Let's get into a couple of specifics today. Hopefully some of the folks reading this will understand a scintilla of what they've been missing.
I'm quoting from "Josh" McDowell's New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, in which itself quotes David K. Clark and Norman Geisler's Apologetics in the New Age: A Christian Critique of Pantheism.
If the Zen masters really were completely illlogical, there would be no difficulty in stating explicitly that language always distorts reality and then turning around to use language to describe reality. Of course, this would be a blatant inconsistency. Naturally it would horrify other philosophers. But if logic really does not matter and inconsistencies really are acceptable, then expressing such contradictions should pose no problem. The masters believe mutism [or a non-sensical answer, or a slap in the face] shows their conviction that rationality has been avoided. But resorting to mutism only shows that logic really does operate in the minds, if not the words of Zen masters.
Let's go through this and take it apart:
If the Zen masters really were completely illlogical, there would be no difficulty in stating explicitly that language always distorts reality and then turning around to use language to describe reality. Of course, this would be a blatant inconsistency.
We can show that we can use mathematics to show that all mathematical systems include either undecidable propositions or inconsistencies. There is, in fact, no blatant inconsistency in principle.
Language - like other systems- can be used for many things, including describing itself and its limitations, and chief among them is that it suffers from the fact that it uses a finite set of symbols, and that among different languages there is always a lack of an isomorphism between them. This is pretty elementary stuff, and Clark and Geisler can't seem to bring themselves to this simple point that even among mortal, fallible human beings, communication is not always possible.
Logic and the ability to work within it depends on the choice of axioms; if these cannot be agreed upon, a priori, all subsequent logical endeavors will be suspect.
...Naturally it would horrify other philosophers. But if logic really does not matter and inconsistencies really are acceptable, then expressing such contradictions should pose no problem.
Well, first off, philosophers have made a great deal of work out of using Buddhism to inform Western philosphy in the last few decades. I heard of no horrified philosophers. Further, "logic really does not matter" is a non sequitur: while all things cannot obviously be expressed using logic, it does not follow necessarily that "logic really does not matter."
To put it another way, if I'm playing tennis, I won't be using a frying pan, but if I'm making pan-fried steak, I won't need a tennis racket at that moment.
These are elementary fallacies, and Geisler's quotes in McDowell are riddled with them.
The masters believe mutism [or a non-sensical answer, or a slap in the face] shows their conviction that rationality has been avoided. But resorting to mutism only shows that logic really does operate in the minds, if not the words of Zen masters.
Suzuki tried explaining this somewhat poorly from his time and place, and I suspect that there's a bit easier way to describe the seemingly irrational behavior recorded in Zen texts: much of what is described is in fact a demonstration of the existence of the possibility and realization of a context change. What we think is not what is there, it is what we think. To substitute one for the other is, in fact, to be quite deluded.
Of course, the identification of Buddhism - and Zen in particular- with pantheism, which is what McDowell trots out from Geisler as well, is utterly false. Even before there were adequate Western ways of expressing Zen Buddhism to Western philosophers (and there are quite a few approximations to that today, thanks to folks such as William Barrett), this was clearly refuted. For example, see Suzuki's translation of Soyen-roshi's take on the God concept in Buddhism. Now this was written at a particular time and a particular place to a particular audience; today no Zen master, Asian or American or European uses language like this, but it is instructive nonetheless. A section that is particularly relevant and shows the meat of what Buddhists understand is the following:
Buddhism recognizes the coexistence and identity of the two principles, sameness and difference. Things are many and yet one; they are one and yet many. I am not thou, and thou art not I; and yet we are all one in essence. When one slays another, there is an actor, an act, and a sufferer, all distinct and separate; and yet
"If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again."
[paragraph continues] Buddhism, therefore, says that while we have to acknowledge the world of particulars in which individuality predominates, we must not forget that looking through the gate of sameness all
distinctions and contradictions vanish in a higher principle of unity. A Japanese poet thus sings:
"Rain and hail and ice and snow,
Neither like the other. So!
When they melt, however, lo,
See one stream of water flow!
Intellectually, the coexistence of the two mutually excluding thoughts is impossible, for the proposition, "Mine are not thine," cannot be made at the same time the proposition, "Mine are thine." But here Buddhism is speaking of our inmost religious experience, which deals directly with facts and not with their more or less distorted intellectual reflections. It is, therefore, really idle to say that Buddhism is pantheistic or atheistic or nihilistic. Buddhism is not a philosophical system, though it is the most rational and intellectual religion in the world. What it proposes is to make clear facts of the deepest spiritual life and to formulate a doctrine which leads its followers to the path of inward experience.
Or as Thomas Merton put it, Zen is to theology as tennis is to mathematics.
I often ask myself why someone like Geisler, who is reputed to be such an intellect, misrepresents other-than-fundamentalist systems. But then I realize it's not important, what is important is my own sincerity and authenticity. But that's not always going to be comfortable to others.