Wednesday, December 22, 2010
 RATIONALISTS- EMPIRICISTS [Western intellectual tradition] - Okay- for those of you who are following my sporadic teaching on modernity [philosophical period between the 17th 20th centuries] let me overview a little of what we have covered so far. We discussed the Christian thinker- Rene Descartes’- and how in the 17th century he challenged the faculty at the university of Paris [the leading university of the day] to argue for the reasonableness of Christianity thru rational means- he said we can prove the existence of God without having to appeal to church tradition or the bible. The Empiricists [those who challenged the ‘rationalists’] argued that all knowledge comes to us from the senses- so we can never prove God’s existence from reasonable/natural means. In fact they argued that religion in itself is irrational and any attempts to make it rational/reasonable were futile. David Hume and Denis Diderot [one of the first openly professed atheists of the time] would argue from this position. Then in the late 18th century the very influential German thinker- Immanuel Kant- would respond to Hume’s pure skeptical Empiricism and ‘awake out of his dogmatic slumber’ [a term he himself used to describe his reaction to reading Hume] and challenge the skeptics. Kant did accept the Empiricist’s idea that we can’t ‘prove God’ by rational means- thru knowledge obtained thru the 5 senses- yet he taught that it was perfectly ‘reasonable’ to come to the conclusion that God exists. Just because you can’t prove God like Descartes’ said [according to Kant- I personally believe Descartes’ was right] it is still rational to ‘purport’ the necessity of God- in essence we ‘need God’ and natural religion for man to function in society- and it is logical to conclude that there must be an initial cause to all creation-even though we can’t discover him thru natural means. Okay- just a brief overview of what we already covered. I guess at this point I better go ahead and start a separate study under the title ‘The Western Intellectual Tradition’ [on the blog]. Why should Christians [especially preachers/pastors] even be concerned with stuff like this? While I agree it is not necessary for all Christians to study all subjects about all things- yet these historical/cultural movements play a major role in the debate going on today between believers and those who reject God. Just like in the scientific field- if Christians simply give up the fight- that is if we come to the table of ideas- trying to engage society in a coherent way- then we need to have some ability to argue intelligently for our position. To have even a ‘surface’ understanding of some of these cultural movements that have shaped the way we think and know is important when we get into debates with unbelievers who have appealed to the skeptics [Hume] to argue against the existence of God.