DiaBlogue: Convergent Elocution

While Alan wonders whether or not I am finally Reaching Escape Velocity by Reviving the Classics, I worry whether the yolk may be on me after reading my friend Seth Godin’s cautionary tale about miscommunication:

I realized that every single time I used an analogy, he didn’t “get it.” Instead, he started talking about the example in the analogy instead of the concept I was trying to get across.

Despite — or perhaps because — we seem to be making some linear progress in these last few posts, I do worry whether we really are talking about the same thing. Thus, before I address Alan’s very reasonable concerns, I’d like to double-check that we at least agree about where we’re trying to go.

[Read more] for my attempt to more precisely frame the terms of our debate…

Using the terms previously defined, I believe Alan and I have reached provisional agreement that:
i. Both Classical and Relativistic Orthodoxy are valid interpretations of historic Christian orthodoxy
ii. Classical Orthodoxy is demonstrably flawed relative to Alan’s eight arguments
iii. Relativistic Orthodoxy might possibly avoid those same flaws

That is, while we may change our mind based on further information, all three of these statements appear plausible given our current understanding. So far, so good. However, Alan then raises three additional issues:

1. First, Ernie can hardly expect me to evaluate his beliefs until he tells me what they are. He has begun to do this, but not in sufficient detail for me to decide how my concerns might be addressed. Answering more of the questions I posed in Psi-lent Night would be one place to start.
2. In addition to addressing my concerns about Classical Orthodoxy, Relativistic Orthodoxy should not raise comparable new concerns.
3. Finally, Ernie needs to provide some positive evidence for the truth of his beliefs beyond simply saying “if this were true it would solve your problems”.

While I concede that all three are perfectly valid requests, the way he poses them made me realize that we’ve been operating under slightly different metrics of success. In particular, I had been assuming that Alan was implicitly trying to prove the following syllogism:

I. Meaningful Christianity makes a set of strict assertions, which I’ve labeled Classical Orthodoxy
II. Classical Orthodoxy is demonstrably false, due to both logical and empirical results
III. Therefore, Christianity is either untrue or meaningless

Thus, as mentioned in Double-Check, if either:

a. I am not able to come up with a definition of Christianity that simultaneously avoids his critique and is compatible with orthodoxy
b. He can articulate presuppositions that are at least as reasonable and comprehensive as mine, as measured against our common epistemic

Then I would have to admit defeat. That doesn’t mean I’d agree he’s right, but I would at least concede that his position is better justified than mine. Conversely, if I succeeded on both counts, he would be the one to concede.

Alas, I fear I buried this under a deluge of other posts, so I can’t tell whether Alan actually accepted that wager or not. I suspect the latter, since according the “rules” I was playing by, all I need to do is show that there exists a theory that simultaneously i) qualifies as orthodox Christianity, and ii) addresses his stated concerns in order to invalidate his syllogism. Which — while I haven’t done so yet — I seem to be close to accomplishing.

Unfortunately (at least for me :-), Alan apparently wants to hold me to a higher standard. Which is fine, but since I’m confused as to exactly what that standard is, I’m not quite sure how we’re ever going to converge. So, let me try to define what I think is a reasonable “standard of proof” that I need to satisfy in order to “win” Round One. My task, as I see it, is to develop a coherent “theory of divinity” that:

A. Articulates a coherent understanding of justice and the afterlife
B. Explains the historical successes — and failures — of Christian communities to create social good
C. Elucidates an actionable hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible that is consistent with historical and textual evidence
D. Meaningfully relates the resurrection of Christ with personal salvation
E. And despite all that, is still fully consistent with historic Christian orthodoxy

And thus, if I can achieve all that — to our mutual satisfaction — then I would argue I can fairly claim that my belief in Christianity is paradigmatically justified relative to everything we’ve discussed so far; and that your disbelief in Christianity is not.

Now, that wouldn’t necessarily mean I am completely right, or that you are “fundamentally wrong.” However, my impression is that the apparent failure of the Christianity you knew to address these concerns was a prime mover in your decision to abandon it. If so, then I would think a successful refutation of them would at least provide a meaningful convergence point.

To be sure, there will always be more concerns. But, do you know any theory that doesn’t have unanswered questions? Thus, if I can at least answer the questions you’ve raised so far about the consistency and explanatory power of my worldview, would you be willing to concede that achievement, and first submit your own belief system to that same level of rigorous examination before raising new issues?

As far as the question of whether I actually “believe” my theory — that isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. The short answer is that I believe it is “close” to the truth, but (going back to Newton) I can’t really say how or where it breaks down outside the range where I’ve already validated it. However, given that our dataset is 2,000 years of Christian history, and we’ve covered epistemology, ethics, ontology, sociology, and psychology along the way, I would argue devising a coherent theory within those constraints is good enough for our purposes.

If it isn’t, I’m not sure what would be. Alan?