DiaBlogue: A Post-Modern Faith in Jesus, Take 0

My friend Alan Lund was kind enough to reply on Little Endian to my lengthy post, and raises a number of extremely valid questions, which I might summarize as:
a. Is that all you believe is empirically knowable?
b. Is there anything left worth believing?
c. Can we have empirical evidence of non-physical reality?
d. What do you think is so unusual about Christianity?
e. How does this help build a logical chain of inference?

I realize I’m skipping over a lot, but hopefully that’s enough to get us started.The short answers are:

a. No
b. Yes
c. Depends
d. Humanity
e. With great difficulty

The long answers are below (Click [Read More]). Suffice to say that I did not always choose my words carefully, and made a number of implicit assumptions which proved inadequate. I will now attempt to remedy that.

In related news, I have created a “Beliefs” category on my blog which will contain all the posts from this (hopefully ongoing) dialogue, as well as other posts I’ve made over the years that may help illuminate my underlying belief system. While I consider my position entirely consistent with the larger sweep of historic orthodox Christianity, I am agnostic over many areas previously considered crucial, and obsess about details others do not even see. Hopefully this category (and the similarly new “Art” category) will provide curious onlookers some useful context.

I’ll try to keep this short, since I trust Alan will ask if a particular explanation does not suffice.

1. Is that all you believe is empirically knowable?

No, not exactly. Perhaps “objective provable or disprovable” would be a better term.

The statements I made are those I believe *I* can demonstrate are “relatively true” using readily-available objective evidence — at least given enough time and effort, and appropriate interpretation. That is, I claim I can show they can be “known” using the paradigmatic tools familiar to scientists. I would say I “know” a great deal more than that, but such knowledge is either i) subjective, ii) non-repeatable, or iii) not formally provable. For example, I know that a stranger helped me fix my car when it broke down in Atlanta in 1988, but I’d be hard pressed to “prove” it to someone who didn’t already trust my word.

2. Is there anything left worth believing?

I believe so. 🙂 To be sure, I would assert that you can’t know anything unless you believe something. The point of my framework is to establish a minimal set of supporting beliefs that demonstrate that there *is* a there there. Once one accepts that framework as true, it enables other types of knowledge-gathering which expands the sphere of useful information.

3. Can we have empirical evidence of non-physical reality?

Depends on how you define those terms. Some people take a hard-line objectivist stance that only things provable under the same conditions as the Laws of Physics can be empirically verified. But if you accept that logic, I cannot prove that Lincoln was shot, that my mother loves me, or even that we both see the sky as “blue.” Heck, “mathematical reality” is technically different than “physical reality” — yet we consider it empirically valid, do we not?

Ultimately, the question is whether you believe in anything non-material — math, love, sensation, history, consciousness, etc. — and whether you admit empirical evidence supporting those beliefs. I don’t see supernatural phenomena as being categorically different than those.

4. What do you think is so unusual about Christianity?

This is actually part of a larger question: what, if anything, do you believe is true about religion? Which in turn gets back to, “Do you believe in anything at all?”

I have stated my personal (non-religious, but philosophical) belief system in my “Manifesto.” From that viewpoint, I find Christianity the most effective value-creating, community-forming, character-developing, reality-changing, humility-enforcing ideological movement in the entire history of humankind (rivaled only by more mundane things like the invention of language, math, and money). I believe that any reasonable set of empirical criteria one could create would bear out my claim.

Is that a subjective assessment? Sure, but I had to start somewhere, and I find my starting point better justified than most. Where do you start?

5. How does this help build a logical chain of inference?

I didn’t mean to claim there was an obvious chain of inference. I am saying that if you conceded (f), I could (with difficulty) prove that (e) was more plausible an explanation of the evidence than (~e). And so on down the road.

In fact, perhaps (e) is a better place to start. It sounds like you might be willing to believe:

* there was a historic figure named Jesus
* he made claims regarding his divinity that were unusually strong for Judaic culture
* his presence launched the worldwide Christian movement that claims descent from him

Do you believe those things to be true based on the empirical evidence, or not? I’m not saying they are 100% certain or provable; I’m simply asking, do you personally believe they are true?