Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One More Theology

It could be that the Courtier's Reply is an instance of "Gnu lexicon along with about a dozen other usages designed to evade" matters of substance, or to put that in rough stream-of-consciousness terms, one of many

... gimmicks atheists made up and they are passed off as pseudo official sounding quasi logical tactics that in actuality mean nothing.
It could be that the Courtier's Reply is that, but as it happens, it isn't.

Think of it this way. Very intelligent people have devoted decades of their lives to the elaboration of Hindu, Sufi, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, and Muslim theologies, among many others. Do Christians think they spent that time pursuing the truth?

The Courtier's Reply does not beg any question -- it purposely raises the question that theology takes as a starting postulate. It questions the validity of that postulate. It demands of the courtier that he back up and show his work before continuing to expound.

If god exists, then theology matters a great deal. If god does not exist, then it's difficult to see why theology can ever matter. Without a foundation in reality, it amounts to a mere mental exertion, nothing more than a piling of assertions on assertions, drawing just-so inferences, and tinkering with logical entailments.

Life is short, truth is elusive, and both are valuable. What is the right amount of time and energy to devote to, say, the extent of Vishnu's agency in the world? Or to what the angel Moroni really meant to tell Joseph Smith to think about plural marriage or the fate of the posthumously baptised? I say the brief time required to observe that there's no good reason to believe Vishnu exists or that Joseph Smith transcribed anything except his imagination covers it quite adequately. Billions of Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, Muslims, and even some Hindus and Mormons would agree, even as they disagree sharply on so many other questions within and beyond theology.

Mental exercises have their place -- arguably they contribute to a sharpening of the mind that can aid the resolution of actual problems later on -- but they are not instances of truth-seeking. Everyone agrees with that when it comes to most of the theology that people have ever devised. Atheists differ from believers only in that they extend this assessment to one more theology.

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