XFiles Friday:Kant believe?December 7, 2007 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 2)
Last time, Geisler and Turek took on Hume’s empirical philosophy, and proclaimed their preference for the “wisdom” of Saturday morning cartoons. This week, they take on Immanuel Kant. Can they present, discuss, and refute Kant’s philosophy in just a little over two pages, without sacrificing accuracy or omitting anything significant and relevant to their point? (Does the phrase “meep meep” answer the question?)
To get a handle on this, look for a second out the window at a tree. Kant is saying that the tree you think you are looking at appears the way it does because your mind is forming the sense data you’re getting from the tree. You really don’t know the tree in itself; you only know the phenomena your mind categorizes about the tree. In short, you “kant” know the real tree in itself, only the tree as it appears to you.
Whew! Why is it that the average person on the street doesn’t doubt what he sees with his own two eyes, but supposedly brilliant philosophers do? The more we study philosophy, the more we are convinced of this: if you want to make the obvious seem obscure, just let a philosopher get ahold of it!
Geisler, of course, is too smart to be taken in by such considerations, since he has watched Saturday morning cartoons.
Thankfully, there’s a simple answer to all of this–the Road Runner tactic. Kant commits the same error as Hume–he violates the Law of Noncontradiction. He contradicts his own premise by saying that no one can know the real world while he claims to know something about it, namely that the real world is unknowable! In effect, Kant says the truth about the real world is that there are no truths about the real world.
This sums up Kant’s philosophy about as accurately as the statement “Christianity means not having any sex” sums up Christian theology. Take a bow, Dr. Geisler, and let’s hear your encore.
In a philosophy class that I [Norm] was teaching, I pointed out the flaws in Kant’s philosophy this way. I said, “First, if Kant claims that he can’t know anything about the real world (the thing in itself) then how does he know the real world is there? And second, his view is self-defeating because he claims that you can’t know anything about the real world while asserting that he knows that the real world is unknowable!”
One student blurted out, “No! It can’t be that easy, Dr. Geisler. You can’t destroy the central tenet of the last hundred-plus years of philosophical thought in just a couple of simple sentences!”
Quoting my favorite source–The Reader’s Digest–I responded, “That’s what happens when a beautiful theory meets a brutal gang of facts.”
So Norm Geisler, who began his philosophical career by making a cartoon antic his excuse for blowing off philosophy class, is now passing on his disdain to a whole new generation of Christian philosophy students? Wow. Just wow.
Now, I’m not saying that Kant’s philosophy is without error, or that I agree with 100% of what he wrote. But I can’t say I’m too impressed with how Geisler and Turek are approaching the subject. They omit fundamental definitions that might make Kant’s conclusions seem a bit less naive, they oversimplify, and downright misrepresent what Kant was trying to say. Pardon the impolite language, but there really isn’t any other way to say it: this whole section appears designed for sole purpose of pissing on brilliant philosophers so that Geiser and Turek can present themselves as intellectual superiors by comparison. Too much time fantasizing about David and Goliath, and not enough time spent doing the work necessary to understand what Hume and Kant are really trying to say.
There is one good thing about this passage, though: the quote from The Reader’s Digest. “That’s what happens when a beautiful theory meets a brutal gang of facts.” Nice. We’ll have to keep that one around for when Geisler and Turek trot out their own “beautiful” theory. I’ve got a whole bunch of big, burly facts just waiting.