Tuesday, October 06, 2009


In researching for my Philosophy of Religion class, I've been reading parts of the brilliant 20th century theologian Paul Tillich's, Dynamics of Faith, in which he undertakes and in-depth philosophical analysis of what faith means and its relationship to other ways of knowing including scientific, historical, and philosophical conceptions of truth.

There's much I find intriguing, especially Tillich's claim that faith and reason, as opposed to competing with one another, are necessary complements; he says, "Reason is a precondition of faith; faith is the act in which reason reaches ecstatically beyond itself." Love that.

But I'm still struggling with what seems to me to be his central claim, that faith is a requirement for meaning and purpose in life. He says, for instance, that "if the representatives of modern physics reduce the whole of reality to the mechanical movement of the smallest particles of matter, dening the really real quality of life and mind...they create a monstrous symbol of this concern [for science], namely a universe in which everything, including their own scientific passion, is swallowed by a meaningless mechanism."

What I don't get, though, is why the mechanism has to be meaningless, or more to the point why--given that it is meaningless--we still can't live meaningful lives. That's the existentialist in me, I guess.

Suppose, for example, I only want to believe stuff that I think I have evidence for; suppose I want to say that I can't accept the idea that there's a transcendent something-or-other beyond the human experience that gives human experience its purpose; suppose I accept a meaningless mechanism in the universe; am I thereby required to say that all my little projects and concerns, all my cares and woes, all my loves and hates don't mean anything at all?

If they don't really, but they do to me, is that a kind of faith?


Blogger Lee said...

Interestingly, a related issue came up for myself and some friends while camping this weekend. We were playing "would you rather" when this question came up: would you rather know for certain whether or not free will exists, or would you rather know for certain whether or not God exists.

Similar to your assumption of a 'meaningless mechanism in the universe', it was pointed out that the choice to know whether or not free will exists has the potential failure of being pointless. If free will doesn't exist, then the "choice" to know that fact is in itself illusory.

Similarly, suggesting that your particular tastes as generated by this meaningless machine seems somewhat an act of folly, akin to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. On the other hand, one needs to wonder by what mechanism could the meaningless machine (of which you are presumably a component) actually give you any ability to invest meaning into something?

2:57 AM  
Anonymous Jof Sartre said...

Heh. He's just trying to validate his superstitions with a straw man caricature of scientific rationalism as Ingmar Bergman film.

"Faith is believing things you know aren't true", and if it's not materialist empiricism it's not a "way of knowing", it's just a way of guessing.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Laurel Fan said...

By Tillich's definition I imagine you could have faith without believing in faith.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous lm said...

In an early post you brought up the problem of other minds. You asserted that it was reasonable to conclude that others do indeed have consciousness independent of your own. Even though "on purely empirical grounds, it’s impossible to be certain that anybody other than you has subjective mental states". Would you then claim to have "faith" in that idea?

3:01 AM  

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