Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Fideism of Martin Gardner

Martin Gardner wasn’t mentioned in my round up of philosophersphilosopher swimmers who converted to theism from atheism because I don’t know what his early religious affiliation was. In any case he was a self-confessed fideist a position that many of those in the skeptic community considering his prominent position therein found puzzling. He had studied philosophy at University, graduating in 1936 so he was not imprinted with the universal dogma of knowledge as justified true belief. JTB came later, though exactly when, savants dispute. Here is a good example of the puzzlement felt by his allies in the skeptic department.
There is a baffled plaintive note like the hum of a fridge in that post, which regrets that Gardner whilst otherwise sound had a defective jtb module. The atheist’s salute, rational beliefs/reasonably held, would have been denied him.

On reading his essay on Proofs of God in the collection The Night is Large: Collected Essays 1938 - 1995 I find that his observations to be generally sound and I proffer the modest thesis that his unaccountable fideism is the strategy of a private man who has reasons that like the dust of butterfly wings will be smeared by the prehensile snatch of the skeptic community or be snuffed in the killing bottle of jtb. He wishes to shortcircuit discussion with those who regard fideism as a sublime tripper of the switch o’ reason.

In his essay he isn’t being really self-contradictory when he impugns natural religion theists for mistaking a feeling for a reason. For him a feeling is a reason for belief, an open not a covert reason. This sort of belief is not a static fixed direction that we orient ourselves by. Unless it has confirmation of an inward sort it must wither. Dismissing the demands of unmistakable miracles that confirm the existence of God, Gardner in the opening paragraph of his essay writes:

If God spoke to us audibly, as Jehovah does so often in Old Testament tales, we might (unless we thought ourselves mad) believe in God’s existence for much the same reasons we believe in the existence of other persons. If God demonstrated his power by stupendous miracles, such as turning someone into a pillar of salt, there would be other good empirical grounds for believing. If we could perform experiments that supported, even indirectly, the hypothesis “God exists”, we would believe in God for the same reasons we believe in gravity. I do not think God reveals himself, or has ever done so, in such crude signs.

If not crude signs then subtle ones may hold the key to Gardner’s faith but he can no longer tell us as he discounted table turning. He died in 2010 at the grand age of 95.


skholiast said...

I'm chagrined to say I missed the Roundup you mention. A link, I say! A link!

ombhurbhuva said...

I have added the link. Perhaps you yourself could suggest further names to be added to the roll.

Recently I have been reading a bit in Gilson and others about the 5 ways particularly the prima via from motion. Is it convincing or do all the ways provide ‘converging and convincing’ proofs as it says in the Catholic Catechism whilst at the same time admitting that there are no proofs in the scientific sense? Feser, a man who is a stranger to uncertainty, demurs or perhaps his book on Aquinas presents a more modulated picture. I haven’t read it.

I will be posting about Sankara’s views which are that no rational proofs exist other that the reliable witness of the vedas.