Budziszewski, Part II
The essay I discussed in the previous post contained a link to other columns Budziszweski has written. This one caught my eye.
The essay is written as a fictional exchange between a student and a professor. The opening sets the stage nicely:
Are you busy?
I'm about to be — with you. Do you want to talk about something?
Yes, about Christianity. You're the only Christian professor I know.
What's your question?
I've been wondering if I'm stupid or something.
You did fine in my course last semester.
That was different. I'm wondering if I'm stupid to have faith.
Faith about what? Whether God is real, whether the Resurrection happened — something like that?
No. My problem isn't with faith in this or that — it's with faith in general. I feel like I'm being bombarded.
One suspects that Budziszewski is building up to some argument about why faith is a wonderful thing. One would be right. Here it comes:
Sure. The chain has to end somewhere. There has to be a Highest Standard.
Right. Something absolutely trustworthy.
Something you trust not for the sake of some still higher standard, but for itself.
THAT'S where faith comes in.
You have to accept the Highest Standard on faith, because there isn't any higher one to test it with and the chain can't go on forever.
So demanding that things be tested doesn't rule out faith after all!
Nope. In fact, it depends on faith.
I sure didn't expect that.
It is a little mind-boggling.
But faith in what?
We ought to give absolute trust only to what deserves trust absolutely.
What deserves trust absolutely?
God does. And His Word does.
But secular people don't believe in God.
No, they don't.
So does that mean they can't test things?
Not at all. They use what they trust more to test what they trust less, just like everyone does.
But for them, there's nothing at the end of their chain. They don't have a Highest Standard.
Sure they do. They just end the chain too soon.
What do you mean?
A secular person treats as the Highest Standard something that isn't the Highest Standard. He puts faith in something that can't support his faith.
Usually something God has made. He trusts the “creature” instead of the Creator.
Could you give an example?
Sure. Let's take the T.A. in your physics class. What do you think he'd say about miracles?
He'd reject them.
He'd say they violate the laws of nature.
So his standard for testing belief in miracles is...
The laws of nature.
How does he test his standard?
I don't think he does test it. He said once in class that “nature is all there is.” When I asked him how he knew, he said, “It just is.”
So are the laws of nature his Highest Standard?
Then that's where he places his faith.
I think he'd be surprised to hear himself described as a man of faith.
I'm sure he would.
But don't Christians believe in the laws of nature too?
Certainly we do, but they aren't our Highest Standard. The Creator is. If He made the laws of nature, He can suspend them.
Then my physics T.A. said he's an atheist because science demands proof, and there's no proof of God.
Ask him what proof he has that there isn't any.
Doesn't that reduce everything to the level of “I say, you say”?
Sure it does, if you stop there. I'm not suggesting a way to end the conversation, but to begin it. He needs to realize that he has a faith commitment too.
What about what my resident assistant said?
What did he say again?
That the difference between philosophy and religion is that religion depends on faith but philosophy depends on reasoning.
That's just nonsense. Reasoning itself depends on faith.
How could that be?
Think. What do you do to construct a defense of reasoning?
So you defend reasoning by reasoning?
Then your defense is circular. It proves that reasoning works only if you already know that reasoning works.
So reasoning can't justify reasoning!
Right. You have to accept reasoning by faith. The only question is the one you asked earlier — “Faith in what?”
I'll never understand people like Budzszewski. This isn't some mindless fundamentalist, gleefully thumping his Bible to avoid having to think about unpleasant realities. This is someone who has invested a lot of time and effort thinking about important questions, and trying to devise good arguments to defend what he believes. Judging from his position at a good school like UT-Austin, this is someone who has been successful in an environment in which making good arguments is essential.
But for all of that the argument he is offering here is so transparently stupid a child should see through it. Does he really not understand that some leaps of faith are more reasonable than others?
It is certainly true that if you are going to reason about anything you need to start from foundational assumptions that can not themselves be proved. Any high school class in Euclidean geometry covers this point, and you will be hard-pressed to find a college student incapable of realizing it for himself.
But that hardly means that one leap of faith is as good as any other. I accept on faith that my car won't blow up when I turn the key. Seems reasonable, based on past experience and on the collective experiences of ocuntless other drivers. But I do not accept on faith that the law of gravitation will be suspended for me when I step off a cliff. One leap of faith is reasonable, the other is not.
In using science and mathematics to study the world you are accepting certain unproved assumptions. But these assumptions have proven their value through centuries of progress in science. If the goal is to understand the workings of nature than the assumptions scientists make about the world have proven themselves superior to the assumptions theologians make.
To put it another way, having faith that the laws of nature will not be spontaneously violated is based on centuries of human experience. The assumption that the universe is presided over by a being capable of suspending natural laws at his whim is based on nothing at all.
Now it is possible that Budziszewski buys into various ID arguments, and would therefore argue that the assumption of a higher power does let us make sense out of certain data. I don't agree with such claims, but at any rate that is not the argument he is making here.
He might also reply that religious assumptions have proven themselves useful by all the people who have changed their lives for the better by converting to Christianity. But of course, many other people have been moved to do great evil as the result of their religious conversion, and countless others have improved their lives for the better by abandoning their faith.
Accepting certain assumptions about the world because they fit well with everyday expereince makes sense. Conjuring supernatural beings into existence for no reason does not make sense.
Finally, we can't let slide his question about proving God does not exist. Now, as it happens, I think the problem of evil and suffering is a pretty effective refutation of the idea that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists. But leaving that aside, surely the burden of proof lies with those who claim there is a God. I can't prove that unicorns don't exist, but it's the person who claims they do who has to produce some evidence.