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This document constitutes my philosophical thoughts on the validity of Christianity. Its name and format are modelled on a well-known (and, of course, infinitely superior) work by Ludwig Wittgenstein. So as not to deceive the unwary, this evaluation is reluctantly negative. I am not a scoffer, so the evaluation is a serious one. However, I cannot see how Christianity or any other religious system can be made to work without either intellectual compromise or denuding the religious system of content. Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
The text of this document has not had a major overhaul in almost the last ten years, so my ideas have probably moved on somewhat in the interim. Readers may find the style rather inclined towards ex cathedra statements. This is because the document was written as an attempt to structure my views on these subjects rather than to seek to justify them in exhaustive detail. The web-based format does allow expatiation ad infinitem, and I will seek to progress in that direction in due course.
The document revolves around 20 basic assumptions into which my argument is broken down. I'm not yet happy that these are the best 20 and that there are no redundancies. However, given the whole document is geared around these fundamental tenets, I feel reluctant to change them until I have a clearer idea of how the structural change would affect the entire argument. So, we're stuck with them until inspiration strikes.
These 20 primary points of the argument, together with 4 appendices, are as below.
- The world is open1 to investigation.
- Knowledge of the world is acquired from experience2 under the interpretation of reason.
- No knowledge is certain3.
- The world obeys a number of fairly simple physical laws4, which form the modern scientific worldview, which is fundamentally correct.
- Truth5 is related to simplicity.
- It is important for our beliefs6 to be true, especially if we intend to pass them on to others.
- Christianity is a public7 statement about the world, not merely a private religion.
- The claims of Christianity are based on historical8 experience.
- The Bible9 is the most reliable record of the historical events on which Christianity is founded.
- Christianity requires a reliable, but not necessarily inerrant10, Bible to validate it.
- Biblical claims are to be validated11 in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.
- From the viewpoint of internal consistency & style, the Bible gives the impression of being a generally reliable12, but not inerrant, document.
- There are problems13 with the Biblical model of the world & its history.
- Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity14.
- There is no worthwhile subset of Christianity as traditionally understood that conforms to the modern worldview15.
- A worthwhile reconstruction16 of Christianity, in conformity with the modern worldview, has not been demonstrated to be possible.
- Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith17.
- It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose18.
- Pascal's wager19 is not to be accepted.
- It is better to remain silent20 than to make a pretence at knowledge.
- Acts 28 Dispensationalism21.
- Biblical Numerics & Chiasmus22.
- Spiritual23 Beings in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
- Non-theistic Ethics24.
To find out more about each statement, click on the hyperlink to the underlying document, where the statement is broken down into more detail and, where possible, justified.
For a concatenation of the whole document in topic-title sequence, follow this link.
Please address any criticism of or suggested improvements to this paper to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The world is open to investigation.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- That is, it is possible to come to a knowledge of what the world is like, what it contains, what its history has been and what its future is likely to be.
- I use the term world to refer to all that exists, has existed or will exist, starting from the material universe and extending to spiritual entities, including God, should such exist.
- Idealism and solipsism are to be rejected.
- By saying that the world is open to investigation, I am not suggesting that the world is so perspicuous as to be transparent. Patient research is required before the world yields up its secrets.
- In saying that the world is open to investigation, I am not necessarily favouring scientific realism as against constructive empiricism, though I do incline towards the latter.
- I do not accept Kant's view that the world appears as it does because we are as we are. Ie. that space & time are constructs we place on the world in order to perceive it.
- Even though the openness of the world to investigation is an initial premise, it is also an observation of the way the world appears to be.
- By insisting on this openness, I mean to deny any unavoidable pervasive error in the way we perceive the world to be. I deny systematic deception, whether as a result of any distorting influence of our own senses or resulting from any ultramundane entity.
- Because the world is open to investigation, divine special revelation is not essential for mankind to come to an understanding of its general laws.
- In summary, I assert that the world is perspicuous according to the following criteria.
- However, I agree that our knowledge of the world is limited by such criteria and cautionary maxims as those below.
Knowledge of the world is acquired from experience under the interpretation of reason.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- By reason, I mean the deduction of conclusions from initial premises (propositions) using the rules of logic. To provide knowledge of the world, these premises must be based on experience.
- By experience, I mean observation of the world, whether studied or casual.
- Objective experience may be considered to be built up of atomic sense perceptions of the form "I see a red patch now". However, in order for the individual to perceive anything significant, these atomic perceptions need to be combined and analysed. That is, sense perception has to be interpreted before it can be understood. Reason has its part to play in converting sense data into experience even before it is applied to experiences to form a body of knowledge about the world.
- A distinction is to be made between experience & experiments. In an experiment, the conditions are controlled so that the experimenter can determine whether the (pre-selected) proposition p or the proposition not-p is true of the world.
- The chief & most successful means of acquiring systematic knowledge of the world is by means of science, which may be spoken of both as an activity and as a body of knowledge, the collected results of the application of the scientific method.
- Historical knowledge is a form of experience at second (or more remote) hand. The claims of historical science as to what happened in the past are validated by application of the reason to historical records.
- Innate knowledge is not available, though innate abilities & propensities most probably are (cf. Chomsky & language acquisition). Hence, the mind at birth is a tabula rasa with respect to knowledge but not with respect to the ability to acquire those skills which are subsequently essential for the acquisition of knowledge.
- There will always be areas of experience that are unexplained within any current understanding of the world. The two extreme viewpoints below are best avoided.
- In the above, we have been concentrating on the first-hand acquisition of knowledge through personal experience and personal reasoning. In practise, because the range of possible experience is so wide, the majority of any individual's knowledge of the world is acquired from books, teachers or other secondary media.
No knowledge is certain.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- All statements about the world are only more or less probable.
- Any proposition of reason may turn out to be false due to confusion of ideas or to errors of calculation or logic.
- Any apparent fact of experience may turn out to be false due to delusion, carelessness or, where at second hand, to misunderstanding in transmission or even to mischievous intent.
- However, there are many propositions, both of reason and experience, that, for practical purposes are indubitable.
- That all things are to some degree doubtful does not imply that they are all equally doubtful, nor does it recommend a thoroughgoing scepticism or a limp agnosticism.
- There are, however, many areas in which it is more candid to profess ignorance than knowledge and others in which there is very considerable doubt as to the truth.
- Because we hold that no knowledge is certain, we must clarify what we mean by truth.
- A requirement of great importance, therefore, is the ability to assign a probability to any statement about the world (or within a model), in accord with the likelihood of it being a true statement.
- Anything of a miraculous nature should be accorded a very low a priori probability, otherwise it would not be categorised as a miracle.
- We must note that beliefs are not held in isolation, but form a network of interconnected beliefs commonly called a world view.
The world obeys a number of fairly simple physical laws, which form the modern scientific worldview, which is fundamentally correct.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- A physical law is a means of assigning a probability to a future state of affairs, given the disposition of the relevant portion of the world at the present time.
- The term simple requires explanation. It has to be understood in its context.
- Despite the fact that the world seems to obey a number of simple laws, it cannot yet be demonstrated beyond all contradiction that all of experience may be reduced to law, nor that all of the world's laws are simple, because not all of experience has yet been analysed nor are all of the world's laws yet fully understood.
- It might be objected that, since old theories are constantly being replaced by new ones (eg. Newton's theories of dynamics & gravitation by Einstein's special & general theories of relativity; the various theories of the atom; etc.), we should despair of the absolute and final truth of scientific laws. However, the replacements are not random changes of mind, but usually represent either the correction of less accurate models by ones of greater precision or the expansion of the domain of reference of the enquiry.
- The fact that the world displays a regular pattern is the reason we can make some sense of it and our ability to predict its future (when we can) is due to the operation of its laws.
- While the basic laws of a system may be simple, their consequences may be very complex; even, in practise, indeterminate.
- A system of beliefs based on extraordinary events, ie. those with no explanation within the the normal framework of physical law, requires a greater level of proof than one based on common experience.
Truth is related to simplicity.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- That is, the simpler & more economical the set of fundamental postulates of any theory, the more likely the theory is to be true, other things being equal.
- Entities should not be multiplied without good reason (Occam's Razor). That is, if there is no good evidence for believing in a proposed entity's existence, we should delete it from the list of entities whose existence we posit.
- Elegance is a necessary but insufficient criterion for truth.
- Why is a lack of presuppositional simplicity a problem? My answer to this question is that the whole aim of our analysis of experience is to explain the complex and chaotic in terms of simples. Each ad hoc addition to a system to prop it up against objections is an admission of failure. It may be the best we can manage for the time being, but it is far from being satisfactory.
It is important for our beliefs to be true, especially if we intend to pass them on to others.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- That is, it is of the greatest importance to attempt to determine, and found one's life on, a belief-set that has the highest probability of being true.
- Any world view should not be held to the more strongly merely because the consequences of doing so (or not doing so) are great.
- In coming to a decision as to which world view we should adopt, however, the significance of the claims of any particular world view may influence us in one respect. They may influence the amount of our (limited) time that we are willing to spend on its investigation, in so far as these claims are not patently ridiculous.
- The logical reasons (rather than the emotional reasons) for retaining a belief (eg. in Christianity) need to be stronger than those for its initial acceptance.
- One cannot be said to believe meaningfully in doctrines of which one is ignorant or which are as yet merely implicit consequences of initial premises.
- People may hold religious or surrogate-religious beliefs for reasons other than rational ones based on experience interpreted by reason.
- The common emphasis of the "what" of belief rather than the "why" or "how" is to be regretted, as are the modern ecumenical attempts to assemble groups around the fact of belief, no matter in what, in contrast to a secular world that supposedly does not believe in anything.
- If we found our lives on myths, and take these myths seriously as though they were facts, we will most probably misdirect our conduct and that of others.
- Coming to understand the world as it is is one of the chief joys and privileges of life. This privilege is easily cast away.
- Before attempting to pass on a belief to others, we ought ourselves to be all the more convinced of its truth.
Christianity is a public statement about the world, not merely a private religion.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- The above proposition is not a definition of Christianity, but a description of one important aspect of its self-understanding. Because the popular image of Christianity falls woefully short of what Christianity claims to be, and because there is even considerable debate on this issue within the churches, it is necessary in this paper to point out some of Christianity's claims.
- Christianity claims to be more than a private religion. It claims, amongst other things, to be a complete explanation of the purpose & progress of the world throughout time & eternity, at least in so far as it concerns human beings.
- To be publicly recommendable as of practical utility and not merely as of philosophical interest, Christianity, apart from being a correct description of the world, needs to be of value in the ordering of practical life, and so it understands itself to be.
- Before we can evaluate Christianity, we must first of all decide what Christianity is.
- The fundamentals that are essential parts of any minimal reconstruction of Christianity are given below. Without these, Christianity would be so denuded of content as to have little of great significance to say.
The claims of Christianity are based on historical experience.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- It should be noted first of all that the propositions of Christianity, as of any other world view, should be believed in, if at all, based on knowledge. I shall seek to demonstrate that historical knowledge is the only reliable source of Christian knowledge. I shall then consider whether this knowledge is sufficient to establish Christianity's claims.
- Reason is relevant to Christian belief because any system of beliefs must be internally consistent to be true.
- As has been demonstrated, no substantive statement about the world can be known based on reason alone, but only on experience interpreted by reason. This fact applies equally to the statements of Christianity.
- The experience forming the basis of Christian belief may be either personal or received at second (or more remote) hand from others who have had personal experiences.
- Personal experience is therefore seen to be the basis of Christian belief.
- There are no personal experiences available today that would form the basis of a reasonable belief in Christianity.
- The experiences on which Christianity is founded are of a historical nature.
- The above may not be taken to imply that present day Christian experience is unimportant. It is clearly central to a normal Christian life. What I am suggesting is that these experiences cannot bear the weight that some might like to place upon them. These experiences are insufficiently certain to form the basis of belief.
- The above contention, that Christianity is based on historic, not present experience, requires an explanation as to why the situation of today differs from that of certain other historical epochs.
The Bible is the most reliable record of the historical events on which Christianity is founded.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- As we have seen, the availability of historical experiences for contemporary belief is dependent on a reliable account of them being recorded and preserved.
- All branches of Christianity agree that the record of experiences in the Bible (the Old and especially the New Testaments) forms the main basis for deciding what Christianity is and what is to be believed.
- Certain branches of Christianity also claim that further reliable historical information is available in the extra-Biblical traditions.
- These same branches of Christianity also claim that Scripture cannot be privately interpreted, but only within the tradition of the Church.
- The precise contents of the Canon of Scripture are not taken as being critical to the current enquiry.
- We may take the Bible, therefore, as traditionally configured, to be the most reliable source for the propositions of Christianity.
Christianity requires a reliable, but not necessarily inerrant, Bible to validate it.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- Since we have demonstrated that the Bible is our most reliable witness to the truth of Christian propositions, it is important that the Bible itself be demonstrated to be reliable.
- We must now ask ourselves what level of reliability is required of the Bible for us to accept its claims as most probably true.
- Since the inerrancy of Scripture is a more extraordinary claim than the general reliability of Scripture, inerrancy should not be insisted on unless it can clearly be demonstrated or it can be shown that the denial of inerrancy would lead to a fatal inconsistency within the Christian postulates.
- As we have noted, Christianity is a public statement about the world, knowledge of which is claimed to be based on experience in history, evidence for these historical happenings being pre-eminently recorded in the Bible. Hence, a priori, evidence for the truth of the Bible, as a record of historical events, need be no greater than for other historical documents that we habitually take as sufficient for establishing historical events.
Biblical claims are to be validated in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- That is, the Bible cannot be assumed to enjoy any special status that removes it from the realm of criticism.
- The Bible may therefore not (and therefore should not) simply be assumed to be infallible (or "inerrant" or whatever stronger term is required) without arguments justified externally from the Bible. We believe the Bible to be inerrant (if we do) for reasons outside the Bible.
- Since the Bible is an observable fact of the world, its character cannot be deduced a priori but is to be determined experimentally, ie. by analysis of the text in relation to itself and our other knowledge of the world.
- Because the evidence of our own eyes is more certain than the evidence for the inerrancy of Scripture, it would not make sense to say that our perception of the world as a physical system is fundamentally mistaken simply on the evidence (real or supposed) of the Bible.
- The Bible should not unnecessarily be brought into conflict with the rest of our knowledge of the world. However, if it does come into conflict, we cannot simply prescribe that the Bible is correct. There may be situations in which it is more conscientious to admit that the Bible, taken at face value and without forced interpretation, is incorrect.
From the viewpoint of internal consistency & style, the Bible gives the impression of being a generally reliable, but not inerrant, document.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- The Bible, contrary to the more exaggerated criticisms of the Enlightenment, is a very reliable set of documents, at least when compared with other documents of similar dates.
- However, it is a very big step indeed from the above statement to one asserting complete inerrancy.
- A paradigm of inerrancy of a "mathematical" character, such as one based on Biblical numerics and the over-zealous identification of chiasmus & other literary structures, is not borne out by the facts of the Biblical text.
- The ploy of ascribing the "good" in the Scriptures to divine inspiration & the "bad" to the style of the human author makes inerrancy incapable of demonstration on stylistic grounds. Since there is no way of falsifying such a claim, it is unscientific and may be rejected.
- The Bible should not be taken as a "package". We should believe its statements (if we do) individually, recognising the diversity of the material with respect to date, provenance, intent, style and other literary qualities.
- We now consider some issues of the internal self-consistency of the Bible, the major problems of which include the following discrepancies, or alleged discrepancies. Examples could be multiplied, but I have restricted myself to some general observations.
- As a final topic in the consideration of the internals of the Bible, we need to consider the state of the text, for unless the text of the Bible is in good condition and faithfully reflects the original autographs (where such existed), much of the authority it may once have had will have been lost.
- In conclusion, despite the problems associated with the relationship of the Old Testament to the New and with parallel passages in both Testaments, there is nothing internal to either Testament that is fatal to the view of their possessing a general unity of message nor of their being generally reliable. While there are different emphases in the various parts of the Bible, and considerable doctrinal development, there is little internal to the Bible that is destructive of general reliability. However, the detailed problems that arise would appear to be destructive of claims to inerrancy.
There are problems with the Biblical model of the world & its history.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- To be credible, Christianity must be consistent (within certain limits) with the rest of our knowledge of the world. Where it is not apparently consistent, it must have good reasons for not appearing to be so.
- We may approach the ironing out of these inconsistencies either by showing that they are only apparent or by demonstrating that one (or both) of the opposing viewpoints does not represent knowledge but only opinion.
- Prima facie, being founded on remote, extraordinary events counts against a system. The sort of dubious events I have in mind are unrepeatable events not explicable within the nexus of normal scientific law. Again prima facie, the more extraordinary the alleged events on which a system is founded, the less likely it is to be true.
- Since Christianity is a historically-based religion, it is essential that the historical events that undergird it can find a place within the historical framework constructed from other sources.
- The Bible does not seem to have a Cosmology that is consistent with reasonable observation. It seems to adopt a three tiered geocentric view of the universe, with heaven "up there" in the sky and hell (gehenna, ie. the abode of the dead) "down there" under the earth.
- At least one aspect of Biblical psychology agrees well with our (or at least my) experience. This is its analysis of man as one who fails to live up to what he might be, and feels he ought to be. In Biblical language, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".
- The main problem with Biblical ontology is its postulation of spiritual entities such as angels, demons, Satan, spirits, heaven & hell. Such entities do not seem to have any place in the physical universe (though some have attempted to locate heaven!) and are not normally, if at all, observable.
- The Biblical cosmogony (theory of origins) appears to be one of recent creation ex nihilo.
- New Testament teleology does not seem to be credible within the modern world view.
- The passages in the Bible that the common man would find morally repugnant are mainly associated with the earlier parts of the Old Testament (eg. the Israelite invasion of Canaan & the divine command to massacre the Canaanites, as recorded in the Book of Joshua).
- The problems with the Biblical world view that have not already been covered above are mainly associated with the miraculous, in that contemporary so-called miraculous happenings are almost universally considered to be dubious.
Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- Physical science, in its reductionist form, offers the prospect of explaining everything as the consequence of a few simple laws. Indeed, the Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) hope to reduce the explanation of all phenomena to , in principle, the application of a single law.
- It is not yet clear whether science will be able to explain the origin of physical law within its own basic principles, but this "bootstrap" procedure is not now deemed to be so far-fetched as it once was.
- Various religious systems may seem to have a simple basis, eg. "Allah is great and Muhammed is his prophet" or "God has given us his Word that is inerrant and tells us all about him", but this simplicity is deceptive.
- The retreat into the inscrutability of the divine ways offers too easy an excuse for the gaps in the ability of theology to account for phenomena and for other theological perplexities. So do appeals to the finiteness of human minds.
- Theology fairs badly on this score (ie. in having to retreat to divine inscrutability) when compared to scientific enquiry, where no such limits are drawn. Such caveats undermine whatever presuppositional simplicity religious systems may have.
- The Christian religion at its most concrete is static and revealed. It cannot advance, so must accommodate itself to any defects it may have. This undermines both its integrity and its simplicity.
- Speculative theology may not be static, but it suffers from all the shortcomings of the worst sort of metaphysics : it is ad hoc and lacks any corrective procedure imposed by the possible falsification of its predictions.
- As an example of the lack of elegant simplicity in Christian doctrine, let us take the doctrine of direct creation versus the theory of evolution. Why object to the idea of direct creation? Because there appears to be genuine disagreement on this question, it is worth spelling out the issues, however obvious they may appear to some.
- The above example illustrates a lack of distinctness in the term "explanation" and the differences in the sort of questions addressed by science on the one hand and philosophy (or, where relevant, theology) on the other.
- Contrary to what is sometimes suggested, the scientific objections to certain aspects of Christian doctrine are not usually motivated by an a priori hatred of God or of Christianity. A clear distinction between scientific objections and pagan persecution needs to be borne in mind.
There is no worthwhile subset of Christianity as traditionally understood that conforms to the modern worldview.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- That this is a problem is the message of this paper.
- The fundamentals that I consider to be essential parts of any reconstruction of Christianity were given in a previous section. They are repeated below, with comments.
- Without maintaining, and preferably substantiating, at least the above beliefs, Christianity would be so denuded of real content as to have nothing of real significance to say, except, possibly, as a system of morality.
- We have noted that there are significant problems with some of these foundation beliefs. We will now consider whether there is anything that can be salvaged from the wreckage and whether, even as a system of morality, Christianity is adequately founded.
A worthwhile reconstruction of Christianity, in conformity with the modern worldview, has not been demonstrated to be possible.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- 16.1 If it becomes apparent that a religious system is no longer congruent with a dispassionate view of the world, it does not make sense to attempt to save it at all costs, eg. by warping its basic principles to make it fit into the modern world view.
- It may be possible to modify the interpretation of some or all of the perceived statements of a religion to make them congruent with the modern world view.
- The attempts hitherto to provide a reconstruction of Christianity based on liberal principles have not been successful and have emptied the churches.
- If the arguments and observations in this paper are correct, fundamentalist Christianity, based on an inerrant Bible, is capable neither of complete internal cohesion nor of synthesis with what is normally taken to be a common sense view of the world.
- The fact that fundamentalist Christianity is filling the churches is a symptom of despair.
- Some have tried to jettison the "supernatural elements" of Christianity while seeking to retain its moral code. As we have noticed elsewhere, though there is clearly a great deal of value in Christian morality, its motivation, and a number of specific moral values, depend on its theistic infrastructure.
- Despite the arguments presented in this paper, it may be the case that the fundamentals of Christianity are not so completely irreparable that a reconstruction cannot be undertaken. However, this task is far from straightforward. In particular, pretending that no problem exists will not lead to its solution.
- I cannot see how a reconstruction of Christianity can be achieved without fundamentally changing at least the form in which the cosmic problems and Christian solutions are expressed. Since this would involve denying the grounds and intentions of orthodox Christian belief, it will not be popular with Christians. Hence, the retreat to fundamentalism, which denies the existence of the problem.
Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- Faith is a critical item in the evaluation of a reasoned response to the postulates of Christianity.
- Faith and belief are not necessarily equivalent. Beliefs, whether considered or casually acquired, are optional. Faith has an element of inner compulsion about it (most Christians would say it was a gift of the Holy Spirit) and is closely related to trust.
- It should be noted, however, that the New Testament vocabulary does not distinguish between "faith" and "belief" (both terms being covered by pistis), presumably because it has no time for the dispassionate holding of views. However, I will try to preserve the distinction between these two expressions in what follows.
- Faith should not be a blind leap in the dark. In particular, though it may go beyond the evidence, it should not go against it.
- Another way of looking at faith is to invoke the probabilities discussed earlier in this paper. There, we stated that no knowledge is certain, but only has a certain probability of being true. One could define a reasonable belief (expressed by proposition p, probability of truth p) as one with p > 0.5, so that it is more rational to believe the proposition than its negation (not-p, probability 1-p).
- There is an element of similarity between this understanding of faith and the classic New Testament definition in Hebrews 11:1, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen".
- A convincing reason needs to be sought for why Christian belief has to be built on faith (contrasted with sight rather than with deeds).
- The common assumption that all beliefs are held by faith (ie. are uncertain, though not necessarily with probability of truth < 0.5), and therefore that those who exercise faith cannot be criticised for irrationality, ignores the probabilities.
- I have sought to demonstrate that the objections facing traditional Christianity are many and cogent. Hence, its probability as a world view is very low and the amount of faith required to sustain it is very high.
- The New Testament speaks of faith as a gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, and so on. How are we to deal with the view that the Holy Spirit confirms the truth of Christianity in the hearts of believers and that this conviction is of more significance than any external evidence that might be adduced pro or con ?
It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- Prima facie, due to the cyclical nature of certain physical processes (eg. the seasons, birth & death), the world would not seem to be purposeful, at least for the individual. This is recognised in the Book of Ecclesiastes.
- The expectations of the ultimate fate of the universe, based on current scientific evidence & cosmological theory, would seem to consign even evolutionary progress to ultimate futility.
- It is, however, important to note that the world is supremely capable of producing stable complexity which includes, on Earth, the development of multiform varieties of life.
- Christian apologetic often treats the absence of purpose or ultimate explanation as a fatal flaw in any atheistic system. However, it is not necessarily a bad thing for purposelessness and ultimate futility to be the case. If it is to be treated as a bad thing, it must be demonstrated to be so. Even if it is demonstrated to be undesirable, this is not relevant to whether or not it is the case.
- Similarly, arguments based on the supposed presence or absence of systems of morality in various competing models of the world are not relevant to deciding what is actually the case.
- In any case, I consider it possible to construct a system of ethics that is not undergirded by divine imperatives. An attempt to do this follows in an Appendix.
- Christian attempts (eg. by Francis Schaeffer) to explain human personhood, by reference to the Divine Persons (and their supposed relationships within the Trinity) are fallacious on several counts.
- We may have to give up the idea of ultimate purpose for the individual (in the sense of a purpose that is not thwarted by death). However, we are not thereby committed to a despondent attitude to a supposedly meaningless life.
Pascal's Wager is not to be accepted.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- There is an argument, known as Pascal's Wager, to the effect that although we are unsure whether there is a God or not, we still ought to believe in him on the basis of expected reward (using "expected" in the probabilistic sense of V * p, where V = "value of outcome" & p = "probability of occurrence of outcome").
- The argument proceeds as follows. Since the gain obtained if our belief in the Christian God turns out to be well placed is infinite (eternal bliss) whereas the loss incurred by believing in vain is finite (loss of some pleasure during a finite life), we are being rational to believe however low the probability of our belief being correct is taken to be, because our expected gain is infinite, whereas our expected loss is finite.
- This argument is fallacious for several reasons.
- The reason I have stressed this point is because religion is for many an insurance policy, and many seem to accept the Wager on this basis. It would be easy to slide from belief to this position. To do so would be to evade all the issues.
It is better to remain silent than to make a pretence at knowledge.Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- While it is necessary (or interesting, or useful) to ask questions of the world, it is not always possible to find answers.
- The above statement is a commonplace in the physical sciences and should be anticipated in other areas of enquiry.
- The shortness of life should not deceive us into believing too hastily the provisional structures we inherit or build to help us run our lives. The fact that we often have to act immediately must not lead us to precipitate judgements.
- It may be that the main issues of life are too complex to solve, certainly at the moment, given our current ignorance of the answers to much simpler problems.
- Hence, all natural theology should be treated with extreme suspicion.
- The only possible "easy solution" is a revealed religion such as Christianity. However, though the Christian solution seems to be the best religious solution available (though I have not attempted to demonstrate this proposition in this paper), it is far from clear that it is a correct solution to the problem, given the other knowledge of the world with which it must be integrated.
- "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence" (Wittgenstein, Tractatus 7).
Footnote 21: (Acts 28 Dispensationalism)
A. An outline of Acts 28 dispensationalism is as follows:-Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
B. The main factors motivating the construction of dispensationalism are:-
- God's promises are without repentance (change of mind) on his part.
- God made certain eternal promises to Abraham involving land and posterity, and these promises were extended (via Isaac & Jacob) to the Jews ("Israel").
- The enjoyment of certain of these promises in individual generations (notably those promises related to the land) was dependent upon faithfulness.
- However, these promises may be recovered across generations by national repentance and are, in the longer term, inviolate.
- The promises belong to the physical descendants of those to whom they were originally made.
- Enjoyment of the land of Israel was contingent on national submission to the Law of Moses (including the conscientious maintenance of the sacrificial cult for the expiation of sin).
- Jesus of Nazareth came firstly as the perfect king to replace the Davidic kingship (or rather to sum it up in himself, as he was descended from David) and secondly as the perfect priest and offering to replace the Levitical priesthood and the Mosaic sacrificial system.
- The New Covenant was to have been a replacement for the Old (Mosaic) Covenant, but was to have been between the same parties (ie. God and Israel). Its offering to Israel was accompanied by miracles as the inauguration of the Old Covenant through Moses had been.
- Jesus preached the Kingdom of God to the Jews and this procedure was repeated by the Apostles (including Paul) during the period covered by the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.
- This period of the Acts of the Apostles represents a second offering of the kingdom to Israel, with Gentiles gradually introduced to provoke Israel to jealousy (zeal or emulation), and with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Converted Gentiles were incorporated into the body of Israel as spiritual Jews.
- The Book of the Acts of the Apostles ends with salvation being sent to the Gentiles independently of the Jews. The Jewish "hope" of a restored Earth is now in abeyance until the return of Christ.
- In the interim, the secret (Mystery [musterion]) of a new gospel (being salvation through Christ to Jews and Gentiles on an equal footing, independently of the former promises to Israel) with a heavenly "hope" was revealed to Paul and is explained in such New Testament letters as Ephesians and Colossians.
C. My main objections to dispensationalism are as follows:-
- A desire to maintain the integrity and unity of the Scriptures in the face of its diversity and apparent contradictions.
- A desire to take Scripture at face value.
- A desire to maintain the faithfulness of God.
- B.1 and B.2 above, though laudable aims, cannot in practice coexist. Attempts to make them do so lead to many forced interpretations : ie. taking Scripture at face value in one passage may lead to the insistence on opaque reading in others.
- Attempts to maintain distinctions ( eg. between Earthly & heavenly hopes, Jew / Gentile in the Gospels & Acts, New Covenant / Mystery) cause as many problems as they solve.
Footnote 22: (Biblical Numerics & Chiasmus)
Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- With respect to Biblical Numerics, the number of numerical relationships in certain key texts seems only to be limited by the ingenuity of those who look for them.
- Similarly, with respect to chiasmus and other literary structures, more zeal than knowledge is displayed.
- The use of numerics or structures to reconstruct the original text or the correct interpretation of a passage is self-contradictory. A book so perfect in form and structure, even down to the individual letters (as has to be supposed for the application of numerics to work), should not need the use of arbitrary analyses to reconstruct its text or interpretation.
- A frequent fundamentalist assumption is that numerical relationships & textual structures have been built into the Biblical texts by divine inspiration, without the authors being aware of them.
Spiritual Beings in Judeo-Christian TraditionNote last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- Angels appear to have made a late appearance on the scene in ancient Israel, as is evidenced (at least according to the New Testament) by the Saduccees' refusal to believe in them.
- The evil counterparts of angels seem to have appeared on the scene much later, however, and developed into a dualism under the gnostics.
Footnote 24: (Non-theistic Ethics)
Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
- This Appendix attempts to demonstrate that it is possible to construct a system of ethics that is not undergirded by any particular form of theism, or indeed having any extramundane sanction.
- The fundamental problem with non-theistic ethics is that we risk coming down to premises that are nothing but matters of opinion (even if most "reasonable" people share them). We risk having nothing underwriting these basic assumptions: no way of reasonably arguing against someone who refuses to accept them.
- As with any system that claims to provide knowledge, we can examine an ethical system both for internal consistency and for conformity to the world.
- I would like to draw a distinction between two distinct aspects of any ethical theory that should not be confused. From now on, I will use the terms ethics and morality, respectively, for these two aspects.
- The aim of ethics is to determine the rules of conduct which have the highest probability of achieving those ends towards which we think our society (or the individuals within it) should aim.
- A fundamental question in building any theory of ethics is: should ethics be individual or collective? Because, as a contingent fact, we live in societies, I suggest that ethical principles have to be treated as collective.
- A principle that will assist us in defining ethical strategies is that of reflexivity. That is, that we should not (in general) do to others what we would not have them do to us.
- In any ethical system, we need to provide a procedure whereby we can categorise an action as right or wrong.
- Since we have defined right action to be parasitic on our conception of the good, what is it that constitutes the good?
- By defining the good in the way we have, we have adopted an essentially consequentialist (utilitarian) view.
- The stance I am adopting here is that of a liberal ironist. This term, (but not necessarily the meaning I apply to it) is due to Richard Rorty.
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Timestamp: 03/08/2017 16:00:18. Comments to email@example.com.