In an email, Stu provided the following link "What atheists Kant refute" from the Christian Science Monitor. Dinesh D'Souza is interviewed regarding a series of anti-religious books by Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens. http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/1017/p09s06-coop.html. That led to an email exchange between Stu, Joel, Howard and Ira. Rather than limit that exchange to a small, private group, here is an edited version for the enjoyment of readers of this Blog. I hope it generates lots of cross-discussion!
EXCERPTS FROM CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR STORY
Reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable.
Opinion editor Josh Burek talks with Dinesh D'Souza about atheism.
Religion has faced formidable foes in its history. But atheism hasn't generally been one of them – until today. A recent string of bestselling books has put believers of all stripes on the defensive. Religion, say authors such as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens, is an unreasonable form of blind faith, often leading to fanaticism and violence. Reason and science, they contend, are the only proper foundations for forming opinions and understanding the universe. Those who believe in God, they insist, are falling for silly superstitions.
This atheist attack is based on a fallacy – the Fallacy of the Enlightenment. It was pointed out by the great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant. Kant erected a sturdy intellectual bulwark against atheism that hasn't been breached since. His defense doesn't draw on sacred texts or any other sources of authority to which people of faith might naturally and rightfully turn when confronted with atheist arguments. Instead, it relies on the only framework that today's atheist proselytizers say is valid: reason. The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that there is only one limit to what human beings can know – reality itself. This view says we can find out more and more until eventually there is nothing more to discover. It holds that human reason and science can, in principle, unmask the whole of reality.
In his 1781 "Critique of Pure Reason," Kant showed that this premise is false. In fact, he argued, there is a much greater limit to what human beings can know. Kant showed that human knowledge is constrained not merely by the unlimited magnitude of reality but also by a limited sensory apparatus of perception.
Consider a tape recorder. It captures only one mode of reality, namely sound. Thus all aspects of reality that cannot be captured in sound are beyond its reach. The same, Kant would argue, is true of human beings. The only way we apprehend empirical reality is through our five senses. But why should we believe, Kant asked, that this five-mode instrument is sufficient? What makes us think that there is no reality that lies beyond sensory perception?
... Notice that Kant's argument is entirely secular: It does not employ any religious vocabulary, nor does it rely on any kind of faith. But in showing the limits of reason, Kant's philosophy "opens the door to faith," as the philosopher himself noted.
Kant exposes the ignorant boast of atheists that atheism operates on a higher intellectual plane than theism. He shows that reason must know its limits in order to be truly reasonable. Atheism foolishly presumes that reason is in principle capable of figuring out all that there is, while theism at least knows that there is a reality greater than, and beyond, that which our senses and our minds can ever apprehend.
I agree with Dinesh D'Souza that our five senses are insufficient to apprehend the whole truth of the world. However, I don't trust our "faith" sense to fill in that lacuna reliably. D'Souza's book is titled What's So Great About Christianity, and, if it is a pean to traditional Christianity I don't necessarily think it will satisfy me. On the other hand, if he makes the point that religion in general (when not too fundamentalist or radical) is of net benefit to civilization, and that, via Christianity, civilization and society has been uplifted, then I would buy it!
As it happens, I am currently reading Dawkin's The God Delusion and, so far, (about 70% into it) am not overwhelmed (even though I respect Dawkins and enjoyed a couple of his other books). Perhaps I will find some meat in the book as I go further, but, so far, he is demolishing arguments for a God external to the Universe who created it and is interested in day-to-day activities of individuals and regularly manipulates His Creation. The idea of a "personal God", while quite common to the average "Joe and Jane" is, IMHO, so flat that it does not need further attack.
He acknowledges Einstein's pantheistic God and quotes Hawking and others who use the term "God" in that vein. Dawkins then makes an incredible charge (worthy of Ann Coulter :^) when he says (p19):
... I wish that physicists would refrain from using the word God in their special metaphorical sence. The metaphorical or pantheistic God of the physicists is light years away from the interventionist, miracle-wreaking ... God of the Bible... Deliberately to confuse the two is, in my opinion, AN ACT OF INTELLECTUAL HIGH TREASON. [EMPHASIS added]
I checked the index and could find no reference to the "Gaia Hypothesis" that we humans (and other life in the biosphere) are, by our role in evolution and natural selection, creating some sort of meta-consciousness that does wield some overall power and intentionality at the whole Earth level. That concept is part and parcel of a pantheistic belief an God and, if true, fully worthy of the use of the term "God". I hope he gets to it.
Dinesh D'Souza’s argument that our five senses are insufficient to apprehend the whole truth is a misleading half-truth about science. One can argue that all the sciences began by going beyond the natural senses with measurement devices. Chemistry began with the analytic balance, biology with the microscope, physics with the telescope. Spectroscopes, particle detectors, radiation detectors, scanning electron microscopes, atomic force microscopes and dozens of other instruments go many categories and many magnitudes beyond our senses from the highest energies and smallest particles to almost to the entire detectable universe. Science also explains why things exist beyond our knowing, that is, beyond the event horizon and black holes.
The panentheist definition of God is the totality of whatever exists (the "ground of existence") in the broadest possible sense of “exists’ including what we can never know. My opinion of Dawkins is that he is a brilliant polemicist but not a reliable authority on either religion or science. Right or wrong, I think his motive is winning arguments, and he is good at it. He could also have been a great preacher or maybe an insurance salesman.
Thanks for the reference, Stu. It's interesting to me that Dinesh D'Souza is trying to make something out of nothing. The trouble with quoting old philosophers is that they are often deprived of essential knowledge that any school child has today. Kant wrote in a time in which there was no remote sensing and man had to depend on his own immediate sensing capability. This gives one a very restrictive idea of what can be known by the senses and what actually exists. He also misrepresents science as very narrow and restrictive in its view.
First of all, science places no limit on what might be invisible to us and our sensory surrogates. It only requires that the unsensible world be consistent with the sensible world in any place
they make contact. It we use D'Souza's tape recorder analogy, I would say the following. If you postulate that an invisible, unfeelable, unsmellible, etc. tree falls in a forest next to the tape recorder, then the tape recorder should at least hear a sound which is consistent with the existence of such a tree, even if the tape recorder can't "see" the tree fall. The science establishment has demonstrated that it is willing to seek out hypothetical things that are normally invisible. Remember that scientists hypothesized the existence of the neutrino based upon seeming violations of Conservation of Momentum and Energy. The particle was actually "seen" only after the the design of an experiment, expenditure of millions of dollars and tons of steel from old battle ships (if I remember correctly). Believers in the invisible world of religion can't even propose a consistency experiment.
I understand, even if I don't agree with, authors like Dawkins. It seems as though we still have terrible global clashes over religion. In Dawkins' mind and that of others, such clashes will continue as long as humans are willing to be motivated by a blind faith that makes them intolerant of those who don't also admit that unverifiable truth. In a sense, Dawkins is acting out of political ideology rather than science. I think that Ira's laisser-faire policy is the right one. Aggressive atheism (or pantheism) is not the way to fight aggressive religion.