Wednesday, September 30, 2009

God, the deceiver

One of the brighter students in one of my classes was hanging around after class the other day and we began to talk about various kinds of idealism. I began to describe the views of Bishop Berkeley, who believed that there are only minds and ideas. That is, he denied that the physical world existed as a physical entity or collection of entities. She was really understanding the view and some of the intricacies of his theory.
So, I wanted to introduce some of the problems beyond the obvious counterintuitiveness of the view. So, I mentioned that Berkeley, as a Christian was committed to the goodness of God. But, I explained, Berkeleyan idealism committed one to viewing God as having endowed our minds with apparent sensory faculties that would naturally lead us to believing that a physical world existed, even though it doesn't on the view. This, I said, would make God into a deceiver.
She responded, "That's sort of like the problem with astrology."
Confusedly, I asked, "What do you mean?"
"You know, like the way that science tells us that the Universe is really old and about the Big Bang, but"
" Oh, you mean, astronomy," I cut in. "So, you mean that the Universe is really much younger, in spite of what science says?"
Then, I realized that she is a young earth creationist. Now, I have respect for this young woman's intellect and for her hard work and for her ambition to make something of her life.
But, even as I tried to explain to her that, at least as far back as St Augustine, serious Christians have thought that the creation accounts in Genesis cannot possibly taken literally, I was wondering whether it was pointless. I wanted to get her to see that if her religious beliefs require her to believe things that are clearly empirically false, she needs to consider the way in which she holds those beliefs.
But I also realized that when I tried to get them to see the value in seeking the truth, in being reflective, in examining our beliefs and lives, most of my students either don't pay any attention or have so sequestered their lives that some beliefs are not at all revisable.
And, I was sad.

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