DiaBlogue: A Theory, Not A Law

Alan drops a Claim Check on my Reality Check in the first of what promises to be several posts where he lays out his case against Christianity. He starts “with a list of arguments, without elaboration” upon which later he “will elaborate as it seems helpful.”

While he is explicit that this is merely an introduction, and not calling for a response, his summary begs a question I want to address before we go too much further: What is Christianity* Specifically, what kind of thing is Christianity?

We’ve touched on this before, but now that we have an epistemic framework (of sorts), I believe it is essential we define Christianity in a sufficiently rigorous and mutually agreeable way that we can make (and mutually accept) valid deductions about it.. For purposes of this discussion, I propose we categorize Christianity as:

“a theory about divinity”

using the earlier definition of divinity as “that which is ultimately, non-contingently real.” In this specific sense, atheism is also “a theory about divinity”, since even if Alan doesn’t believe in a personal God he does (last I checked ๐Ÿ™‚ still believe in Reality.

[Read more] for my explanation and justification of that characterization.

Like most English words, “Christianity” can mean a huge range of things, as we’ve discussed earlier (I can’t find the link, though — Alan?). Broadly, the term could cover everything ever done by anyone who is self-identified or other-identified as Christian. Narrowly, it could refer to the specific beliefs of a specific sect at a particular point in time, say “Azusa Street Revivalists in the summer of 1906.” Given this diversity of options, how do we pick one as normative?

Well, to start with, I assert that the kind of thing our epistemology can evaluate are “theories.” We haven’t used the term much before, preferring instead “knowledge”, “paradigm”, and “belief.” However, I hope Alan will concede that a system of beliefs and knowledge capable of making predictions and explanations could fairly be characterized as a “theory”, and that our epistemology is up to the task of evaluating such. I’m not saying this is the only way to define Christianity, just that it is sufficient (and perhaps necessary) for our purposes. That doesn’t even mean it is necessarily a good theory, or even a valid one, just that it is reasonable to evaluate it on those terms.

Given that Christianity is a theory, then what is it a theory about? Well, Christianity has always primarily presented itself in terms of beliefs about God, so hopefully that aspect is non-controrversial. However, defining Christianity as “a theory about God’s existence” would make atheism “a theory about God’s non-existence”, which are difficult items to compare; zeroes and infinities are always problematic in formal systems, as anyone who’s used FORTRAN knows. ๐Ÿ™‚

That is why I propose we instead view this as a contest between different theories about the nature of ultimate reality, i.e, “divinity.” I’m pretty sure Alan believes that there is such a thing as ultimate reality, even if it is non-personal and very unlike the Christian conception of God. This way, we can focus our efforts on attempting to define the properties of something we both agree exists, rather than arguing about whether the thing is even there at all, making it more an “apples to apples” comparison.

This should also solve the thorny problem of a “null hypothesis”, which I’ve hassled Alan about before. It is fine to say Christianity is “bad”, but compared to what? Democracy is the worst form of government — except all those other forms. I’m not claiming Christianity — or at least my specific theory of it — is perfect. However, I am prepared to argue that it provides a much more satisfactory and useful theory of ultimate reality than atheism, and I would hope Alan is up for the converse.

Alan, are you happy to move forward under those terms? If so, then I’ll proceed to spell out my theory in greater detail in future posts, to give you something concrete to react to.