DiaBlogue: Altimeters for Divinity?

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While I’ve been busy with my other blogs, Alan has provided several posts for me to chew on:
* The Ugaritic Pantheon

In my admittedly superficial review, I noted two interesting differences: one minor, the other major. The minor one is I that I view belief as “complex multidimensional vector field”, whereas he views it as a “real multidimensional vector field.” Probably a subtle difference — especially for non-geeks! — but something that may come up later. For the record, the main difference is that for real numbers, we always have “a=b, a<b, or a>b” whereas two complex numbers may not be commensurate at all. But probably you either already knew that, or didn’t care. 🙂

However, the larger issue is that Alan appears to evaluate Christianity in historical terms, whereas I judge it on empirical grounds. [Read more] for why I think that is appropriate, and my attempt to construct a reliable epistemic altimeter.

I recently read a wonderful article on comparative religion (in PSCF, though I don’t remember the author) which defined divinity as “that which is self-existent.” While this doesn’t accurately describe all gods or types of worship, it does have the virtue of covering ethical and materialistic frameworks of belief. While I’m not entirely comfortable with the term “divinity”, I do think it represents a useful concept which allows meaningful comparisons between Christianity and atheism, since even atheists have -some- concept of ultimate reality, even if non-transcendent. (Alan, you can substitute “ether” or “fundamental essence” or some such if you dislike the term ‘divinity’ in this context).

Christian theism asserts that divinity is

a. singular
b. transcendent, and
c. self-giving

Further, it claims that we can and do know this because of the testimony and person of Jesus Christ, as reflected in both those who knew him while he lived on earth and those (including myself) who have had spiritual encounters with him afterwards. My position is that this single but multi-facted ontological assumption allows me to both make and justify strong knowledge claims about ethics, psychology, reason, reality, etc.

Because of this, I believe Christianity (my “theory of Christ”) makes a range of specific, testable predictions that apply to the modern world (i.e., “acts of faith” are essentially experiments, providing noisy, but still valid data). In particular, I believe that I can demonstrate — both historically and theoretically — that the resulting claims have far greater explanatory power than those built on alternative assumptions, especially atheism. For example, I predict that individuals and communities at every point in the continuum would be improved by more accurately understanding and experiencing the divinity represented by Jesus Christ.

This isn’t to deny that all other systems may have *some* explanatory power (to Alan’s point about non-Christian conversion stories). However, I assert that their (lesser) power can be plausibly explained by demonstrating their implicit or explicit adoption of a subset of Christian theism (thus my allusion to presuppositionalism earlier, even if I’m still not sure what that means :-). Conversely, if Christianity is just a crude approximation of reality — as Alan seems to assert — then the onus would be on him to show that his “divinity” (mind, matter, reason, whatever) provides greater predictive power than mine. That is, he would need to explain not just why “belief in God” works well in certain regions (as he admits), but also where and why it fall short of his superior naturalistic explanation.

We’ve already agreed that “more accurate knowledge enables more accurate predictions”, so this seems a suitably neutral altimeter.

Fair enough, Alan?

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