True vs. "true"
"The Value of Historical Theology", in Sundoulos, Fall Issue, 2009 (Talbot: 2009), p. 7.
Leopold Von Ranke's famous maxim that the historian's task is to "tell it like it was" may be ridiculed by those who doubt the possibility or even the desirability of objective history, but I believe Von Ranke was fundamentally correct. In the case of intellectual history, this involves understanding a thinker on his or her own terms, in his or her own context. It is coming to grips with a document's meaning and penetrating what underlies the arguments being advanced. It is no about rehabilitating or castigating those long dead, but about grasping objectively what is being said and why. ¶ While objectivity is the historian's goal, this does not mean that the historian is void of personal commitments, or that he or she must remain neutral as to the truth or falsity of the positions under consideration. The point is simply that history qua history is not about passing such judgments but is merely about getting the story straight, however the chips may fall. It is only after the position has been understood on its own terms and without bias that the historian may turn to evaluation and employ the fruits of his or her discovery in polemical or other theological application. But at that point we've moved beyond the historical task simpliciter and into something else — something wonderfully valuable and necessary, perhaps, but something different nonetheless.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, orig. 1926 (Black Dog Publishing: 2006), p. 153.
Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it.
Trenton Merricks (Oxford University Press: Jun 1, 2009), 214 pages.
That there are no white ravens is true because there are no white ravens. And so there is a sense in which that truth "depends on the world." But this sort of dependence is trivial. After all, it does not imply that there is anything that is that truth's "truthmaker." Nor does it imply that something exists to which that truth corresponds. Nor does it imply that there are properties whose exemplification grounds that truth. Trenton Merricks explores whether and how truth depends substantively on the world or on things or on being. And he takes a careful look at philosophical debates concerning, among other things, modality, time, and dispositions. He looks at these debates because any account of truth's substantive dependence on being has implications for them. And these debates likewise have implications for how and whether truth depends on being. Along the way, Merricks makes a number of new points about each of these debates that are of independent interest, of interest apart from the question of truth's dependence on being. Truth and Ontology concludes that some truths do not depend on being in any substantive way at all. One result of this conclusion is that it is a mistake to oppose a philosophical theory merely because it violates truth's alleged substantive dependence on being. Another result is that the correspondence theory of truth is false and, more generally, that truth itself is not a relation of any sort between truth-bearers and that which "makes them true." ~ Book Description
E.J. Lowe and A. Rami, eds. (McGill-Queen's University Press: May, 2009), 262 pages.
Truth depends in some sense on reality. But it is a rather delicate matter to spell this intuition out in a plausible and precise way. According to the theory of truth-making this intuition implies that either every truth or at least every truth of a certain class of truths has a so-called truth-maker, an entity whose existence accounts for truth. This book aims to provide several ways of assessing the correctness of this controversial claim. This book presents a detailed introduction to the theory of truth-making, which outlines truth-maker relations, the ontological category of truth-making entities, and the scope of a truth-maker theory. The essays brought together here represent the most important articles on truth-making in the last three decades as well as new essays by leading researchers in the field of the theory of truth and of truth-making. ~ Book Description
A History of Philosophy: Volume II: Medieval Philosophy, (Continuum: 2003) p. 53
Again, everyone who doubts knows that he is doubting, so that he is certain of this truth at least, namely the fact that he doubts. Thus every one who doubts whether there is such a thing as truth, knows at least one truth, so that his very capacity to doubt should convince him that there is such a thing as truth.
Dr. Trevor in Evenings with the Skeptics: Free Discussion on Free thinkers, pp. 34-5.
I come lastly to a third type of intellect, in which Twofold Truth presents itself in a moderate and altogether commendable shape; in which the disparity is not so much antagonistic as complementary, and the result of its functions is not disunion and hostility so much as a broad comprehensive solidarity. For our purpose we may call intellects of this class 'dual-sighted' or 'two- eyed.' ... This 'double-sighted man' is by no means the synonym of the nickname common in Puritan history, 'Mr. Facing-both-ways.' It rather implies the possession of faculties which enable the observer to see every object in the solid, substantial manner, in the full relief, and with the true perspective that pertain essentially to all double vision. It is the instinctive power and tendency to discern a specific object or a given truth not merely as it is in itself or in one of its prima facie aspects, but in its completeness as a whole and relatively to all its surroundings. We see this quality in the artist who simultaneously with the perception of an object also sees all its different phases as well as its relations to surrounding objects; or again in the general who apprehends by a single glance of his mental vision all the characteristics, bad as well as good, of a given position or military movement. So the philosophers I speak of catch every truth or doctrine, not in its simple and uniform, but in its complex biform or multiform aspect. They are men to whom every affirmation suggests, if only as a possibility, a negative; who intuitively meet every dogmatic pronouncement with an objection, just as a painter infers shadow from light. These are the men who in my judgment have rendered the best service to the progress of knowledge by their comprehensive vision, their cautious Skeptical attitude, their fearless criticism. ...
John Owen, Evenings with the Skeptics: Free Discussion on Free thinkers, Vol. II: Christian Skepticism (Longmans, Green & Co: 1881), pp.3-52.
This is a long but exceptionally eloquent and learned dialogue between a group of thoughtful friends in the late 19th century. Dr. Trevor poses the question "whether what is demonstrably true in one subject or from one point of view can be false in another or from a different standpoint?" Their dialogue bookends Trevor's formal paper, where he argues that whatever may be the case in reality, at least within our own deliberations, "we cannot without the most gratuitous mental suicide allow the subjective co-existence of antagonistic convictions both claiming to be true at the same time". Trevor begins by noting the severe limits of our knowledge. "The thinker rightly regards himself and his knowledge as a small islet in the immeasurable ocean of the unknown." He unsparingly traces a history of the ecclesiastic autocracy of theological dogma until reason got its foot in the door and began an insurrection, asserting itself against the "Roman" church as the singular arbiter of truth. Nonetheless, he argues, the phenomenon of competing considerations is not just a byproduct of religious authority, but rather an inescapable aspect of being human, coming at us from many angles: "the Known and the Unknown, individual man and collective humanity, Intellect and Emotion". Trevor therefore commends the thinker who has "double vision", the ability to see and integrate various sources of evidence, who is always reticent and reflective, even in conviction. Though it requires treading through some rather dense prose, the discussion of these "Christian skeptics" is a feast of language and thought. At times it captures the spirit of Afterall.net better than I ever could have in my own words. ~ Afterall
Nathan Jacobson (Afterall.net, 2001. Revised June 2007)
Personally, there are few things I relish more than a ranging conversation with friends over an overflowing plate of supreme nachos. And, graciously, it is in this intrinsically good thing that lies the promise of truths that can set us free. Dialogue is no panacea, of course. In and of itself, it cannot usher in peace and goodwill on earth. Indeed, very often grudges and misunderstandings find their breeding ground here. Still, good conversation is the best thing on the menu, whether it is with a book, a blog, or a bloke. So what makes any old conversation about important and controversial issues a good conversation? I'd like to suggest a few essential ingredients, mostly learned from the unsavory taste of foot-in-mouth. Take these insights with a grain — or a dash — of salt.
James Freeman Clarke, Chp. 5 in Every-day Religion (Ticknor: 1886), 63-76.
To speak the truth, or what seems to be truth to us, is not a very hard thing, provided we do not care what harm we do by it, or whom we hurt by it. This kind of "truth-telling" has been always common. Such truth-tellers call themselves plain, blunt men, who say what they think, and do not care who objects to it. A man who has a good deal of self-reliance and not much sympathy, can get a reputation for courage by this way of speaking the truth. But the difficulty about it is, that truth thus spoken does not convince or convert men; it only offends them. It is apt to seem unjust; and injustice is not truth. ¶ Some persons think that unless truth is thus hard and disagreeable it cannot be pure. Civility toward error seems to them treason to the truth. Truth to their mind is a whip with which to lash men, a club with which to knock them down. They regard it as an irritant adapted to arouse sluggish consciences.
director Larry Charles, writer Bill Maher (Thousand Words: 2008), 101 min.
If you consider a wide sampling of the reactions to Bill Maher's and Larry Charles' Religulous, two distinct themes emerge. On the one hand, reviewers consistently note that the filmmakers were deliberately manipulative in their survey of religion: in whom they chose to interview and feature, in asking baited questions, and finally, in their merciless splicing and dicing in the editing room. And so, not surprisingly, religious people come off as goofy, gullible, and worse. On the other hand, a number of reviewers note what they take to be an earnest search by Maher to understand people of faith. As Maher puts it himself at the outset, his quest is to understand how otherwise intelligent and rational people can continue to believe in fantasies like talking snakes and a virgin birth. It's a worthwhile question, and there are moments in the film when Maher displays some genuine curiosity about it. Nonetheless, these two observations about Religulous seem to be incompatible. And regrettably, by the end, it is clear that Maher and Charles set out not on a quest for understanding, but rather to proof-text their presumptions. Religulous is funny enough, and at times thought provoking. On the whole, however, Religulous is a "mockumentary". A hit-piece. It is a quest that begins with a predetermined destination in mind and manages to arrive there by scrupulously avoiding any detours that might have derailed the script.
The Secular Web, "About the Internet Infidels" (October 28, 2008).
Life is short. Nevertheless, billions of people invest incalculable hours making fruitless pleas to nonexistent gods, participating in lavish rituals with no tangible effects, and whittling away tight budgets to support extravagant religious institutions or "spiritual advisors." Worse still, antiquated religious ideas lead people to impose needless hardships on themselves and others, to rationalize discrimination and other forms of mistreatment, and to hasten environmental destruction because they believe that "the end of the world" is imminent anyway. And for every outward manifestation of wasteful, counterproductive, and even downright harmful activity motivated only by religious belief, there are countless instances that are not nearly so obvious. Religious belief has exacted a toll on people's emotional well-being as well. Just how much energy has been drained searching for meaning where none is to be found, or been squandered on false hopes and unwarranted fears? How many believers have agonized over the uncertain destination of their loved ones after death? How many have struggled to discern exactly what they did to displease God after falling victim to a natural disaster? How many have been tormented trying to make sense of why God allows terrible things to happen to good people? In the absence of any clear revelation about what God wants us to do, how many have fretted about whether their own actions or beliefs, or those of the people dearest to them, are enough to avoid hellfire? How many of those who have lost their faith in old age have looked back at all the missed opportunities, the roads not taken, the life that could have been, had they not been born in a religious household, or had they abandoned religion in their younger days!
"Bill Maher vs. the 'talking snake'", by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.com (October 2, 2008).
I don't use the word "atheist" about myself, because I think it mirrors the certitude I'm so opposed to in religion. What I say in the film is that I don't know. I don't know what happens when you die, and all the religious people who claim they do know are being ridiculous. I know that they don't know any more than I do. They do not have special powers that I don't possess. When they speak about the afterlife with such certainty and so many specifics, it just makes me laugh. People can tell you, "Oh yes, when you get to Paradise there are 72 virgins, not 70, not 75." Or they say, "Jesus will be there sitting at the right hand of the Father, wearing a white robe with red piping. There will be three angels playing trumpets." Well, how do you know this? It's just so preposterous. So, yes, I would like to say to the atheists and agnostics, the people who I call rationalists, let's stop ceding the moral high ground to the people who believe in the talking snake. Let's have our voices heard and be in the debate.
Bill Maher on Faith and Reason said...
"Bill Maher vs. the 'talking snake'", by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.com (October 2, 2008).
This is the idea that people have in their heads, that somehow you can have a person who sounds very rational and can hold his own in a conversation about whether religion is silly or not. And I just disagree with that premise. If you're defending the story I just described, you are going to come out sounding ridiculous no matter who you are and no matter how intelligent you are. We interviewed Francis Collins in the film. He's the man who mapped the human genome, he's a brilliant scientist. But he says some pretty cuckoo things, some things that are just factually wrong and make him look foolish. I said, "We don't even know for sure whether Jesus lived," and he said, "We have eyewitness accounts." I said, "No, every scholar agrees that the gospels were written from 40 to 70 years after Jesus died." And he said, "Well, that's close." That's close to an eyewitness account? Forty years after somebody dies, 2,000 years ago? This idea that there's somebody out there who can make a case for this and make it sound reasonable, that just doesn't exist.
John Greco (Oxford University Press, USA : September 22, 2008), 624 pages.
In the history of philosophical thought, few themes loom as large as skepticism. Skepticism has been the most visible and important part of debates about knowledge. Skepticism at its most basic questions our cognitive achievements, challenges our ability to obtain reliable knowledge; casting doubt on our attempts to seek and understand the truth about everything from ethics, to other minds, religious belief, and even the underlying structure of matter and reality. Since Descartes, the defense of knowledge against skepticism has been one of the primary tasks not just of epistemology but philosophy itself. The Oxford Handbook of Skepticism features twenty-six newly commissioned chapters by top figures in the field. Part One contains articles explaining important kinds of skeptical reasoning. Part Two focuses on responses to skeptical arguments. Part Three concentrates on important contemporary issues revolving around skepticism. As the first volume of its kind, the articles make significant contributions to the debate on skepticism. ~ Product Description
Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University
Paul Copan is Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. He has authored and edited a variety of books including Loving Wisdom: Christian Philosophy of Religion (2007), The Rationality of Theism (with Paul Moser, 2003), and Creation out of Nothing (with William Lane Craig, 2004).
J. L. Schellenberg (Cornell University Press : May 2007), 326 pages.
The Wisdom to Doubt is a major contribution to the contemporary literature on the epistemology of religious belief. Continuing the inquiry begun in his previous book, Prolegomena to a Philosophy of Religion, J. L. Schellenberg here argues that given our limitations and especially our immaturity as a species, there is no reasonable choice but to withhold judgment about the existence of an ultimate salvific reality. Schellenberg defends this conclusion against arguments from religious experience and naturalistic arguments that might seem to make either religious belief or religious disbelief preferable to his skeptical stance. In so doing, he canvasses virtually all of the important recent work on the epistemology of religion. Of particular interest is his call for at least skepticism about theism, the most common religious claim among philosophers. The Wisdom to Doubt expands the author's well-known hiddenness argument against theism and situates it within a larger atheistic argument, itself made to serve the purposes of his broader skeptical case. That case need not, on Schellenberg's view, lead to a dead end but rather functions as a gateway to important new insights about intellectual tasks and religious possibilities. ~ Product Description
god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, 2007), p4.
And here is the point, about myself and my co-thinkers. Our belief is not a belief. Our principles are not a faith. We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason. We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursut of ideas for their own sake. We do not hold our convictions dogmatically: the disagreement between Professor Stephen Jay Gould and Professor Richard Dawkins, concerning "punctuated evolution" and the unfilled gaps in post-Darwinian theory, is quite wide as well as quite deep, but we shall resolve it by evidence and reasoning and not by mutual excommunication.
Paul Boghossian (Oxford University Press: Dec 7, 2007), 148 pages.
The idea that science is just one more way of knowing the world and that there are other, radically different, yet equally valid ways, has taken deep root in academia. In Fear of Knowledge, Paul Boghossian tears these relativist theories of knowledge to shreds. He argues forcefully for the intuitive, common-sense view — that the world exists independent of human opinion and that there is a way to arrive at beliefs about the world that are objectively reasonable to anyone capable of appreciating the relevant evidence, regardless of their social or cultural perspective. This short, lucid, witty book shows that philosophy provides rock-solid support for common sense against the relativists; it is provocative reading throughout the discipline and beyond. ~ Product Description
Richard H. Popkin and Jose R. Maia Neto, eds. (Prometheus: May 2007), 576 pages.
This anthology contains the principal texts of the skeptical tradition from its origins in antiquity to contemporary philosophy. Selections include the writings of both well-known and lesser-known but influential philosophers of the Western tradition who either advanced skeptical views or dealt with skeptical issues for other philosophical or religious purposes. An introduction on the origins, kinds, and significance of philosophical skepticism puts the various readings in the context of the history of Western philosophy. The editors have also added brief discussions of each philosopher and text included in the anthology, plus a selected bibliography, which lists the main secondary literature on ancient, modern, and contemporary skepticism. This collection is ideal for introductory philosophy courses and courses on intellectual history, or for any reader interested in an influential school of thought, which challenges the nature of philosophy itself.