DiaBlogue: Absolut Beliefs

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In “Presumption, I Presume” my friend Alan has some fun with the suppositions of presuppositionalists. Like him, I haven’t read enough about them to know how much I agree, but I share some of his concerns about their circularity. That said, Alan himself both asks a question:
What would it take for you to stop believing in Christianity? What would have to happen? What would you need to learn, discover or observe?
and makes a statement:
My goal was to discover the truth, so far as it can be known. Because I saw how people have a tendency to defend their beliefs, I wanted to avoid an approach that would allow internal defense mechanisms an opportunity to flourish.
that may indirectly play into the presuppositionalist’s hands. Is that a good thing? For whom?
[Read more] to find out…

Alan’s question was tricky to answer — not because it was inherently difficult, but because I wasn’t sure how to phrase it in such a way that it would i) make sense to Alan, and ii) further the dialogue.

In some sense, the question is unanswerable, since Christianity (like physics or other complex knowledge systems) isn’t trivially falsifiable. However, the following is probably equivalent, and (in my mind) more rigorous:

What would it take for your understanding of Christianity to change so much that you wouldn’t consider it compatible with orthodoxy (or vice versa)?

That is, my understanding of Christianity has evolved quite a bit since my Caltech days, but I’m still comfortable affirming historic dogma. And while my views occasionally make my evangelical peers uncomfortable, none of them feel the need to brand me a heretic. So, what would it take for my views to evolve beyond that?

I’ll reiterate the point I made earlier: to know “anything” we must choose to believe “something.” That is, at some point we have to make some assumptions we treat as foundational in order to make any progress at all. I went through a fairly involved process of deciding what my assumptions are, and published them in a manifesto. While not entirely coincidental, I was still pleasantly surprised to see that my Four Principles both:
i) aligned so well with Christian beliefs — and so poorly with other belief systems
ii) provided significant explanatory power in analyzing human systems across diverse scales

However, to Alan’s question, this does mean that if I found either:
a) a belief system disjoint from Christianity that better expressed my principles, or
b) principles with greater explanatory power than mine
Then I would either have to change my beliefs, or at least give up my (current) claim to rational consistency and intellectual integrity. At the same time, the whole point of the exercise was to develop a paradigm supported by empirical research, so that even if replaced by a “better” theory, that one would still need to explain all the existing data (at least to the extent that such data could be validated).

What I find most intriguing is that your statement of goals could be formulated as:

I. It is better to believe truth than to be self-deceived

Is that what you meant, or at least equivalent to what you actually believe?

I certainly agree with (I) as well, but I see that as embodying a fairly rich set of assumptions about:
i) moral value –“better”
ii) transcendent reality — “truth”
iii) imperfect humanity — “self-deceived”

If we can agree about all those (that is, whether or not those are “unquestionable” in principle, we at least agree to not question them in practice), then that provides a fairly rich conceptual framework to work with.

If you deny all those, then I must admit I’m at a complete loss as to what exactly you’re affirming, and how it differs from nihilism (as those pesky presuppositionalists claim :-).

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