may think what he likes about who and what I've read, but it's frankly surprising to see such firm conclusions drawn on the basis of one post containing only four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it. And this from a professional theologian.
And this is the reason I've taken the time with these trivialities here, since the rigour with which we demand evidence for our views is the measure of our commitment to the reality of those views.
One would be sorely tempted to point out that Matt's apparent disdain for standards of evidence is hardly surprising, since christians are used to making up their minds based on scanty or non-existent evidence -- which was the partial point of my the original post, if you'll recall, and also of many comments -- and fortunately for us Matt himself provides us with an tip that is like a signpost for those of us curious about christian epistemological standards. Says Matt: "you can rationally believe certain things, in certain situations, without evidence."
You really couldn't make that up.
UPDATE 4: Links fixed. Matt's professional description amended.