DiaBlogue: Enlightenment?

Standard
Ominously, Alan has a series of Dark Forebodings in response to my “Standard Model” of Christianity. I had listed nine facets of Christian belief — ontology, divinity, history, ethics, psychology, scripture, praxis, eschatology, afterlife — and then gave two seemingly orthogonal rationales for why I believe them:
1. The long answer is that it is an emergent belief based on both the internal coherency and explanatory power of the entire system of ideas
2. The short answer, though, is that I believe in Love.
While Alan was amused that I spent less verbiage on my “long” answer than my “short” one, and apparently found the former quite intriguing, the latter initially left him:

struck by just how far apart we are. Stunned, almost. I have sat here for at least half an hour trying to figure out how to move forward, obviously with little success… Given your (longer) short answer, the answers that I anticipate bode ill for further progress.

While Alan appeared to have recovered somewhat by his second post, clearly there are some fundamental issues that we need to address — and resolve — in order to “move forward.”
So, are Alan’s pigmented premonitions justified, or are we actually on the cusp of enlightenment? [Read more], dear friend, and judge for yourself…

Dear Alan,
[Given that we are now getting into more personal realms of belief, I hope you will indulge my addressing you in the second person, instead of talking about you in the third person.]
While I regret any angst you may have experienced, I am actually relieved that you’ve finally grasped that I am operating under a fundamentally different paradigm than you are. That is, we are not merely quibbling about minor epistemic details, but have profoundly different conceptions of the nature of reality and truth itself. In many ways, it is as great as the difference between Newton’s and Einstein’s universe. So, at one level, I completely understand your concern.
However, I have some good news (no, not about car insurance :-). Just as Einstein’s universe resembles Newton’s under “classical” conditions, I concede that my paradigm must match yours in the realm where yours is known to be accurate. Moreover, I am asserting (admittedly without proof, at this point) that my paradigm is actually more robust than yours, in that it can explain:
  1. why your paradigm works at all
  2. where it breaks down
  3. what happens beyond your realm of validity
This hearkens back to a point I made earlier, that I don’t actually dispute your facts, just your definitions and interpretations.
In particular, I completely accept my responsibility to devise a theory which satisfactorily explains “Historical inaccuracies, Biblical contradictions and evil done by the church” (though, I do wonder if you accept equal obligation to similarly explain the “historical impact, ongoing relevance, and positive social good” associated with Christianity). For that matter, I fully agree that some “assertions are fairly central to Christianity; again, the resurrection“, and that the historicity of such is a crucial question we need to address. In fact, I would be happy to make those the focus on my next post.
However, as important as such arguments are, they are not — in fact, cannot be — the whole story. To explain why, let me try to expalin my “short” answer about “love”.
To start with, I dare say I completely understand your reluctance to admit personal/anecdotal evidence into a logical discussion. Subjective information is noisy, unreliable, and virtually impossible to reproduce in controlled circumstances — thus dodging the ‘trial by empirical combat’ that is the centerpiece of scientific dispute-resolution. Absent such objective verification, it might seem we are cast back to arguments from authority, which is the very thing the Enlightenment fought so hard to escape from.
Is [that] your primary concern?
If so, here’s the rub: they failed. To be sure, the Enlightenment rebels were quite right in their critique of medieval authoritarianism. And their noble accomplishments in the field of social justice, civil liberties, education, and science are nothing short of heroic, and proved (quite literally) revolutionary. Nonetheless, I assert that the whole Enlightenment project — sometimes called Modernity — failed on one critical (albeit subtle) point. And, in case it isn’t obvious, I fear you are at risk of making the exact same error.
What error, you may ask? Well, in many ways it is the exact same “error” that Newton made:
Belief in “practically perfect objectivity.”
Earlier I described it in naturalistic terms as the belief that “the universe is at is appears to be.” Newton’s subtle mistake was to believe that commonsense ideas like “space” and “time” were fixed, immutable, and perfectly objective. Thus, measurements could always be carried out in such a way that the result was independent of the observer, at least to an arbitrarily small degree of accuracy.
As I’m sure you realize, we know now that his assumption was fundamentally inaccurate. Almost all measurements depend entirely on our “frame of reference”, and even on our choice of what to measure. And it is only when we admit that, and question our own frame of reference, that we are able to discover what is truly absolute (e.g., “c”, the speed of light in a vacuum).
Why does this matter? Because in order to successfully resolve this DiaBlogue, I believe we need to similarly question — and understand — each other’s frame of reference. In particular, I am still unsure whether you’ve grasped my point that “justified belief” requires:
I. honest examination of all relevant evidence
II. a choice of paradigm to determine what is “honest” and “relevant”
III. axiomatic, non-pardigmatic belief to tell us which paradigms are worth trusting
I think part of our problem is that you sometimes felt I was arguing against (I). Nothing could be further from the truth; I absolutely accept the responsibility to seriously weigh, consider, and respond to all your factual critiques of Christianity. Bring em ‘on!
However, what bothered me was the sense that you didn’t seem to recognize that your selection of evidence itself depended upon a very specific paradigm (II), whose underlying assumptions you didn’t seem to either be aware of, or consider worth questioning. In particular, there is an enormous distinction between saying:
a. subjective evidence is difficult to reproduce and correctly interpret
b. subjective evidence is irrelevant to claims of valid knowledge
I completely agree with (a), but find (b) self-contradictory. To paraphrase what I’ve said before, “you can’t know anything without trusting somebody” — even if that somebody is yourself! Moreover, my “short answer” above is equivalent to stating that “love” is what is most worthy of trust. For example, I trust you to not deliberately lie to me, because I believe that you love truth more than you love the appearance of being right. Is such a trust not justified?
Let me attempt to put that in more formal terms:
I. Justified Knowledge requires honestly considering all relevant evidence within the scope of a given paradigm
II. The most reliable paradigm is one which maximally supports a viable community of investigation
III. The best test of a community’s viability is both what and how well they love
In other words, I am asserting that love precedes trust, and trust precedes knowledge. Surely you must realize that this is true psychologically — otherwise, no child would survive past two! However, I am making an even stronger statement; two, actually:
A. The chain of love->trust->knowledge is valid epistemically, not just psychologically
B. Any epistemic or ontologic system that denies this is practically equivalent to nihilism
I don’t particularly expect you to believe me at this point, since at this stage I am merely “asserting” and not “proving.” However, I hope this at least convinces you that my assertion of “love” is neither antagonistic with — nor unrelated to — my other, more empirical assertions.
If not, then I am happy to set all this aside (for now) and simply answer the questions you otherwise “would have asked”:
i. to elaborate on how the various parts of your Standard Model of Christianity do interrelate
ii. which parts contribute most strongly to … which others and to the whole.
iii. try to describe how much inaccuracy and uncertainty you can tolerate in historical claims.
iv. to explain more fully your views on the Bible.
The choice is yours. Feel free to respond at length, or simply pick the “most-pressing” question you’d like me to answer. While I’m traveling over Memorial Day weekend, and somewhat busy with a Rails project on my other blog, I will do my best give you a honest and thorough answer as soon as I possibly can.
Love,
Ernie
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