Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The End of Everything

In this article by an atheist (let's call him Joe), I find a rather disturbing quip: "The evidence Christians use to support their case is historical evidence, but as I’ve argued [before], history is a poor medium to reveal anything of importance." [emphasis mine] Then Atheist Joe cites several of his own articles where he "defended the notion that history is a poor medium for God to reveal himself to humanity."
How, exactly, is history an unreliable medium? He answers (or begins to answer) thus: "Anyone who studies the philosophy of history knows that history (and historical writings) should be interpreted in light of the historian's present perspective. Why? Because that's all we can do...we cannot do otherwise." Translation: History (including our own) is a slave to context and biases. Hence, history's function is utilitarian. It's only function is to press our own beliefs and ideas. He list an example here.
Where did Joe get such an idea? He doesn't say exactly, but I'll hazard it has something to do with 18th-19th century Liberal Humanism/20th century Deconstructive nonsense, a deluded hangover of New Historicism, which basically says that History is about nothing because everything it reports are facts that have been affected by the contexts and biases of the one(s) writing the facts, contexts and biases that we (who have our own contexts and biases) know nothing about. Therefore, we really do not know what happened. Therefore, history is about nothing.
In addition, because history is contextual and biased, and therefore about nothing, we cannot trust it as a reliable source for truth. Only logic and reason is the reliable source for truth. Joe seems to agree: "[We must] distinguished between the contingent truths of history and the necessary truths of reason." [emphasis mine] Translation: History is biased, reason is not, and therefore reason can be used to debunk history. Not just specific elements (for there I would agree with him), but on the whole: "Practically any event in history can be rationally denied, even if that event actually occurred!" Joe's resulting response to Christianity's "historical evidence" is that in order to debunk it, all you need to do is let reason debunk history in its entirety.
First, I'd like to say that I wish I could (at the drop of a hat) use reason to just discount an entire field of study (and reality) that inconvenienced me (Oh, wait. As a Christian I do that already in regards to reason, because reason has nothing to do with religion, right? How silly of me to forget).
Second, Mr. Joe is on shaky ground if he thinks making the whole of history questionable somehow solves his problems. Here's a quick example: In this entry, Joe uses the historical statements of a Mr. Gotthold Lessing as an example of how history is unreliable to ascertain truth. So, he used history to debunk (or make debunkable) history. If that's not a Schafferian point-of-tension, then I don't know what is.
That quick example, however, leads to my main point: Mr. Joe's statements about history's unreliability can be just as catastrophic for his beliefs as well as mine. I find interesting the seemingly shaky (or perhaps non-existent) relationship between Mr. Joe's atheism and his atheism's own appeal to historical evidence.
You see, a lot of what I have read by atheist shows a heavy (almost mythological) reliance on and faith in the claims, assertions, and impacts made by the Enlightenment (I am speaking generally). The Enlightenment, however, is a historical event, and its claims, assertions, and impacts are all historical claims, assertions, and impacts. They all are as much a part of history as the Gospels and its claims, assertions, and impacts are.
Now, given Joe's own logic about history (i.e., its contexts ad biases make it an unreliable source for truth), the Enlightenment, as a historical event, is based upon historical contexts and biases that we know nothing about but affected the event profoundly. Therefore, because the Enlightenment is based on contextual biases that we know nothing of, we can know nothing for certain about it, and it is, therefore, unreliable as a source of truth, because its statements, claims, founders, proponents, and even its very existence are founded on those unknown biases and contexts that shaped it. Therefore, the Enlightenment is just as unreliable as the Gospels or the Resurrection are in ascertaining truth about anything.
Oh, but hang it all! History is now as much as it is the past. We exist in history in this moment, which means that this whole "debunk history" thing can be pretty scary when you apply it to its logical conclusion. It is scary because, in reality, everything we do is a historical event. In a few moments, this blog entry will be a historical event, my using my computer will be a historical event, my heading to the kitchen to make and drink raspberry hot chocolate will be an historical event, and so on. All those events, however (if we follow Mr. Joe's logic), are based upon biases and contexts that neither you (nor even I) know fully of that shaped and affected those events. Because of those biases, you have (in effect) no way of knowing whether or not this blog actually happened, or that I ended it, or that I made and drank anything, or that I am even here at all, or that anything anywhere is really happening or here! When history is no longer fixed, when it becomes fluent, then we can know nothing historical, not even the here and now, or yesterday, or tomorrow when it comes and goes.
History cannot be fixed for Mr. Joe. What is fixed for him is logic. He makes that pretty clear in this entry:
"What I argue for is that logic is of a much greater value than historical evidence when it comes to testing the foundational miracle and doctrinal claims of Christianity. The role of logic is to test these resultant doctrinal claims for consistency. That’s what logic is supposed to do, test beliefs for their internal consistency...I think historical evidence is important, and I think I can know what happened in the past, in varying degrees of assurance, but never with certainty. However, given the fact that the evidence of history won’t convince the believer to think otherwise, I use logic to debunk what historical evidence doesn’t do." [emphasis mine]
Mr. Joe is right on one point: if reason and logic truly discover something contrary to a historical element thought to be accurate, then that historical element should be immediately discarded as false. However, reason and logic are dependent on history too, at least for an atheist. And that creates a problem.
In this previous post of mine, I observed how atheists, since they cannot allow transcendent grounds for logic or reason (they are naturalist after all), claim that we must simple trust that it works because we have seen it work in physical space and time. Mr. Joe believes as much, as a quote of him in the comment section of this entry reveals: "Maybe reason has merely shown itself trustworthy by pragmatic verification based in the anthropic principle evidenced in the universe--it just works." In other words, we know logic and reason exist because it has been used before and it has worked before, so therefore it must be real.
Perhaps you see the problem now: for an atheist, the veracity of logic and reason is based upon historical verification, i.e., because we have seen it work, then it must be there. That means, therefore, that all the evidence an atheist can produce for logic and reason is historical evidence.
Therefore (given Joe's logic about history), all those evidences for logic and reason are just as questionable as the Gospels, or the Resurrection, or the Enlightenment, or Gotthold Lessing, or anything, for the same exact reasons: they all are historical events that have been shaped by contexts and biases that we know nothing of, and therefore we don't really know what happened, and therefore none of logic or reason's historical veracity is reliable in ascertaining the truth about logic or reason.
In short, the end of history, its outright debunking or being made easily debunkable, is not (as Mr. Joe would like to assume) the end of Christianity; it is the end of everything: religion, atheism, logic, reason, science, art, politics, etc., etc. If everything historical, if everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen is in doubt, then we can know nothing about anything. All questions become asinine, and all answers more so. It seems that, in the effort to "debunk" Christianity, atheists (or at least brave Mr. Joe) are willing to debunk everything else, including themselves.