DiaBlogue: Truth or Cons[ist]equences?

In his “Tao Cow, Take Two” post Alan returns to the question of Truth vs. Consistency:

In TTOH, Ernie enumerates a number of things that he believes, including a description of the Tao according to Ernie, the judgement that may await us, and possible examples of hell-worthy behavior. In HNTC, I did question why he believes in that judgement, which I suppose was an example of asking for truth rather than consistency. Whether Ernie is trying to convince me or not, I do wonder why he believes this. Part of the reason for this question on my part is that I am still trying to figure out how much weight Ernie really places on the Bible. Are there reasons to believe in an afterlife (either good or bad) other than “the Bible says so” or “people have believed it for a long time” — Or is this merely a logically-consistent belief?
[Read more] for my attempt to sort this all out.

I think there are several related assertions that we’ve been dancing around over the last several weeks.

1. Is Christianity demonstrably true? Or demonstrably false?
2. Is it possible to be logical consistent and a Christian?
3. Can a reasonable conception of justice co-exist with any meaningful concept of eternal hell?
4. How do we know what is true* How do we decide if we’ve been self-deceived?
5. Does Christianity promote virtue? Is that an answerable (or even askable) question?
6. What do I believe? Why?

These are all fascinating and worthy questions, but I think we need be clear about which one’s we’re asking (or, perhaps, should be asking).

As I’ve said before, it is useful to distinguish between *ethical* question regarding virtue, and *epistemic* questions of knowability (never mind “ontologic” questions of reality :-). At the same time, as in the case of “epistemic virtue“, the lines aren’t always clearly drawn.

Let me start with a single assertion: “Good is really better than evil.”

Is that statement true? I believe it is. Do I “know” it is true? What does that mean? I define knowledge as “contextually accurate, paradigmatically justified belief.” If you grant a paradigm which includes transcendent reality and empirical validation, then I probably can say I know that the above statement is true. If you adopt strict rationalism as your only valid form of proof, then probably not. Conversely, if you are willing to grant that statement itself as self-evident, then the question of proof becomes moot, and we argue about other things based on that.

Thus, all I can really say a priori is that “I believe” certain things are true:

a. I believe there is a perfect God, who has revealed Himself to us through an imperfect (yet valid) Bible.
b. Because of that, I believe in transcendent virtues such as justice, humility, and love, and that historical Christianity demonstrates both a deep understanding of those virtues and a remarkable power to nurture them.
c. I believe there exists consciousness after death which (in some way) reflects the choices we made while alive.
d. I believe that I am as least as intellectually honest as my critics, and that my belief system is at least as consistent with itself and external reality as theirs.

As to whether I can “prove” any of those things are true, or say that someone “must” believe them — that all depends upon which priors you give me (including, say, logic). Many proofs depends on reductio absurdum, which isn’t even valid in all forms of logic. Things which are consistent in one system may not even be well-formed in another (think of Boolean logic vs. Quantum systems).

So really, Alan, if you want me to go beyond “descriptions” to actual “claims”, you have to ante up *something*. Is there anything that you believe in? Is there anything, no matter how mundane or exotic, we _can_ agree on as an unquestionable absolute?

Or, conversely, is there at least single specific question you want me to answer which can be decoupled from all the others?

In classical debate, I’ve heard that typically one side defends a singular proposition while the other attacks it using multiple arguments. Is that the sort of format you’d prefer — and if so, which side you would like?