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Christian Tractatus

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.

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.

  1. The world is open1 to investigation.
  2. Knowledge of the world is acquired from experience2 under the interpretation of reason.
  3. No knowledge is certain3.
  4. The world obeys a number of fairly simple physical laws4, which form the modern scientific worldview, which is fundamentally correct.
  5. Truth5 is related to simplicity.
  6. It is important for our beliefs6 to be true, especially if we intend to pass them on to others.
  7. Christianity is a public7 statement about the world, not merely a private religion.
  8. The claims of Christianity are based on historical8 experience.
  9. The Bible9 is the most reliable record of the historical events on which Christianity is founded.
  10. Christianity requires a reliable, but not necessarily inerrant10, Bible to validate it.
  11. Biblical claims are to be validated11 in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.
  12. From the viewpoint of internal consistency & style, the Bible gives the impression of being a generally reliable12, but not inerrant, document.
  13. There are problems13 with the Biblical model of the world & its history.
  14. Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity14.
  15. There is no worthwhile subset of Christianity as traditionally understood that conforms to the modern worldview15.
  16. A worthwhile reconstruction16 of Christianity, in conformity with the modern worldview, has not been demonstrated to be possible.
  17. Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith17.
  18. It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose18.
  19. Pascal's wager19 is not to be accepted.
  20. It is better to remain silent20 than to make a pretence at knowledge.


Appendices
  1. Acts 28 Dispensationalism21.
  2. Biblical Numerics & Chiasmus22.
  3. Spiritual23 Beings in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
  4. 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 theo@theotodman.com.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05


Footnote 1

The world is open to investigation.

  1. 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.
  2. I use the term world1 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.
  3. Idealism2 and solipsism are to be rejected.
  4. By saying that the world is open to investigation, I am not suggesting that the world is so perspicuous3 as to be transparent. Patient research is required before the world yields up its secrets.
  5. In saying that the world is open to investigation4, I am not necessarily favouring scientific realism as against constructive empiricism, though I do incline towards the latter.
  6. I do not accept Kant's5 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.
  7. Even though the openness of the world to investigation is an initial premise, it is also an observation of the way the world appears6 to be.
  8. By insisting on this openness, I mean to deny any unavoidable pervasive error7 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.
  9. Because the world is open to investigation, divine special revelation8 is not essential for mankind to come to an understanding of its general laws.
  10. In summary, I assert that the world is perspicuous according to the following criteria9.
  11. However, I agree that our knowledge of the world is limited by such criteria and cautionary maxims10 as those below.

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Footnote 1.1

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.

  1. By including God in the world, I am not to be understood as presupposing a Spinozist pantheism. The relation of God, should he exist, to the material universe is a separate issue.
  2. Note also that in this treatise, "the world" does not have any connotations of "the (evil) world system" as in Christian Theology.
  3. By including theological elements in the argument at this early stage, I am not thereby stating that theology is the most important issue with which we must deal nor, in any qualifying remarks, am I trying to downgrade its importance. Either approach at this stage would be to pre-empt the discussion. What I am attempting to do is define the field of discourse.
  4. "The world is all that is the case" (Wittgenstein).

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Footnote 1.2

Idealism and solipsism are to be rejected.

  1. By idealism (immaterialism) I understand the view (held by Berkeley and others) that, since all experience is mediated through the senses and is perceived by the mind, so that all we perceive are mental images, matter is an unnecessary hypothesis which may be dispensed with.
  2. Solipsism is an extreme form of immaterialism which states that only I exist, since all I perceive are my own thoughts or perceptions.
  3. I reject these views, not because they are refutable, but because they are irrefutable. They explain everything & nothing.

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Footnote 1.3

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.

  1. As will be seen, the knowledge I have in mind is neither complete nor indubitable. Later, I state that no knowledge of the world is certain. It is also the case that many areas of potential knowledge are beyond investigation in practice because of the time, distances or energies required to collect the information.
  2. However, since there is no a priori reason why the world should be such as to present a consistent picture or to be subject to fruitful investigation, these facts are worth noting.

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Footnote 1.4

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.

  1. By scientific realism I understand the proposition that the theories of science give true accounts of what the world contains, ie. that the entities (eg. electrons) postulated in scientific theories actually exist and are not simply mental constructs invented to explain the phenomena.
  2. By constructive empiricism I understand the view that science only aims to give us theories that are empirically adequate; that it deals with phenomena only, and not with any putative underlying unobservables.
  3. It will be noted later that I am mainly interested in models that explain the relationships between phenomena. Hence, I incline towards constructive empiricism. However, it may be that these models describe entities that are real, though unobservable. In any case, bounds are set on the sorts of entities that may explain the phenomena.

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Footnote 1.5

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.

  1. It is true that our intuitions are circumscribed by the small corners of space-time to which we are habituated. However, it is possible for our intuitions to be educated by what is there.

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Footnote 1.6

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.

  1. Mankind's collective knowledge of the world has increased rapidly, especially since the Renaissance. This increase in knowledge, as a result of scientific enquiry, is an important factor in the belief that the world is, in fact, open to investigation.

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Footnote 1.7

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.

  1. Hence, the openness of the world implies that any explanation of the appearance of things that relies on divine or other deception is false.
  2. Similarly, appeals to unrecorded miracles to explain geological or other phenomena are to be rejected.
  3. Appeals to recorded miracles, such as the one alluded to in the above example, are to be evaluated as described elsewhere in this paper.

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Footnote 1.8

Because the world is open to investigation, divine "special revelation" is not essential for mankind to come to an understanding of its general laws.

  1. Clearly, however, special revelation would be necessary to establish the truth of those propositions of Christianity (eg. the nature of the person & work of Jesus Christ) that do not fall into the category of general laws.
  2. The Thomist distinction between general & special revelation is valid (given a belief in revelation at all).

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Footnote 1.9

In summary, I assert that the world is perspicuous according to the following criteria:-

  1. The world is open to investigation.
  2. The world is as it appears to be.
  3. There is nothing intrinsic to the way the world is constituted so as to discourage the pursuit of knowledge.

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Footnote 1.10

However, I agree that our knowledge of the world is limited by such criteria and cautionary maxims as those below:-

  1. Because measurements disturb a system, certain pairs of quantities may not be knowable simultaneously at the quantum level.
  2. It is impossible for our knowledge of the world to be exhaustive.
  3. Theories based on insufficient information are frequently false.

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Footnote 2

Knowledge of the world is acquired from experience under the interpretation of reason.

  1. By reason1, 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.
  2. By experience2, I mean observation of the world, whether studied or casual.
  3. Objective3 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.
  4. A distinction is to be made between experience & experiments4. 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.
  5. The chief & most successful means of acquiring systematic knowledge of the world is by means of science5, 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.
  6. Historical6 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.
  7. Innate7 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.
  8. There will always be areas of experience that are unexplained within any current understanding of the world. The two extreme viewpoints below8 are best avoided.
  9. 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 secondary9 media.

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Footnote 2.1

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.

  1. A distinction is to be drawn between a priori propositions & self-evident propositions. A priori propositions are prior to all observation of the (or any possible) world, describing how the world (allegedly) must be. Self evident propositions are those most fundamental propositions for which no further justification can be found. A self evident proposition is a response to the world, whereas an a priori proposition is a prescription for the world though often masquerading as a response to it. An individual's set of self-evident propositions forms (to quote Richard Rorty) his final vocabulary.
  2. There is only one logic or method of reasoning. Since logic is basic to argument and to thought, it is not possible to for or argue against a system of logic other than that commonly received. It is also difficult to imagine what an alternative system of logic would be like.
  3. Systems of knowledge, such as mathematics, that are based on axioms and subsequent reasonings, do not constitute knowledge of the world, but may be used as models or pictures of the world.
  4. Similarly, as has been explained above, a priori theology is not necessarily true of the world, and its "proofs" are unsound when they assert allegedly necessary statements of fact. Theologies are models of the world, and whether or not they have any application outside themselves can only be determined by inspection of the world.
  5. We must distinguish between sense and reference. An idea may have sense, in that we understand what it means, but have no reference, in that there is nothing corresponding to it in the world. Classic examples of ideas with sense but no reference are unicorns and fairies (though there is more sense to the concept of a unicorn than to that of a fairy, in that we can better analyse what a unicorn would be like if it existed (by analogy with a horse) than we can a fairy).
  6. The idea of a game is also useful in picturing or modelling the world.

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Footnote 2.2

By experience, I mean observation of the world, whether studied or casual.

  1. Since I am part of the world, experience of the world includes the observation of my own thoughts & feelings. I refer to this as subjective experience, in opposition to objective experience which applies to objects outside myself (paradoxically including my own body).
  2. The above remark should not be taken to mean that I believe in a disembodied mind or soul. I am simply distinguishing between sense experience and other experiences (eg. dreams, thoughts, feelings, pleasure, pain etc.).
  3. Nor should the term subjective necessarily be understood in the pejorative sense of less reliable.

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Footnote 2.3

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.

  1. The process of the infant's perceptual development involves the assembly of complexes of sense perceptions into recognisable objects and experienced situations.
  2. In childhood & adult life, experiences & situations are "recognised" as complexes.
  3. There is a tendency to translate raw sense data into an experience that is expected. Hence, it is easy for our senses to be deceived, for we are not perceiving the raw sense data, but only the interpreted image.
  4. What is experienced depends on what we understand the world to contain. To an extent, we perceive what we expect to perceive. Conversely, we may fail to perceive what we do not expect to perceive.
  5. While perception is generally conservative, ie. unusual situations are converted into familiar ones, an expectation of an unusual event occurring may stimulate an hallucinatory perception. For example, we are more likely to see a ghost on the landing if we have just seen a ghost film.
  6. The more time we have to consider an experience, the less likely we are to misinterpret it, because we have a greater opportunity to re-evaluate the situation.

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Footnote 2.4

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.

  1. This definition conforms to the Galilean concept of experiment, as being the more fruitful, rather than the Baconian, in which no hypothesis is being tested, but the world is simply being observed to see how it performs under controlled conditions.
  2. An experiment should be so designed that any appropriately equipped & serious person can repeat it with the same result.
  3. Statements about the world that cannot be tested by experiment are to be treated with suspicion, unless they follow logically from statements or complexes of statements that are subject to experimentation.
  4. Some form of verification principle is essential, namely, that unverifiable statements have almost certainly no reference. This is because in a contingent world there are infinitely many possibilities.
  5. A distinction needs to be drawn between statements that are undecideable in principle and those merely so in practise.
  6. Statements that are undecidable in principle are more suspect than those that are merely undecidable in practise.
  7. The allegedly unverifiable statement "there exists a transcendent God" is only obviously so if such a God is supposed never to become immanent.

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Footnote 2.5

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.

  1. As an activity, science is a method of asking and answering questions about the world. Any discipline that asks questions that are capable of being answered by controlled observation (ie. by experiment) may be termed a science. Hence, the historical & social sciences may be so categorised along with the physical sciences.
  2. Science, considered as a body of knowledge, is a collection of interrelated theories about the world.
  3. There are domains of experience of the physical world that are not susceptible to direct experimentation.
  4. A general hypothesis that is ubiquitous in science is that of uniformitarianism. That is, that the laws of physics are taken to be constant with respect to both space & time.
  5. The scientific method is paradigmatic for any activity that claims to provide knowledge of the world. Its primacy is demonstrated by its practical success.

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Footnote 2.6

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.

  1. The availability of historical experiences for contemporary analysis is dependent on reliable records of them being preserved.
  2. The statements of history can be evaluated by reasonings based on common experience. These reasonings apply both to the evaluation of specific evidence adduced in favour of historical claims and to the general probability of such claims.
  3. The following items, at least, must be taken into account when evaluating specific written evidence adduced to support historical claims:-
    • The remoteness of the period.
    • The number & independence of the sources.
    • The contemporary publicity of the episode recorded.
    • The belief-set of the society in which the event in question occurred or by which it was recorded.
    • The general political character of the society, ie. whether it was a totalitarian society or one in which free expression of opinion was allowed.
    • The purpose for which the record was made.
    • The character of the witnesses, as in judicial proceedings, in so far as their characters may themselves be determined by reliable testimony or deduction.
    • The educational, literary & cultural background of the witnesses.
    • The general bias of the witnesses (eg. as displayed in peripheral matters).
  4. When evaluating archaeological evidence, we must take into account the following criteria:
    • The climatic & other conditions that have influenced the spectrum of objects available for contemporary study.
    • The number of similar artifacts preserved. Care must be taken to avoid extrapolating general theories from statistically insignificant evidence.
    • The general character of the culture under study. For instance, did it have an interest in, and the power to achieve, the suppression of evidence ?
    • Our general understanding of the particular culture under consideration. We are likely to misinterpret the use of artifacts, buildings etc. if we are largely ignorant of the aims & ethos of the culture. Archaeology is a cyclical, self-reinforcing (or self-correcting) study in which detailed findings are used to build up successive approximations which are themselves refined by new findings.
  5. Geological and palaeontological evidence must be subjected to the same statistical tests as archaeological evidence.
  6. With respect to the general probability of an alleged historical event, the following factors, at least, are relevant:
    • The more significant or unusual the event, whether political, social or physical, the more testimony is required to establish it.
    • In the case of political or social events, the more significant the event, the more likely it was to have been generally discussed, whether verbally or in writing, and the more likely permanent records were to have been made.
    • A general lack of recorded evidence for a significant event is evidence against its having occurred.
    • It is only possible to combine our knowledge of the world into a coordinated world-view if we do not allow our world-view to be disturbed by every new piece of alleged data. Hence, it is a good general policy to reject poorly substantiated events as fictitious, especially if they do not fit in to the model of the world that we have constructed from more reliable data.

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Footnote 2.7

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.

  1. The specific promptings of conscience are socially acquired, rather than being innate, as is demonstrated by the various workings of conscience in different societies. However, the ability to acquire & operate within a moral code would seem to be innate & to be essential for social animals that are not totally dominated by instinctive behaviour.
  2. The appearance of a measure of commonality of moral codes amongst different societies may be explained from the observation that certain practises (or restraints therefrom) are essential for the preservation of any society. Societies that are deviant in key areas have a tendency to die out or disintegrate.
  3. Familiarity & social conditioning give the appearance of inevitability to practises that are essentially arbitrary.

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Footnote 2.8

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.

  1. Firstly, we wish to avoid using God to explain the gaps in our knowledge, bringing him on as a Deus ex Machina.
  2. Secondly, we wish to avoid forcing recalcitrant knowledge into currently understood patterns. There is nothing wrong with a genuine admission of ignorance, however regrettable that ignorance may be.

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Footnote 2.9

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.

  1. We will resume this problematical issue of secondary knowledge when we come to consider world views in the next section.

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Footnote 3

No knowledge is certain.

  1. All statements about the world are only more or less probable.
  2. Any proposition of reason1 may turn out to be false due to confusion of ideas or to errors of calculation or logic.
  3. 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.
  4. However, there are many propositions, both of reason and experience, that, for practical purposes are indubitable.
  5. 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.
  6. There are, however, many areas in which it is more candid to profess ignorance than knowledge and others in which there is very considerable doubt2 as to the truth.
  7. Because we hold that no knowledge is certain, we must clarify what we mean by truth3.
  8. A requirement of great importance, therefore, is the ability to assign a probability4 to any statement about the world (or within a model), in accord with the likelihood of it being a true statement.
  9. Anything of a miraculous nature should be accorded a very low a priori probability, otherwise it would not be categorised as a miracle5.
  10. We must note that beliefs are not held in isolation, but form a network of interconnected beliefs commonly called a world view6.

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Footnote 3.1

Any proposition of reason may turn out to be false due to confusion of ideas or to errors of calculation or logic.

  1. That is, any chain of reasoning may turn out to be invalid.
  2. The above statement may appear to be too strong. Although for consistency's sake I may be forced to assume that any proposition is only probably true, I am not seriously suggesting that there is some non-zero probability that Pythagoras' theorem may turn out to be false.

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Footnote 3.2

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.

  1. There will usually be, however, even in areas of considerable doubt, reasons provisionally to hold one view or another.

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Footnote 3.3

Because we hold that no knowledge is certain, we must clarify what we mean by truth.

  1. A statement about the world is true if the statement correctly mirrors the world. We might denote this kind of truth by the term absolute truth.
  2. A deductive statement in a model (whether or not the model correctly pictures the world) is true if it correctly follows from the premises & rules of the model, logically applied. This second, more limited, form of truth we will refer to as relative truth.
  3. It is of fundamental importance to distinguish between absolute & relative truth. When asserting any proposition we must make clear to others and to ourselves whether we intend the proposition to be taken as true of the world, ie. true absolutely, or only true within a model or argument, ie. true relatively. Much confusion and self deceit will be avoided by obeying this injunction.
  4. Since we are profoundly uncertain of our knowledge of the world, we may only say of any of any statement that it is true with a greater or lesser degree of probability.
  5. The same remark applies to the relative truth of difficult statements within complex models. For instance, certain extended mathematical proofs may be no more than probably true.

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Footnote 3.4

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.

  1. Ideally, we would like to assign a mathematical probability to any statement, ie. a real number in the range 0 to 1, with 0 representing impossibility & 1 representing certainty. As in the frequency theory of probability, the assigned number should represent the proportion of situations in which the statement is expected to turn out to be true.
  2. In practical life, where it is unreasonable to assign a numerical probability to an event, we do assign non-mathematical probabilities to statements and base our actions on them.
  3. It also makes sense to say that certain statements are more probable than others, even when they do not refer to the same domain of experience.
  4. It would seem to be possible to assign a priori probabilities to statements about the world, the probability being assigned a priori to that particular potential experience, by reference to other actual experiences, though not a priori to all experience.
  5. A statement with a low a priori probability may yet have a higher a posteriori probability because of the strength of actual testimony or experimental evidence.

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Footnote 3.5

Anything of a miraculous nature should be accorded a very low a priori probability, otherwise it would not be categorised as a miracle.

  1. For example, it is a priori very improbable that a statue bled, shed tears or did anything else that is not normally associated with a statue. Hence, we might assign such statements a probability close to 0.
  2. The alleged view of David Hume, that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, would appear to be tautological and, therefore, to say nothing about the world. Hume is alleged to define a miracle as an impossible event, rather than as one that is merely very improbable, because according to Hume no amount of evidence is sufficient to establish a miracle.

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Footnote 3.6

We must note that beliefs are not held in isolation, but form a network of interconnected beliefs commonly called a world view.

  1. Any world view must be self-consistent. That is, all its statements must be simultaneously relatively true. For a world view to be absolutely true, all its component beliefs must simultaneously be true of the world.
  2. Any world view may be condensed into an irreducible set of propositions, none of which duplicates any of the contents of another & which collectively cover the world view. Since, however, there may be difficulty in ensuring the independence of the propositions, we may have to be satisfied with a non-disjoint covering set (as in topology).
  3. Let us suppose that a world view is composed of a set of irreducible propositions {pi} enumerated by the index set I and let each of these propositions have probability P(pi). Then, the probability of the world view is (or is closely related to) the product, over I, of these probabilities, ie. PieI(P(pi)).
  4. Naively, we can deduce two consequences from the above, given below.
    • Firstly, no sophisticated world view can have a high probability of being true in all its parts, because the number of irreducible propositions it contains will be be large while their probabilities will often be low. To take a trivial example, let us suppose our world view consists of an irreducible set of 20 propositions, each of which we take to be 90% certain; then, we have only the right to be 12% certain of the truth of our world view.
    • Secondly, the greater the number of irreducible propositions in a world view, the lower the probability of that world view. Hence the force and importance of Occam's Razor, of which more will be said later.

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Footnote 4

The world obeys a number of fairly simple physical laws, which form the modern scientific worldview, which is fundamentally correct.

  1. A physical law1 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.
  2. The term simple2 requires explanation. It has to be understood in its context.
  3. Despite the fact that the world seems to obey a number of simple laws, it cannot yet be demonstrated beyond all contradiction that all3 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.
  4. 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 final4 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.
  5. The fact that the world displays a regular5 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.
  6. While the basic laws of a system may be simple, their consequences may be very complex6; even, in practise, indeterminate.
  7. A system of beliefs based on extraordinary7 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.

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Footnote 4.1

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.

    |
  1. Physical laws are not necessarily based on the assumptions of strict causality nor of determinism, but only on the observed regularity and predictability of the world.
  2. Hence, for example, I am not necessarily committed to any "hidden variable" theories of quantum mechanics.
  3. Laws must be used with caution outside the domain in which they have been demonstrated to be reliable.

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Footnote 4.2

The term simple requires explanation. It has to be understood in its context.

  1. I do not mean by this term "capable of being understood by the man in the street". This is clearly not the case, for instance, with the law of universal gravitation in Einstein's general theory of relativity.
  2. I do, however, retain some of the naive sense of the word simple. Natural laws have turned out to be far simpler than there was any a priori reason to suspect.
  3. In physics, when referring to the world's laws as simple I mean "capable of being described by mathematics".
  4. Because mathematics, unlike language, is on the borderline of human capacities, people demonstrate an enormous range of ability and very few find mathematics simple. However, the existence, say, of inverse square laws in gravitation & electrostatics is a remarkable fact, given that any irregular function of distance might have appeared possible a priori.
  5. Laws in sciences other than physics, while they cannot always be totally reduced to mathematical expression, usually have a pronounced mathematical character, as in the statistical characters of the laws of natural selection and of genetics.

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Footnote 4.3

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.

  1. However, scientific progress to date leads us to expect laws to govern most areas of experience and for as yet undiscovered laws to turn out to be simple.
  2. Such expectations govern, for instance, the search for grand unified theories (GUTs) in physics, which seek to unify the four fundamental forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, and the strong & week nuclear forces) into a single super-force (eg. in the theory of superstrings). It is, of course, still an open question whether the fundamental forces of physics can be unified and hence whether there is a limit to the simplifications that can be discovered.

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Footnote 4.4

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.

  1. From the above we may expect that any particular scientific theory is not the last word in its field. It may yet be replaced by one of wider scope or greater precision. This is not to imply, however, that we should abandon the scientific enterprise as futile. An inadequate theory of the atom, for instance, was still sufficient for the development of the technology for the release of nuclear energy.
  2. It is to be noted that changes of scientific paradigm are usually in the direction of greater simplicity (as in the successive explanations of planetary motion given by Ptolemy, Copernicus & Newton), often with a corresponding gain in generality. Occasionally, however, simplicity has to be sacrificed to generality (as in the further transition from Newton to Einstein) or in response to more accurate observation (as in Kepler's substitution of elliptical for Copernicus' circular planetary motion).
  3. Because the final form and absolute truth of currently accepted scientific laws are open to doubt, caution should be maintained in the attempted deduction of metaphysical deductions from them.
  4. Another reason for resisting the deduction of metaphysical conclusions from scientific theory is that such theory is taken out of its primary domain of reference and hence loses its predictive power.

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Footnote 4.5

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.

  1. Irregularity would make prediction & learning from experience impossible. It is this fact of routinely successful application of learned experiences to future experience that confirms our belief in a regular world governed by law.
  2. This regular pattern is not made void by quantum theory. While the strict application of the classical rules of cause & effect may break down at the quantum level, future states of affairs may still be assigned probabilities.
  3. In quantum mechanics, events may still be described as ordinary or extraordinary. An extraordinary event would be one with a probability orders of magnitude lower than that of other possible events.
  4. The extrapolation of quantum uncertainty to attempt explanations of macroscopic "miraculous" events leads to such low probabilities as to be indistinguishable from impossibilities.
  5. I am not impressed by arguments to the effect that quantum uncertainties make the universe more open to the intervention of an external creator than was the case with the divine clockwork of the Newtonian (or Laplacian) universe.

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Footnote 4.6

While the basic laws of a system may be simple, their consequences may be very complex; even, in practise, indeterminate.

  1. This is demonstrated by the recent theories of Chaos, ie. theories of non-linear systems that demonstrate a sensitivity to slight variations in initial conditions. These theories show that, because the initial conditions cannot be precisely measured, the simple, but non-linear, equations of motion governing the system magnify these errors so that the state of the system beyond a certain time in the future is completely unknown.
  2. Consequently, we cannot deduce that a system obeys no simple laws merely because it appears complex. The theories of Chaos encourage rather than discourage the belief that the world may yet be fully described by a set of simple laws.
  3. Hence, we must distinguish between the explanatory & the predictive powers of laws. Classical physics has the laws to explain the weather even if it cannot predict it.

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Footnote 4.7

A system of beliefs based on extraordinary events, ie. those with no explanation within the normal framework of physical law, requires a greater level of proof than one based on common experience.

  1. Hence, for example, greater proof is required for us to believe that the sun "stood still in the sky" on a particular day than that the earth continued on its daily revolution as normal.
  2. The reason for our reluctance to accept alleged violation of physical law as the explanation of an event is that this procedure, if routinely followed, would undermine the whole application and validity of physical laws & the methods of physical science.
  3. It is because physical laws are routinely found to work and that a patient search for physical explanation within the confines of law is so frequently rewarded, that we are willing to reject explanations outside these confines unless the evidence for the extraordinary explanation is so compelling that we are forced to rule out alternatives.

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Footnote 5

Truth is related to simplicity.

  1. That is, the simpler1 & more economical the set of fundamental postulates of any theory, the more likely the theory is to be true, other things being equal.
  2. Entities should not be multiplied without good reason (Occam's Razor2). 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.
  3. Elegance3 is a necessary but insufficient criterion for truth.
  4. Why is a lack of presuppositional simplicity a problem4? 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.

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Footnote 5.1

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.

  1. Mathematical elegance is a prerequisite for the truth of physical theories about the world.
  2. The above statement is a fact of the world based on experience, in that the successful theories to date have been of this form.
  3. It also says more than that a theory may be presented with more or less mathematical elegance & sophistication, though this is also true. What it says is that if there is no possible way of expressing a physical theory in elegant mathematics then it is probably false, or at least has not been worked out properly.

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Footnote 5.2

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.

  1. The principle of Occam's Razor implies that propositions should be insisted upon only if they can be demonstrated to be probably true, not simply because they are difficult to prove to be false. The onus of proof is on the proposer.
  2. Entities invented to explain phenomena should be critically examined to determine whether or not they do have explanatory power or whether they are simply tautological labels for these phenomena, designed to disguise a lack of understanding.

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Footnote 5.3

Elegance is a necessary but insufficient criterion for truth.

  1. That is, while we are correct to be suspicious of an ugly theory, we must equally reject a beautiful theory that does not really grapple with the facts of the world.

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Footnote 5.4

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.

  1. Does science currently enjoy this simplicity? In general, plainly not. However, it shows promise of so doing and does so already in specific areas.
  2. No doubt an act of faith is required to accept the idea of a continuing progress of science, but I do not think that it is the same sort of act of faith as is required for religious belief.
  3. Incidentally, a clear distinction must be drawn between faith in the scientific method & that in the successful application of the fruits of science to ameliorate society. Whatever discredit may have accrued to the latter is no reason for doubting the former.

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Footnote 6

It is important for our beliefs to be true, especially if we intend to pass them on to others.

  1. That is, it is of the greatest importance to attempt to determine, and found one's life on, a belief-set1 that has the highest probability of being true.
  2. Any world view should not be held to the more strongly merely because the consequences2 of doing so (or not doing so) are great.
  3. 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 investigation3, in so far as these claims are not patently ridiculous.
  4. The logical reasons (rather than the emotional reasons) for retaining4 a belief (eg. in Christianity) need to be stronger than those for its initial acceptance.
  5. One cannot be said to believe meaningfully in doctrines of which one is ignorant or which are as yet merely implicit5 consequences of initial premises.
  6. People may hold religious or surrogate-religious beliefs for reasons other than rational6 ones based on experience interpreted by reason.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Coming to understand the world as it is is one of the chief joys and privileges of life. This privilege is easily cast away.
  10. Before attempting to pass on a belief to others7, we ought ourselves to be all the more convinced of its truth.

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Footnote 6.1

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.

  1. We have noted that beliefs are not held in isolation, but form a network of interconnecting beliefs commonly called a world view.

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Footnote 6.2

Any world view should not be held to the more strongly merely because the consequences of doing so (or not doing so) are great.

  1. Belief in any proposition should be based on knowledge of the world as it is, not on what we might wish to be the case, nor on mere dissatisfaction with an alternative world in which that proposition did not hold.
  2. Hence, to take the case of Christianity, the hope of immortal bliss, the love of (or reverence for) Jesus, the fear of death or eternal punishment etc. are of no relevance in deciding whether or not Christianity is actually true.

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Footnote 6.3

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.

  1. Hence, Christianity is worthy of greater attention than are those systems of limited consequence, on account of the seriousness of its propositions.
  2. As we will seek to show, Christianity (when properly investigated) is far from being patently ridiculous, contrary to much superficial popular belief and the de facto attempts of some Christians to make Christianity appear an option open only to the feeble minded.

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Footnote 6.4

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.

  1. The reason for this is that a great deal is taken on trust at conversion to a world view (eg. to Christianity or to any other system of beliefs involving a paradigm shift). This state of affairs may appear to be avoidable & certainly regrettable but is necessary for a number of reasons.
  2. Firstly, there is usually a degree of ignorance at this stage about what all the propositions of the world view actually are, and certainly about how they fit in with, or conflict with, the residue of one's beliefs about the world that have been retained from a previous outlook. A world view may be considered to be a game or model (of life) and the inner structure of any game may only be explored by playing it.
  3. Secondly, given our limited life-spans, urgent action is called for. We have already demonstrated that certainty is unattainable. Hence, we will often have to "try out" a world view before we are (or, possibly, become) fully convinced of its truth.
  4. Eventually, it is necessary for the holder of any world view (eg. Christianity) to examine thoroughly each of the doctrines of that world view to see whether or not his trust has been misplaced.
  5. In practise, the above examination is a continuous process because one's knowledge of the world is continually growing.

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Footnote 6.5

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.

  1. For example, the axioms of the mathematical theory of Groups, or of number theory, are very simple. However, because of our limited intelligence, their consequences are often astonishing in their depth and subtlety. We would not say we believed a theorem to be true until it had been discovered and we had worked through the proof, even though its truth had always been implicit in the axioms.
  2. This raises the issue of the distinction between knowledge and understanding.
  3. In any sufficiently rich model of some sub-system of the world, the recursive application of the rules of the model may take us into areas of the model that do not mirror the world.

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Footnote 6.6

People may hold religious or surrogate-religious beliefs for reasons other than rational ones based on experience interpreted by reason.

  1. I define a belief as being held for irrational or irrelevant reasons if the primary motivation for holding the belief is not its truth but other ancillary reasons, whether motivational or accidental. The fact that such reasons are in some sense "reasonable" (ie. understandable) does not make them either rational or relevant according to my definition.
  2. These irrational or irrelevant reasons include:
    • Cultural bias due to accident of birth
    • Desire for political or social advantage
    • Fear of a moral vacuum
    • Fear of death
    • Desire for immortality
    • Desire for a meaning to life beyond the material
    • Desire for a direction in life
    • Impatient desire for answers to life's mysteries
  3. The fact that people may hold religious beliefs for illogical reasons is, in itself, no argument against the substance of these beliefs.
  4. It is also unfair, and prejudges the case, to assume that people always or usually hold religious beliefs for irrational reasons. Their reasons may only be determined by inspection.
  5. It may be argued that most people hold most of their views on most subjects (outside of their specific areas of expertise, if any) for irrational reasons.
  6. It is to be noted that where a subject is deemed to be set on firm foundations or to be technically inaccessible (as, say, modern physics) the opinion of experts is well respected. Where the very foundations of a subject are in doubt (as currently in theology and perpetually in philosophy) the opinion of experts counts for little : everyone considers himself to be an expert.
  7. Contrary to the above, theology may be a bad example of a subject in which everyone considers himself to be an expert. Today, people are so demoralised on this issue that they trust neither themselves nor the experts. This may explain the preference for religious experience over theology. Expertise in religious experience is easily simulated.

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Footnote 6.7

Before attempting to pass on a belief to others, we ought ourselves to be all the more convinced of its truth.

  1. It is rare for individuals to think through what they believe, but such an activity is essential for someone who wishes to promulgate a belief.
  2. In particular, it is incumbent on people who hold & wish to promulgate views strongly at variance with current expert opinion to have made a serious attempt to evaluate the received ideas before acting against them.
  3. Freedom must, however, be allowed for academics & other thoughtful persons to try out new ideas. Any promulgation of ideas must be accompanied by due reserve rather than, as is often the case, with zeal proportional to their dubiousness.
  4. The experience of totalitarian regimes in the 20th and earlier centuries well illustrates the misery generated by the collective belief of falsehoods.

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Footnote 7

Christianity is a public statement about the world, not merely a private religion.

  1. The above proposition is not a definition of Christianity, but a description of one important aspect of its self-understanding1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. To be publicly recommendable as of practical2 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.
  4. Before we can evaluate Christianity, we must first of all decide what Christianity is3.
  5. The fundamentals that are essential parts of any minimal reconstruction of Christianity are given below4. Without these, Christianity would be so denuded of content as to have little of great significance to say.

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Footnote 7.1

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.

  1. In what follows, the form of Christianity under consideration is not modern liberalism, but a more traditional substantive form, albeit under the interpretation of Evangelicalism.
  2. Christianity claims to make demands of, and to have an eternal impact on, everyone in the world. Indeed, it claims to be central to the course of the world as a whole, both in its physical and spiritual aspects.
  3. Hence, Christianity understands itself as being publicly recommendable to others, not as being a merely private or esoteric experience. It sees itself as the Truth, ignored or repudiated by any individual at his eternal peril.
  4. With a message of such far-reaching consequences, promulgation (usually known as evangelism in this context) is at the centre of Christianity, and rightly so if Christianity (as understood in this paper) is true.

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Footnote 7.2

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.

  1. However, if Christianity were merely "something that makes you feel good" (like transcendental meditation) or were simply a moral code, Christianity would be reduced to the status of an ancillary tool. This might still be of value, but is not what Christianity is about.
  2. Christianity treats its moral code as the only valid response of man to God, his creator.
  3. Hence, though much Christian morality would still be of great value even if the theistic infrastructure of Christianity turned out to be unsound, it is this infrastructure that gives Christian morality its whole motivation and character.

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Footnote 7.3

Before we can evaluate Christianity, we must first of all decide what Christianity is.

  1. One method of answering the above question is to develop the maximal subset of possible statements about Christianity that are internally consistent and generally believed by Christians.
  2. Since, however, there is no consensus amongst Christians on what all the true statements of Christianity are, the proposition "the statements of Christianity are all true" does not even make sense without further definition. Hence the importance in this paper of making clear what we understand by the term Christianity.
  3. I take Christianity to be a more fundamental term than Christian. Hence, there would seem to be circular reasoning in defining Christianity as "what Christians say it is" (C.S. Lewis). We need a more objective criterion. Therefore, we will emphasise the importance of the Bible in defining the meaning of Christianity. Tradition & present experience, the only obvious alternatives or supplements, will be rejected.
  4. The analysis of sectarian beliefs is a separate & inexhaustible exercise which will not be pursued in this paper.

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Footnote 7.4 Repeated. See Footnote 15.2


Footnote 8

The claims of Christianity are based on historical experience.

  1. 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 knowledge1 is the only reliable source of Christian knowledge. I shall then consider whether this knowledge is sufficient to establish Christianity's claims.
  2. Reason is relevant to Christian belief because any system of beliefs must be internally consistent2 to be true.
  3. As has been demonstrated, no substantive statement about the world can be known based on reason alone, but only on experience3 interpreted by reason. This fact applies equally to the statements of Christianity.
  4. The experience4 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.
  5. Personal5 experience is therefore seen to be the basis of Christian belief.
  6. There are no personal experiences available today6 that would form the basis of a reasonable belief in Christianity.
  7. The experiences on which Christianity is founded are of a historical7 nature.
  8. The above may not be taken to imply that present day Christian experience is unimportant8. 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.
  9. The above contention, that Christianity is based on historic, not present experience, requires an explanation as to why the situation of today differs9 from that of certain other historical epochs.

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Footnote 8.1

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.

  1. Hence, the propositions of Christianity should be believed in, if at all, based on experience interpreted by reason.
  2. Some Christians will immediately react to the above statement as betraying a rationalistic bias. A basic assumption of this paper is that the claims of Christianity should be evaluated in exactly the same way as those of any other ideology. This contention will be discussed in a later section. Also in a later section I will consider how the allegedly self-validating claims of Christianity (ie. the workings of the Holy Spirit and of faith) should be evaluated.

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Footnote 8.2

Reason is relevant to Christian belief because any system of beliefs must be internally consistent to be true.

  1. In evaluating the self-consistency of Christianity, it is necessary to note that Christianity is not necessarily a monolithic system. Christianity as a whole is not simply "true or false". Some of its statements may be true while others may be false.
  2. While we leave the analysis of the statements of Christianity until later, we note that an option open to us (if necessary) is to attempt a reduction of Christianity until we arrive at an internally consistent kernel that accurately mirrors the world. However, we must pause in this exercise if the residue of Christianity so reduced is less than the minimalist subset suggested in the previous section. To reduce Christianity to less than this subset is fundamentally to change the subject.

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Footnote 8.3

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.

  1. Experience is, therefore, seen to be the basis of a reasonable belief in the propositions of Christianity.

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Footnote 8.4

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.

  1. It is to be noted that I am making the assumption here (that will be further elaborated later) that, whereas scientific theories are based on experience (singular & general), Christianity is based on experiences (plural & particular).
  2. This distinction is necessary because, while an individual scientific experiment results in a particular experience for the experimenter involved, the repeatability of experiments means that particular experiences pass over into general experience as the results are thoroughly validated.
  3. However, Christianity rests on particular experiences that are not repeatable. This is because these experiences are either historic one-offs (eg. the experience of the empty tomb) or are personal (and private) experiences that cannot be repeated at the behest of the original experiencer or by others.
  4. Regular ability of some individual or group to perform miracles would, of course, form part of general experience that could be validated. Unfortunately, no such gifted individual or group appears to be around today.
  5. Christianity must, therefore, be rooted in a chain of transmission of experience that is ultimately grounded in personal experience.
  6. With respect to the experiences of Christianity, as for experience generally, the longer the chain of transmission, the less likely the experiences are to have been transmitted reliably.

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Footnote 8.5

Personal experience is therefore seen to be the basis of Christian belief.

  1. By using the term personal I mean to stress that the experience should be at first hand rather than that it should be private. Many personal experiences are private, ie. they relate to events that were not observed by others at the time. Others, however, are shared and may be denoted as public experiences.
  2. It is important that Christianity be founded on at least some public experiences, and that these experiences be related to events external to the observers.
  3. Christianity claims this to be the case. Christianity is founded on the historic experiences of Israel, from the Exodus onwards, and on the historical person and acts of Jesus of Nazareth, pre-eminently on his death & resurrection. It stands or falls by the historicity of such public experiences.

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Footnote 8.6

There are no personal experiences available today that would form the basis of a reasonable belief in Christianity.

  1. There is much debate in current Christian circles about the validity of present experiences of a presumed supernatural nature.
  2. So-called numinous experience, which forms the bulk of Christian experience, is even more nebulous & unreliable.

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Footnote 8.7

The experiences on which Christianity is founded are of a historical nature.

  1. The above statement is consistent with Christianity's own self-image, which is of God revealing himself to man in a sequence of acts in history.
  2. While there would be a consensus amongst all Christians agreeing with the above with respect to God's main saving acts, Catholic Christianity has always maintained that evidential miracles have continued from Patristic times up until the present day (eg. as evidence for the sanctity of particular individuals or as evidence for particular doctrines). Orthodox Protestantism has tended to reject such claims, mainly because it is out of sympathy with the claims such miracles are supposed to be evidence for.

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Footnote 8.8

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.

  1. The above statement is true both for those who have experienced contemporary so-called supernatural or numinous experiences and for those who have not.

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Footnote 8.9

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.

  1. On the assumption that relevant historical experiences have, in fact, occurred, the traditional explanation for the changed expectation of supernatural events is probably the best; namely, that the periods of "evidential" experience were foundational and, therefore, atypical.
  2. It is, however, one of the contentions of Acts 28 Dispensationalism to explain this difference, which is a straightforward deduction from its basic premises.

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Footnote 9

The Bible is the most reliable record of the historical events on which Christianity is founded.

  1. As we have seen, the availability of historical experiences for contemporary belief is dependent on a reliable account of them being recorded and preserved.
  2. All branches of Christianity agree that the record of experiences in the Bible (the Old and especially the New Testaments) forms the main1 basis for deciding what Christianity is and what is to be believed.
  3. Certain branches of Christianity also claim that further reliable historical information is available in the extra2-Biblical traditions.
  4. These same branches of Christianity also claim that Scripture cannot be privately3 interpreted, but only within the tradition of the Church.
  5. The precise contents of the Canon4 of Scripture are not taken as being critical to the current enquiry.
  6. We may take the Bible, therefore, as traditionally configured, to be the most5 reliable source for the propositions of Christianity.

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Footnote 9.1

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.

  1. I shall now argue that it is the only basis on which Christianity might be securely founded.

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Footnote 9.2

Certain branches of Christianity also claim that further reliable historical information is available in the extra-Biblical traditions.

  1. However, since this material is not allowed to contradict Scripture by those who accept it, and is more dubious than the Scriptural data, we may ignore it for the purposes of this study.

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Footnote 9.3

These same branches of Christianity also claim that Scripture cannot be privately interpreted, but only within the tradition of the Church.

  1. The above statement seems justifiable to the extent that new teachings in any discipline need proof before being accepted. In a subject with fixed and relatively clear data, such as Biblical Christianity, new teachings are less likely to be sound as time goes by.
  2. However, the above statement is not agreed to have any logical force, and new, more correct, interpretations, from whatever provenance, will arise from time to time.
  3. A similar statement, to the effect that the Scriptures may only be interpreted by recognised teachers, is rejected because such teachers have not been able to demonstrate their special ability.

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Footnote 9.4

The precise contents of the Canon of Scripture are not taken as being critical to the current enquiry.

  1. With respect to expanding the Cannon, the Deuterocanonical portions are confined to the Old Testament and are of limited doctrinal significance. The apocrypha and pseudepigrapha of both Testaments either do not claim the authority of the Canonical Scriptures or contain obviously fallacious statements that negate the authority claimed.
  2. In both Testaments, the books occasionally rejected from the Canon similarly tend to be doctrinally marginal or obscure.

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Footnote 9.5

We may take the Bible, therefore, as traditionally configured, to be the most reliable source for the propositions of Christianity.

  1. We take it, therefore, that Christianity is what the Bible (properly interpreted) says it is.
  2. The issue of correct interpretation is not so serious as to prevent further progress in this argument.
  3. However, I am committed to a straightforward interpretation of the Bible in accord with the literal sense and the most likely intentions of the original authors or compositors.

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Footnote 10

Christianity requires a reliable, but not necessarily inerrant, Bible to validate it.

  1. Since we have demonstrated that the Bible is our most reliable witness to the truth of Christian propositions, it is important that the Bible itself1 be demonstrated to be reliable.
  2. We must now ask ourselves what level2 of reliability is required of the Bible for us to accept its claims as most probably true.
  3. Since the inerrancy of Scripture is a more extraordinary claim than the general reliability of Scripture, inerrancy should not be insisted3 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.
  4. 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 greater4 than for other historical documents that we habitually take as sufficient for establishing historical events.

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Footnote 10.1

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.

  1. The reliability required of the Bible is with respect both to its internal consistency and to the assertions it makes about the world.
  2. That is, the propositions of Christianity must not only correctly define what Christianity is in an internally consistent way, but must also be true statements about the world.

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Footnote 10.2

We must now ask ourselves what level of reliability is required of the Bible for us to accept its claims as most probably true.

  1. I will take it as self-evident that the least demanding option should be taken. If Christianity can be grounded on a Bible that is (to some degree) reliable but not inerrant, then this should be taken as sufficient for our purposes.
  2. While we must note that Scripture has a very high level of respect for itself, it would be reasoning in a circle were we to suggest that we must believe in the inerrancy of Scripture because the Bible claims to be inerrant (even if it does).
  3. The "inerrancy of Scripture" is therefore not the most fundamental Christian postulate. Some scheme (or world view) such as that outlined in this paper is.
  4. The "inerrancy of Scripture" is therefore not a proposition that defines Christianity but is one that may be discussed within Christianity.

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Footnote 10.3

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.

  1. Similarly, since a claim to inerrancy may be undermined by one clear counter-example, it is unwise to insist upon inerrancy unless no other postulate is tenable.
  2. If the truth of Christianity can be demonstrated to rest upon the inerrancy of Scripture and if Scripture can be demonstrated with some probability not to be inerrant, then Christianity would be demonstrated to be false with at least the same degree of probability.
  3. Hence, it is more prudent only to insist on the general reliability of Scripture.
  4. Insisting on Biblical inerrancy simply because it makes doctrinal demonstrations easier runs the risk of making logical shipwreck of the whole Christian faith for the sake of mere exegetical convenience.

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Footnote 10.4

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.

  1. However, it is habitually the case that no documentary evidence is taken as sufficient to make us believe in certain extraordinary portents or other alleged happenings recorded in pagan antiquity. Given this, it might be suggested that the Bible needs to be self-validating. That is, that it needs to be obviously beyond the reach of unaided human production in order for us to believe its more extraordinary claims.
  2. I reject this assertion, if only because I do not believe, as a point of contingent fact, that the Bible can stand up to this scrutiny (for which, see later). Moreover, I do not believe that we are justified in simply ruling out all events of an extraordinary nature recorded in an ancient source. Such records may be entertained provided certain conditions are met, as follows.

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Footnote 11

Biblical claims are to be validated in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.

  1. That is, the Bible cannot be assumed to enjoy any special1 status that removes it from the realm of criticism.
  2. 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 externally2 from the Bible. We believe the Bible to be inerrant (if we do) for reasons outside the Bible.
  3. Since the Bible is an observable fact of the world, its character cannot be deduced a priori but is to be determined experimentally3, ie. by analysis of the text in relation to itself and our other knowledge of the world.
  4. 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 perception4 of the world as a physical system is fundamentally mistaken simply on the evidence (real or supposed) of the Bible.
  5. The Bible should not unnecessarily be brought into conflict5 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.

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Footnote 11.1

That is, the Bible cannot be assumed to enjoy any special status that removes it from the realm of criticism.

  1. In particular, we cannot simply take the Bible as a gift from God telling us how things are. This assumption begs the question of how we know that the Bible enjoys this special status (assuming it does).
  2. The above remark will appear commonplace to one without a Christian/fundamentalist background. What follows is particularly addressed to those of a Christian/fundamentalist persuasion.

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Footnote 11.2

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.

  1. This is because the argument that the most logical foundation for Christianity is first of all to posit the existence of God and secondly to posit the Bible as his inerrant word of revelation is insufficient to establish the uniqueness of Christianity, for the reasons below.
  2. Christianity cannot dispute on this a priori basis with any other religion with its own god and book. A Christian can only argue that his God and Book are true whereas other religions' gods & books are false (or inadequate) for reasons outside the Bible. He needs to point to some common standard, that is, to the world as experienced under the interpretation of reason.
  3. Of course, if the Bible were to be proved to be inerrant (or even well founded in its essentials) by some non-arbitrary demonstration, it then could and should be used as a yardstick to evaluate other religions, but only once so established.
  4. The factors by which we come to conclusions about the internal consistency and factual reliability of any religious book should be the same as those wherewith we judge the merits of the Bible, and are external to any particular religion.
  5. To reject other religions (and their books) simply because the Bible rejects them (if it does) is to make an arbitrary choice of religion, unless that choice is also governed by reasons external to the Bible.

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Footnote 11.3

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.

  1. Putting this into Christian language, we cannot prescribe what God must have done by way of self disclosure, but only describe what he has in fact done.

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Footnote 11.4

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.

  1. We apply this principle when we recognise figures of speech in the Bible (eg. the chariot of the sun, the storehouses for the wind, the four corners of the earth etc.).
  2. Certain scientific theories may be mistaken. However, it has to be argued both on a case by case basis and cumulatively whether the probability of error of the particular physical theory exceeds the probability of the contentious Biblical passage being inerrant (or having been correctly interpreted).
  3. The classic case of the above is the opposition between the various theories of biological evolution & the literal interpretation of Genesis. The divide between Christians on the issue seems to be driven both by scientific and by exegetical beliefs.

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Footnote 11.5

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.

  1. The Bible has many radical things to say about the world as a political and moral system. In the moral sphere, when evaluating the rightness of actions and attitudes, the Bible has at least as much right to a hearing as any other authority. However, its statement must still be evaluated for reasonableness.

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Footnote 12

From the viewpoint of internal consistency & style, the Bible gives the impression of being a generally reliable, but not inerrant, document.

  1. The Bible, contrary to the more exaggerated criticisms of the Enlightenment, is a very reliable set of documents, at least when compared1 with other documents of similar dates.
  2. However, it is a very big step indeed from the above statement to one asserting complete inerrancy2.
  3. A paradigm of inerrancy of a "mathematical3" 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The Bible should not be taken as a "package4". 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.
  6. 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 observations5.
  7. As a final topic in the consideration of the internals of the Bible, we need to consider the state6 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.
  8. 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.

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Footnote 12.1

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.

  1. In general, the Bible is obviously free from the gross misconceptions of early mythology. To say the least, it was compiled, in general, by very able individuals and is on a par with any other literary production of the ancient world. We must not allow any post-Enlightenment reaction to blind us to this fact.

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Footnote 12.2

However, it is a very big step indeed from the above statement to one asserting complete inerrancy.

  1. In general, those who insist on inerrancy are too lax in the strictures they place on the Bible & too forward in proclaiming its excellences.
  2. That is, "allowances" are made for the Bible when none are legitimate under the "inerrancy" paradigm. Evidence is very selective, the generally more acceptable Biblical texts being concentrated on at the expense of others.
  3. Also, it usually turns out that no evidence is allowed to refute the claim to inerrancy. There is always the appeal to "further evidence" yet to be discovered. If this were a very occasional retreat into current ignorance it would be acceptable. However, this retreat has to be made more often than is commonly admitted. The claim of Biblical inerrancy is therefore analytic rather than synthetic: the Bible is declared to be inerrant by definition rather than from experience.

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Footnote 12.3

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.

  1. The application of numerics & chiasmus to the Bible is considered at length in an Appendix to this document. Sufficient here to remark that the "mathematical" neatness of taking inerrancy as a model is totally undermined by the amount of special pleading that needs to be undertaken to make the model fit the facts, or, rather, to make the facts fit the model.

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Footnote 12.4

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.

  1. The alternative, to believe the whole of the Bible because of a presuppositional bias may, and in many cases must, lead to disingenuity on the part of the person holding such a view. It leads to "believing (numerous) impossible things before breakfast" and to other manifestations of self-deceit.
  2. The assumption of stark alternatives - ie. that the Bible is either completely trustworthy or everywhere dubious - has resulted in many exaggerated claims on both sides of the debate.
  3. Liberals have greatly exaggerated the Bible's defects.
  4. Conservatives, fearful that the whole fabric of Christianity will collapse if one error is found in Scripture, have exaggerated its merits.
  5. Both sides in the above controversy have managed to persuade themselves that arguments are cogent merely because they reach what are to them acceptable conclusions.

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Footnote 12.5

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 :-

  • Differences in the Old Testament between Kings & Chronicles etc.
  • Differences between parallel passages in the Gospels.
  • Different portrayals of Jesus in the Synoptic & Johannine Gospels.
  • Differences between the ethos of the Old and New Testaments.
  • Differences between the main thrusts of the Gospels & the Epistles.
  1. In the context of the inerrancy / reliability debate, differences between parallel accounts of the same event act as double-edged swords.
  2. In conservative Biblical scholarship, inter-source agreement on peripheral matters is sometimes taken as being a significant pointer to the reliability of the main subject-matter preserved in these sources. However, if the two accounts are, in general, identical in peripheral areas, literary dependence is the more natural conclusion.
  3. The Synoptic Problem is an example of literary dependence.
  4. Variations amongst the different parts of the Bible with respect to message or emphasis are not necessarily discrepancies. It is possible, indeed likely, that these differences were intended by the respective authors. For instance, God's ways of dealing with men (or the situation of the times generally) may have changed in the interim between the instances in question.
  5. Another problem internal to the Bible is the way in which the New Testament uses the Old. Superficially, at least, the New Testament takes texts out of context, quotes the text loosely where the precise wording would seem to be essential to the argument, and adopts other liberties with the text that no competent modern Bible student would dare to do.

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Footnote 12.6

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.

  1. In response to this, it may immediately be affirmed that the text of the Bible is very reliable indeed, and is supported by a larger number of earlier manuscripts than any other ancient text. These manuscripts also agree amongst themselves to a very significant degree.
  2. However, it has to be recognised that, as is the case with most other significant ancient works, the original autographs have all perished.
  3. The above assumes that there ever were original autographs. In the case of compilation texts, or those that passed through several redactions, the equivalent of the autograph would have been the "final edition" when the text stabilised.
  4. Though it is possible, in the vast majority of cases, to come up with a very probable reconstruction of the original (or final) text, it has to be recognised that the text is verbally uncertain in almost every passage. However, there are probably relatively few passages in which the original author's intent has become corrupted during textual transmission.
  5. The Old Testament has a greater appearance of textual uniformity than the New. However, this is an illusion created by the standardisation of the text by the early mediaeval Massoretes, albeit followed by a careful subsequent transmission.
  6. There are, however, substantial discrepancies between the Massoretic text and that underlying the Dead Sea Scrolls and again between these two textual traditions and the Septuagint. Nonetheless, these differences are not so great as to make the varying traditions speak with completely different voices.
  7. The above facts make it difficult to maintain any useful application of "full verbal inspiration" or "inerrancy". Applying these epithets to Scripture "as originally given" may save us from imputing error to God but offers no practical help since Scripture is not recoverable in its pristine state.
  8. It is to be noted, however, that the state of the text of the Bible presents no obstacle to the Bible's substantial reliability.

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Footnote 13

There are problems with the Biblical model of the world & its history.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Prima facie, being founded on remote, extraordinary1 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.
  4. Since Christianity is a historically2-based religion, it is essential that the historical events that undergird it can find a place within the historical framework constructed from other sources.
  5. The Bible does not seem to have a Cosmology3 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.
  6. At least one aspect of Biblical psychology4 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".
  7. The main problem with Biblical ontology5 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.
  8. The Biblical cosmogony6 (theory of origins) appears to be one of recent creation ex nihilo.
  9. New Testament teleology7 does not seem to be credible within the modern world view.
  10. The passages in the Bible that the common man would find morally8 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).
  11. The problems with the Biblical world view that have not already been covered above are mainly associated with the miraculous9, in that contemporary so-called miraculous happenings are almost universally considered to be dubious.

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Footnote 13.1

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.

  1. We must be careful of circular reasoning if we form a negative evaluation of Christianity. If we define our world view to be one in which the "spiritual" has no place, we should not be surprised that Christianity, which is founded on spiritual presuppositions, has no place in it either.
  2. Nonetheless, a way must be found of evaluating spiritual claims, otherwise there is no logical way of preferring one set of spiritual claims to another (ie. of preferring one religion to another) or of arbitrating between those who accept "the spiritual" and those who don't.
  3. I reject the view that an acceptance of "the spiritual" is a fundamental position that cannot be argued for or against. One who accepts the spiritual must have reasons for so doing. One who rejects it must have some approach to those aspects of experience that the spiritual is said to explain.
  4. Since Judeo-Christianity posits the existence of one physical-spiritual world, rather than a dualism, or a denial of one or the other, the Christian should be able to argue for the place of spiritual values and entities within the world.
  5. Hence, the more elements in Christianity that are contrary to, or absent from, our everyday view of the world, the more problems we have with Christianity as an integrated system.
  6. We now proceed to evaluate the areas of friction between the Christian world view and the consensual modern western secular world view.
  7. A number of criteria may be seen to be relevant for judging the goodness of fit of the Biblical model of the world with that developed from secular observation, theory & historical research. The strictures that may fairly be placed on the Bible are that it should display the following attributes :-
    • An historical perspective that is consistent with the records of secular history.
    • A cosmology that is consistent with reasonable observation.
    • A psychology that agrees with our experience.
    • An ontology that does not postulate impossible entities.
    • A cosmogony that is credible within the modern world view.
    • A teleology that is credible within the modern world view.
    • A morality that the common man would not find repugnant.
    • A world view that is recognisably the one in which we live.
  8. It will be seen from what follows that I do not think that the Bible stands up to all criticism in the above areas.

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Footnote 13.2

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.

  1. In what follows, I have pursued a (perhaps tedious & tendentious) analysis of the Biblical history, by epoch. Throughout, it must be remembered that the Bible has as much right to a hearing as any other ancient source, which are themselves to be expected to show bias and selectivity in the events they record.
  2. With regard to primaeval history, there is obviously a major discrepancy between the Bible (as literally interpreted) & modern theories of Palaeontology.
  3. The patriarchal stories are difficult to confirm from secular history, which is not surprising given the nomadic lifestyle of the patriarchs.
  4. The complete silence in Egyptian records with respect to the Exodus requires explanation.
  5. The history of Israel under the judges appears to contain legendary elements (eg. much of the Samson narratives), but the history of the struggles against the Philistines seems to be based on fact. The theological interpretation of events in the Book of Judges (ie. the association of ill-fortune with a "turning away from the Lord") may be seen either as a simple fact or as a naive system of rewards morality that elements of the later prophetic tradition sought to correct.
  6. Similar remarks apply to the history of Israel under the Kings. There may be some embellishments (eg. the greatness of Solomon's kingdom may be exaggerated, some of Elijah's and Elisha's escapades appear to be legendary, etc.) and there are notorious problems with datings, but the over-all tenor does not seen unreasonable. In the later history, there are some cross-connections with secular records: eg. Jehu's submission to the Assyrian Shalmaneser III.
  7. The history of the fall of Israel and Judah seems to fit well into the contemporary scene, though Daniel is contentious as an historical figure.
  8. The historical narratives of the New Testament, where they impinge on secular history, are generally precise and reliable, particularly in Luke/Acts (though there is some controversy about this: eg. the governorship of Quirinius and Augustus's census). However, there do appear to be legendary episodes here as well (as in the stories of the Magi, Herod Agrippa's death [though the romanticisation of the latter's demise is shared with Josephus] etc).
  9. So far, we have placed the emphasis on the relationship of the Biblical accounts of historical episodes to those recorded in secular history, rather than on whether the narrative material in the Bible that cannot be cross-checked can properly be called history.
  10. In summary, we note that, in general and despite some legendary material, the historical records of the Bible seem to be consistent with secular history. Discrepancies have been much exaggerated by those reacting against a strict fundamentalism.

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Footnote 13.3

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.

  1. It may be significant in this context that Hebrew & Greek use the same words (respectively) for "sky" and "heaven".
  2. Another pointer that may be relevant is the equipment of heavenly beings (eg. the Cherubim & Seraphim) with wings for flying.
  3. It would be a mistake to read all the ramifications of the pre-Copernican mediaeval or Ptolomaic cosmology into the Bible, but it seems unlikely that the Biblical cosmology is the same as that of modern science.
  4. One may suspect that a naive cosmology is behind the astronomical miracles of the Bible (eg. Joshua's "long day", Hezekiah's sundial, etc).
  5. It may be possible to adopt a principle of accommodation, so that the then current cosmological presuppositions are used, without their truth being assumed. This, of course, does not help elucidate the miraculous elements.
  6. The risk in this approach of demythologisation is that, if it is applied more widely, Christianity may degenerate into a moral code with nothing of cosmic significance to say. It is important to most Christians that heaven, if not hell, should exist. If it is not "up there" (or at least "out there") we are at a loss as to what to make of the concept, because there is no further assistance provided by the Bible or other normative Christian tradition.

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Footnote 13.4

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".

  1. The above sets Biblical psychology apart from all optimistic religions & philosophies that state that all is fundamentally right with man.
  2. Christianity attributes this universal weakness in man to the Fall of Adam, and treats the alleged consequence of the fall, death, as an evil.
  3. Biblical psychology attributes to human beings souls (and / or spirits, according to the interpretation). This leads to difficulties analogous to the mind / body problem. In fact, the difficulties are worse, for it is not normally suggested that the mind can exist independently of the brain, whereas this facility (of disembodied existence) is often claimed for souls and spirits.
  4. In the age of computers, it is possible to think of living creatures, including man, as complex machines. It may be difficult to imagine a machine being conscious, but this statement says nothing apart from describing the limits of our imagination.
  5. Animals are a test case for Christian psychology. They are evidently conscious (or act as though they are, and we usually act humanely towards them, as though they were). Orthodox Christianity has, however, always denied them souls or spirits, making animal into beings intermediate between men and machines.
  6. An apparent advantage of the Christian approach (or of the spiritual approach generally) is that it appears to supply a distinction between men and machines. People don't like the idea of being "merely" machines (however sophisticated) and the idea of having some vital element (a soul or spirit) that can never be wired or programmed into a machine may appear comforting.

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Footnote 13.5

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.

  1. Such, or analogous, entities seem to have formed part of what was expected in ancient societies. It is easy to suspect that, since the physical universe was not then very well understood, its approved contents was wider in certain directions than is now thought probable.
  2. The fact that we cannot disprove the existence of the above does not count in their favour. Since there is no conceivable experiment we can perform to verify or falsify the existence or otherwise of these entities, they are prime candidates for removal by Occam's razor.
  3. We have already discussed the possibility of the existence of heaven & hell. The somewhat extended discussion of non-divine spiritual beings is reserved for an Appendix.
  4. The treatment of the spiritual (including God and the heavenly host) as "wholly other" is an attempt at reconstruction. In this case, how could we obtain any information about it? The Biblical writers definitely seem to assume the possibility of interaction with this realm in physical terms.

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Footnote 13.6

The Biblical cosmogony (theory of origins) appears to be one of recent creation ex nihilo.

  1. This, at least, is the straightforward reading of the texts. Attempts to make them read otherwise seem to be motivated more by a desire for harmonisation than by the force of the texts themselves.
  2. Objections to this Biblical view appear on two fronts :-
    • Theories of the origin of matter.
    • Theories of the origin & evolution of life.

  3. The physical universe appears to be of immense size and, therefore - because of the finite (and constant) speed of light - of immense age.
  4. All biological evolutionary theories (whether Darwinian, neo-Darwinian or other) are repugnant to a straightforward reading of Genesis & related passages. The basic assumption of such passages is that all things, whether animate or otherwise, were created (whether ex nihilo or derivatively) by the action of a personal fabricator, namely God. There is no intimation that chance or the action of natural processes over long periods of time had a hand in this.
  5. Certain biological facts, however, require treating with much greater seriousness than they have historically been by fundamentalist Christians. For example, those anatomical facts that are difficult to reconcile with design.
  6. Evolutionary theory has been parodied by Christians, particularly with respect to probability and entropy.
  7. Attempts to counter the various theories of biological evolution by arguments from design (the cosmological argument) are unsuccessful. The force of the argument is due mainly to a lack of imagination and to current ignorance concerning the precise mechanism of evolution. The evolutionist's contention is that living things have only the appearance of design.
  8. The story of Adam & Eve, ignored by the Old Testament after Genesis, is integral to the New Testament. The Pauline doctrine of the Fall and of the consequent need for salvation is linked to it (in Romans 5, 1 Corinthians 15 & 1 Timothy 2).
  9. It must be noted that evolution pervades other areas of physical science on which the Bible is silent, eg. the evolution of the chemical elements within stars. I do not think that the Bible objects to evolution per se.

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Footnote 13.7

New Testament teleology does not seem to be credible within the modern world view.

  1. The New Testament seems to picture the fairly imminent destruction of the universe by fire (ie. the heavens "burning with fervent heat" or being "rolled up like a scroll", as in 2 Peter 3:10 - 12 & Revelation 6:14).
  2. Modern cosmology is unsure whether we live in an open or closed universe, ie. it is unclear whether the universe will carry on expanding for ever or whether it will eventually contract again.
  3. However, neither model leads to the Biblical expectation. The former leads to frozen extinction (heat death), while the latter leads to the "big crunch". Neither eventuality will occur for billions of years after the Sun has burnt itself out and all life become extinct.
  4. Certain other natural alternatives, such as the engulfing of the Earth by the Sun in a supernova or the expansion of the Sun into a red giant, would have the prophesied appearance from the Earth, but would only be local phenomena and would not obviously lead to "new heavens & a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells". They must therefore be rejected for these purposes.
  5. It has been objected that, since the Bible rejects the idea of a natural end to the universe, any naturalistic expectations are irrelevant. All I am noting here is the difference of expectation.
  6. The problem of the meaning of "eternity" is not new. However, it is not clear that the Bible contains the concept of eternity in the mediaeval sense. In Special & General Relativity, time is associated with space and matter, so presumably all three are absent in eternity.

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Footnote 13.8

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).

  1. The Old Testament records morally repellent acts of a number of groups and individuals without condoning them: usually, such acts are condemned. Sometimes, the Bible is ambiguous and we are unsure, whatever our own moral viewpoint, whether the Bible is treating a particular act as virtuous, vicious or neutral.
  2. Certain laws of Moses (eg. those relating to homosexuality or filial disobedience) seem to be primitive, though some of them may have been more appropriate in the context of their times than they appear today. Others seem to be superstitious (eg. the determination of adultery by forcing the suspect to imbibe poisonous draughts).
  3. New Testament ethics have (almost) always been praised for their exalted character.
  4. Whatever may be our judgement as to the morality of the Bible, it is the case that all moral theistic systems run up against seemingly insuperable moral problems when faced with the reality of the world, especially the reality of innocent suffering.

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Footnote 13.9

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.

  1. In this respect, the standard world view has so changed since New Testament times that, instead of miracles justifying a set of beliefs, miracles themselves now require justification within a system they formerly justified. They have become liabilities.
  2. As we saw in a previous section, the wickedness and folly of man (as the Bible itself witnesses) is such, and the negative evidence of common experience so great, that it is difficult to imagine testimony sufficient to establish any miracle beyond reasonable doubt.
  3. This apart, I think it is true to say that the world of the various Biblical stories, with the possible exception of that of the antedeluvians, is recognisably our own, at least as normally understood in the West. This is particularly true of the Acts & Epistles.

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Footnote 14

Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 deceptive1.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. As an example2 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.
  9. The above example illustrates a lack of distinctness3 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.
  10. 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.

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Footnote 14.1

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.

  1. The reasons for this state of affairs are twofold:
    • Firstly, such simplistic bases have very little explanatory power. Hence, such statements do not form the basis for much else.
    • Secondly, the written revelations tend to be complex, difficult to interpret systematically, and require considerable effort to reconcile them with the way things are. Hence, such simplistic statements are far from being simple to apply.
  2. An objection that might be raised to the above is that the simplicity or explanatory power of a GUT would be superficial and, as we have alleged of religious maxims, difficult to apply in practise. What is the difference?

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Footnote 14.2

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.

  1. The doctrine of direct creation says nothing about how the various living forms were created nor how our universe or our planetary system came into being.
  2. The doctrine of direct creation does not explain why the forms of animate & inanimate things are as they are (except in a purposive sense).
  3. Consequently, the doctrine of direct creation has no explanatory power. Since, under the model of direct creation, we do not know how these things individually came into being or why they show the characteristics they do, we cannot systematise these processes and draw out common principles. Similarly, we cannot explain any irregularities.
  4. Summarising the above, we see that the theory of direct creation is a dead end. It simply posits ad hoc reasons for why things are as they are and does not know how they got that way. It does not even answer any theological questions as to why things are as they are. In brief, it is ugly.
  5. Many Christians are impressed by the arguments against direct creation & accept evolution (whether theistic or otherwise) into their world views. Other Christians think that doing so would fatally damage the foundations of Christianity and so hold out against it, often under the guise that evolutionary theory is scientifically objectionable, when their real objections are theological.
  6. Either way, the above dilemma complicates the foundations of Christianity.
  7. Similar difficulties arise in many other areas, as we will see presently, which undermines the presuppositional simplicity of Christianity. This occurs because not only must the propositions of Christianity be held to be true, but the objections, whether scientific or otherwise, have to be supposed to be false.

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Footnote 14.3

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

  • Scientific investigation deals with first order questions such as "what" and "how".
  • Theology attempts to deal with second order questions such as "why". Philosophy may also consider such questions, but more often addresses itself to other second order questions, such as a criticism of concepts or methods.
  • Science has no interest in purpose, and evolutionary biology, when disentangled from metaphysical accretions, specifically denies that there is any purpose undergirding the evolutionary process.
  • Scientists with an interest in theology tend to suggest that they feel that the job has been left half done if the questions of purpose are not pursued.
  • However, questions of purpose cannot be used to choose between theories that aim to deal with the "what-" and "how-" type issues.
  • Second order (purposive) questions can only be asked once the first order questions (at least the "what-" type questions) have been answered.

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Footnote 15

There is no worthwhile subset of Christianity as traditionally understood that conforms to the modern worldview.

  1. That this is a problem1 is the message of this paper.
  2. The fundamentals that I consider to be essential parts of any reconstruction of Christianity were given in a previous section2. They are repeated below3, with comments.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Footnote 15.1

That this is a problem is the message of this paper.

  1. It is commonly held by Christians that the modern world view is arbitrarily atheistic & that the (then current) non-Biblical world view has been constantly changing throughout history. Therefore, it is alleged, since the Biblical world view is neither of these, there is no point trying to reconcile it with the current world view.
  2. In response to the above view, I have the following points to make:
    • It is not clear that the Bible has a single world view. As trivial examples, we have noted the differences between the Old Testament and the New: ie. that in the Old Testament, resurrection is not given much prominence, nor is Satan, and demons are not mentioned at all. All three concepts are given considerable space in the New Testament.
    • The Bible is likely to reflect the world view then current at the times and places at which its various books were written.
    • The secular world view is not a randomly fluctuating one, at least not since the Renaissance, and especially not since the rise of the scientific method in the seventeenth century. The modern world view may be considered, optimistically, as a steadily advancing one, or more realistically as a random walk heavily biased in the direction of increasing knowledge.
  3. To pre-empt later discussion somewhat, how should we respond to the lack of harmony between the Biblical world view(s) and the modern world view (s)? I suggest the following programme:
    • As a foundation principle the Bible should, on any particular issue, be interpreted exactly as its original authors intended, if this original intention can be recovered.
    • Secondly, a choice should be made between the two (or more) world views on a point-by-point basis.
    • Finally, one should not, or ought not, to force oneself to believe something simply because it is part of a package. If one doesn't believe something, one doesn't believe it, and that's that.
  4. The above scheme may seem to be open to criticism as being impractical. Is it really possible to hold our beliefs on a point-by-point basis ? In any systematic study, do not some counter-intuitive ideas have to be accepted because they are logical deductions from other beliefs?
  5. As an example, what about time dilation & length contraction in Special Relativity theory? Are these not counter-intuitive effects accepted because they follow logically from more fundamental notions of simultaneity and the constancy of the speed of light (in vacuo) in any inertial frame?
  6. The answer to the above two sets of questions is multifold:
    • Firstly, it is often the case that intuitions need educating. This is true of normal education & continues to be required as different areas of experience are encountered (eg. the extreme banking of a velodrome track may initially seem counter-intuitive).
    • Secondly, in general our offended intuitions are not left without recourse. Taking up the above example, we can demonstrate their fallibility by watching cyclists on the velodrome. Similarly, we can experiment with particles in an accelerator & monitor the changes in their half-lives.
    • In the physical sciences, where a discrepancy between theory and reality (experiment) exists, we realise that there is a problem with the theory. We may be forced to put up with the situation for a while for lack of a better theory, but we are
    • However, we do not often appear to have this freedom in theology. As I have stated before, we have to fall back on the inscrutibility of the divine ways.

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Footnote 15.2

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.

  1. The fundamentals:
    • The existence of a personal, good, loving and omnipotent God, interested in, but not confined by, the material universe.
    • The existence of ubiquitous corruption in the universe and man, resulting from a fall from initial righteousness, and of some form of universal need in man of salvation.
    • The existence of the man Jesus of Nazareth with a personality approximating to that with which he is portrayed in the Gospels.
    • The extraordinary status of Jesus as the unique Son of God.
    • The physical death & physical resurrection of Jesus.
    • The effectiveness of Jesus' death & resurrection in procuring salvation for the believer, and the efficacy of faith in Jesus to avail the believer of that salvation.
    • The continued and eternal existence of the believer, with a substantially preserved personality, in a state of happiness after death, commencing at or before some form of resurrection.
    • The ultimate restoration of man and the universe to a form analogous to that of the initial righteousness and blessedness enjoyed before the fall.
  2. The above is clearly not a complete account of the Biblical or of the various historical versions of Christianity. It excludes reference to Satan, Creation, the Second Coming, the Virgin Birth, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the Church, Special Revelation and, no doubt, much else of importance. My contention is that these doctrines, though important, may be, and in many cases have been, excised without destroying the very foundations of Christianity. I do not think that any of the items in the "official" list above can be done away with without this consequence.
  3. The predominance of salvation-historic items in the above list may betray my evangelical background. A more Catholic list might modify the item on Faith above and place greater emphasis on the constitution of the Godhead and the importance of the Church. A Charismatic emphasis would add the person and activity of the Holy Spirit to the list of essentials.
  4. When we come to consider fundamentalist Christianity we will need to examine items much less central than those above.

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Footnote 15.3

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.

  1. The existence of a personal, good, loving and omnipotent God, interested in, but not confined by, the material universe.
  2. The existence of ubiquitous corruption in the universe and man, resulting from a fall from initial righteousness, and of some form of universal need in man of salvation.
  3. The existence of the man Jesus of Nazareth with a personality approximating to that with which he is portrayed in the Gospels.
  4. The extraordinary status of Jesus as the unique Son of God.
  5. The physical death & physical resurrection of Jesus.
  6. The effectiveness of Jesus' death & resurrection in procuring salvation for the believer, and the efficacy of faith in Jesus to avail the believer of that salvation.
  7. The continued and eternal existence of the believer, with a substantially preserved personality, in a state of happiness after death, commencing at or before some form of resurrection.
  8. The ultimate restoration of man and the universe to a form analogous to that of the initial righteousness and blessedness enjoyed before the fall.

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Footnote 16

A worthwhile reconstruction of Christianity, in conformity with the modern worldview, has not been demonstrated to be possible.

  1. 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 costs1, eg. by warping its basic principles to make it fit into the modern world view.
  2. It may be possible to modify2 the interpretation of some or all of the perceived statements of a religion to make them congruent with the modern world view.
  3. The attempts hitherto to provide a reconstruction of Christianity based on liberal principles have not been successful and have emptied the churches.
  4. 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.
  5. The fact that fundamentalist Christianity is filling3 the churches is a symptom of despair.
  6. Some have tried to jettison the "supernatural elements" of Christianity while seeking to retain its moral4 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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Footnote 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.

  1. Such a system, especially if it has held the attention of a significant number of people for a long time, has no doubt got much to say, if only in a literary way as a quarry for figures of speech or as a place where the great moral or philosophical questions are illuminated, if not adequately answered.
  2. We must not be deceived into thinking, however, that treating a religious system in this way is the same as believing in it on its own terms.

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Footnote 16.2

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.

  1. However, modifying our interpretation in a forced manner only leads to self deception. We have to be clear what it is we are trying to achieve.
  2. If our hope is that certain statements of the religion have always been misinterpreted, our re-interpretation must be done in such a way that a case can reasonably be made that the initial message of the religious system has been seriously misunderstood in previous epochs due to misinterpretation under alien categories, and that the proposed reconstruction was the most reasonable from the beginning.
  3. If we think that the original intention of the religious statements was wrong or deficient, we must clearly say so, and make clear that our intention is to use these old (but inadequate) ideas as a springboard for our own new (and, hopefully, more accurate) ideas.
  4. Such attempts at deconstruction and reconstruction are to be treated with great suspicion.
  5. When evaluating a theological reconstruction, we must be careful to determine which of the two alternatives is proposed. We must be wary in case the two approaches have been confused or, as is more likely, in case the latter approach has been disguised as the former in order to make it appear more acceptable.

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Footnote 16.3

The fact that fundamentalist Christianity is filling the churches is a symptom of despair.

  1. In the developed world, the despair is caused by the barrenness of modern commercial culture.
  2. Outside the developed world, despair has been addressed by other forms of Christianity, whether traditional Catholic, "liberation theology Catholic" or Eastern Orthodox.
  3. In the communist world (as was), despair is caused by the similar barrenness of oppressive regimes without freedom of expression. The problems in much of the communist world are now scarcely distinguishable from those of much of the third world.
  4. In the developing world, despair is caused by poverty, repression & corruption.
  5. In all three cases of despair, a quick solution to all too apparent ills is craved, namely, purity, certainty & hope in exchange for the dirt, doubt & despair of life.
  6. The above comments apply pro rata to other fundamentalist religions such as Islam.

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Footnote 16.4

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.

  1. Western society is still suffering from the effects of the transition from a formerly received morality based on Christian theism to one that is seen to be more securely grounded in the currently received philosophy of secular humanism.
  2. Any system of morality must place constraints on those who submit to it. Therefore, if frequent rebellion is to be avoided, it is essential that those who are expected to be subject to any system of morality understand the foundations on which it rests.
  3. It is not clear that such a justification of a secular morality has yet been performed, or is even possible. This subject is further touched on in this paper, in an Appendix.

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Footnote 17

Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith.

  1. Faith is a critical item in the evaluation of a reasoned response to the postulates of Christianity.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Faith should not be a blind leap1 in the dark. In particular, though it may go beyond the evidence, it should not go against it.
  5. Another way of looking at faith is to invoke the probabilities2 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).
  6. 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".
  7. A convincing reason3 needs to be sought for why Christian belief has to be built on faith (contrasted with sight rather than with deeds).
  8. 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 irrationality4, ignores the probabilities.
  9. I have sought to demonstrate that the objections facing traditional Christianity are many and cogent. Hence, its probability as a world view is very low5 and the amount of faith required to sustain it is very high.
  10. The New Testament speaks of faith as a gift of God, the work of the Holy Spirit6, 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 ?

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Footnote 17.1

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.

  1. Hence, faith itself must be a response to experience interpreted by reason, even though it goes beyond what can strictly be demonstrated to be reasonable.
  2. In the New Testament, faith is contrasted with sight, not with reason.
  3. To quote John 20:39, those who have not seen, but yet have believed, are the more blessed. However, they have believed on testimony that is (allegedly) reliable. This is consistent with what we have found, ie. that our beliefs (and therefore our faith) should be based on experience, whether our own or others'.

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Footnote 17.2

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).

  1. Faith would then equate to that added conviction or enthusiasm with which a belief is held over and above that which is strictly warranted by the evidence, ie. if p < 0.5, "faith in p" = 0.5 - p. If p > 0.5, "faith in not-p" = p - 0.5.
  2. Alternatively, "faith" is the term applied to the practical adoption of unreasonable beliefs (defined as those beliefs with p < 0.5).
  3. However, is not faith required to hold any belief, even if its probability p > 0.5? For instance, the probability of survival or the first round of Russian roulette is 5/6 for the first player, but most of us would need faith to undergo the ordeal even though we are more likely to survive than not.
  4. It is to be noted that since all substantial world views will have p < 0.5, they will all be classified as unreasonable beliefs and can therefore only be maintained by faith.

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Footnote 17.3

A convincing reason needs to be sought for why Christian belief has to be built on faith (contrasted with sight rather than with deeds).

  1. It appears fortuitous for faith to come to the rescue of doubtful doctrines.
  2. It is also impossible, on the basis of faith alone, to decide between two sets of beliefs, eg. between two conflicting religions or ideologies.

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Footnote 17.4

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.

  1. It is not possible to live an integrated life without a world view and impossible to find one that is reasonable in the above sense of "reasonable belief". Hence, faith is inevitable if we are to live an integrated life.
  2. However, some world views are less probable than others and the more they go beyond what can with reasonable probability be demonstrated, the less probable they become, and the less reason we have for basing our lives on them.
  3. In particular, each time a genuine objection is found to a belief, while this objection may not have strict logical force and so be fatal to the belief (ie. reducing its probability towards zero) it is still damaging to the belief and greatly reduces its probability and that of the enclosing worldview that is dependent on that belief.

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Footnote 17.5

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.

  1. I assert that much of the faith required of a modern believer is entirely incremental to that expected of those to whom the Christian message was first delivered. To the original hearers, Christianity would have appeared much more reasonable.
  2. We must not forget the aspect of initial unfamiliarity, however. The Cross may have been a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but its edge has been blunted by nearly 2,000 years of cultural familiarity.
  3. Also, this is not to suggest that the exercise of faith today displays greater virtue than that of the early saints, for a number of reasons:-
    • Firstly, belief contrary to evidence is not virtuous.
    • Secondly, belief is no longer associated with persecution (at least not in the comfortable West).
    • Finally, many of the original objections to the Christian faith and its practise are no longer felt : for instance, we are no longer perplexed by someone's refusal to sacrifice to the genius of the Emperor (as was Pliny), rather the reverse.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 17.6

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?

  1. This idea is a return to the notion of the evidential value of numinous experience, which we dismissed when we considered the most reasonable foundation for Christian belief. The New Testament passages that appear to support this view are such as Romans 8:16 "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God".
  2. As before, the objection to this form of faith is its insubstantiality. Convictions of this sort have been known to galvanise people to perpetrate unspeakable acts (eg. suicide bombings).
  3. To say that in such cases the faith was induced by a demon rather than by God gets us nowhere: how do we know how such beliefs arise?
  4. At a less extreme level, we have all known convictions and insights that turned out to be mistaken or foolish when the adrenaline had dispersed.

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Footnote 18

It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. It is, however, important to note that the world is supremely capable of producing stable complexity1 which includes, on Earth, the development of multiform varieties of life.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 Appendix2.
  7. Christian attempts (eg. by Francis Schaeffer) to explain human personhood3,4 by reference to the Divine Persons (and their supposed relationships within the Trinity) are fallacious on several counts.
  8. 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 meaningless5 life.

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Footnote 18.1

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.

  1. This fact requires an explanation, but possibilities other than those of theistic design or divine purpose exist.
  2. One such explanation is the Weak Anthropic Principle (WAp).
  3. Attempts to strengthen the Anthropic Principle (to the "Strong" or "Final" forms - ie. by suggesting that the universe had to have the properties necessary to allow life to develop) are only dogmatic assertions & the Final Anthropic Principle is almost certainly false.
  4. The postulation of a series of universes, most of which were (or are) sterile and therefore free from observers falls victim to Occam's Razor, since nothing can be known about these past or parallel universes.

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Footnote 18.2 Repeated. See Footnote 24: (Non-theistic Ethics)


Footnote 18.3

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.

  1. Firstly, Trinitarian doctrines are not well developed in the Bible, which, on the assumptions of this paper, is our sole reliable guide on Christian doctrine.
  2. Secondly, we have the application to this issue of the Apophatic tradition in theology. The Apophatic tradition states that it is easier to state what God is not than what he is. All attempts to define him, whether Scriptural or not, are based on analogies that ultimately fall short of their object. Consequently, personality is attributed to God by reference to human personality.
  3. Hence, we may not (without circularity) deduce, establish or explain human personality by reference to personality within the Godhead.
  4. Admittedly, the eternal relationship between the Divine Persons (at least between the Father & the Son) is given a measure of space in John's Gospel. However, this proceeds by analogy with human relationships.
  5. Finally, there is the general elementary point that we should argue from the more to the less familiar. We are more familiar with human persons than divine ones. Therefore, human personality "explains" (or illustrates) divine personality, not vice versa.

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Footnote 18.4: (Person)

I must first consider whether the debate on personal identity has been hijacked by a term (whose meaning has changed over time) that can now be dispensed with? Wiggins claims that the Greeks had no term for “person” (I need to re-read the paper by "Trendelenberg (Adolf) - A Contribution to the History of the Word Person" to double-check this). Have we always secretly been talking about human animal identity (probably referring to human beings rather than human animals) when we thought we were talking about something separate, namely persons?

I need to start with some conceptual analysis, though this may lead to somewhat arbitrary (ie. merely semantic or culture-relative) conclusions if PERSON isn’t a natural kind concept. I accept Locke’s conceptual distinction between Human Beings (“Men”), Persons and Substances. I accept Locke’s assertion that the rational parrot would be a person, but not a man – the latter essentially involving particular physical characteristics, the former specific mental characteristics.

Can any purely mentalistic definition of the concept PERSON, such as Locke’s definition of a person as …

  • “a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places” ("Locke (John) - Of Identity and Diversity" - Essay II.27.2),
… be correct? I suspect not, because of the corporeal aspects we take as being essential to our self-image. But, when we think of ourselves in this corporeal way, is this qua ANIMAL or qua PERSON. But then, this “qua-ing” can lead to relative identity, and shows how difficult it is for me, at least, to maintain the strict logic of identity in these discussions. Some further, fairly random, thoughts:-
  • We must not ignore potential differences between the Person, the Self and the Individual.
  • I doubt the truth of the contention that one’s Self is the sum of one’s projects, one’s individual “identity”.
  • We must also note the potential for degrees of personhood.
  • Are persons essentially sentient? Or rational? And is rationality, like the mental generally, overstated by philosophers whose favourite habitat it is?
  • What about temporal gaps in sentience & rationality in the life of an individual – does the person pop in and out of existence?
  • What about legal persons: not companies, but the comatose, who still have estates (but then so do the deceased)?
  • How important is “person”, as against “sentient being” in my research concerns? The Cartesians denied sentience to animals and until recently there has been a down-playing of the capacities of animals, particularly their emotional capacities. Consequently, the persistence criteria for sentient non-humans may not have been given the focus they ought. I suspect that many of the thought experiments work just as well if we drop some of the more onerous requirements of personhood in such contexts. Some of the thought experiments play on the thought of “being tortured tomorrow”. While animals may not have the concept TOMORROW, I presume the higher animals have some capacity for anticipating future ills about to befall them. I wonder whether my research concerns should be about all beings that care about the future, whether or not they have a clear concept of it as their future.
I will probably start with Dennett’s six criteria of personhood (see "Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood") …
  • rationality,
  • intentionality – “predicated of”
  • intentionality – “adopted towards”
  • reciprocation of the personal stance,
  • verbal communication and
  • consciousness
… in investigating what persons are. See the following essay.

Note last updated: 16/06/2010 08:57:07


Footnote 18.5

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.

  1. The idea that the only alternative to a life undergirded by a divine purpose is a stoic "making do" with a bad, meaningless lot is overly pessimistic.
  2. Life is rarely one of unremitting despond, and most people treat it as a boon (as is demonstrated by their eagerness to prolong it). Those who enjoy a measure of freedom in life would do best to use it to maximum advantage while it is available rather than bemoan the fact that their life must one day come to an end.
  3. Sadly, it does appear to be the case that many human beings do spend a good proportion of their lives in misery (though much of this misery may be exaggerated by an over-zealous empathy based on our own imagined feelings were we, psychologically unprepared & with our own expectations of life, to be suddenly transported to such an unhappy position).
  4. That this situation is an evil is obvious, but it is not resolved by any religious system (and, in fact, may be made more comfortable for affluent consciences to bear by the pious thought that the inscrutable divine ways will make all things turn out right in the end). Rather, it constitutes a classic problem for moral theism and for theodicy.

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Footnote 19

Pascal's Wager is not to be accepted.

  1. 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").
  2. 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.
  3. This argument is fallacious1 for several reasons.
  4. 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.

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Footnote 19.1

This argument is fallacious for several reasons

  1. It does not work in the very case for which Pascal is arguing - ie. there is no evidence in the Bible or from Christian tradition to suggest that God would award eternal life to anyone whose faith was of this "insurance policy" type.
  2. It is not possible to "turn on" belief at will. The most that can be done is to make a pretence, which would not deceive an omniscient God.
  3. The argument is the ultimate abuse of the laws of probability, which are aimed at events that occur, or may be induced to occur, many times.
  4. Admittedly, we have on occasion used probabilities in this irregular sense ourselves, but we have not multiplied these numbers by infinities.
  5. As is well known, the product of two variables, one of which tends asymptotically to infinity while the other tends to zero, may be zero, infinity or any value in between depending on the relationship between the variables. Consequently, we have no assurance that the "expected reward" of our pseudo-faith is non-zero.
  6. Because it is difficult to justify assigning a zero probability to any non self-contradictory statement, Pascal's wager could be applied equally validly to any belief with potentially infinite rewards. If the argument is correct, we would be as rational to become Muslims as Christians. Indeed, we would be more rational to become Muslims, since we would be more likely to reap our reward, if there is one, under the terms of Islam than under those of Christianity.

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Footnote 20

It is better to remain silent than to make a pretence at knowledge.

  1. While it is necessary (or interesting, or useful) to ask questions of the world, it is not always possible to find answers.
  2. The above statement is a commonplace in the physical sciences and should be anticipated in other areas of enquiry.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Hence, all natural theology should be treated with extreme suspicion.
  6. 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.
  7. "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence" (Wittgenstein, Tractatus 7).

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Footnote 21: (Acts 28 Dispensationalism)

A. An outline of Acts 28 dispensationalism is as follows:-

  1. God's promises are without repentance (change of mind) on his part.
  2. God made certain eternal promises to Abraham involving land and posterity, and these promises were extended (via Isaac & Jacob) to the Jews ("Israel").
  3. The enjoyment of certain of these promises in individual generations (notably those promises related to the land) was dependent upon faithfulness.
  4. However, these promises may be recovered across generations by national repentance and are, in the longer term, inviolate.
  5. The promises belong to the physical descendants of those to whom they were originally made.
  6. 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).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
B. The main factors motivating the construction of dispensationalism are:-
  1. A desire to maintain the integrity and unity of the Scriptures in the face of its diversity and apparent contradictions.
  2. A desire to take Scripture at face value.
  3. A desire to maintain the faithfulness of God.
C. My main objections to dispensationalism are as follows:-
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Footnote 22: (Biblical Numerics & Chiasmus)

  1. With respect to Biblical Numerics1, the number of numerical relationships in certain key texts seems only to be limited by the ingenuity of those who look for them.
  2. Similarly, with respect to chiasmus2 and other literary structures, more zeal than knowledge is displayed.
  3. 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.
  4. A frequent fundamentalist assumption is that numerical relationships & textual structures have been built into the Biblical texts by divine inspiration, without the authors being aware3 of them.

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Footnote 22.1

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.

  1. Given the licence involved in choosing the length of the text for analysis, the liberal supply of "interesting" numbers, the number of rules allowed and the arbitrary nature of the final conclusion to the study, it is probable that any text (Biblical or otherwise) can be made to yield some esoteric secrets.
  2. The claim that other classic texts do not do so is possibly due to lack of zeal on the behalf of the investigators.

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Footnote 22.2

Similarly, with respect to chiasmus and other literary structures, more zeal than knowledge is displayed.

  1. Evidently, structure, rather than rhyme, is the key to Hebrew poetry. As such, those who thought in Hebrew or Aramaic may have had a feel for literary structure that affected the way they wrote their letters and other literary productions.
  2. The practical use of structures in Biblical exegesis appears to be as arbitrary as that of numerics. Often, the supposedly matching members of a structure are of such dubious connection & of such disparate size that, if genuinely present at all, are more evidences against inerrancy than for it.
  3. In fact, neither numerics nor structures have much to do with inerrancy. They are more relevant to what might be termed literary perfection. There is no necessary connection between literary perfection & inerrancy, but, in any case, the evidence is against the literary perfection of the Bible.
  4. The fact that conflicting structures tend to be developed from the same passage by different exegetes demonstrates that the structure is more likely the creation of the exegete than of the original author.

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Footnote 22.3

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.

  1. Sometimes, however, as in acrostics, an artificial scheme was clearly adopted, maybe for ease of memorisation.
  2. On the rare occasions where numbers are given explicit significance in the Bible, as in Revelation 13:18 ("666") and possibly such passages as John 21:11 (153 fish), no light is shed and the interpretations are as many as the expositors.
  3. The whole notion of a secret numerical infrastructure to the Bible is Kabbalistic / Gnostic in tenor and is repugnant to the plain moral sense of Scripture.
  4. The clear instances of structure may be the unconscious but humanly explicable application of good style.
  5. The majority of supposed instances of divinely implanted numerics or structure in the Bible may be attributed to pure chance or pure fiction.
  6. It is also important to remember those counter-examples of poor style, grammar & structure that abound. For instance, the Apostle Paul's inability to resist a good diversion has had the effect of making his writings very difficult to understand.

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Footnote 23

Spiritual Beings in Judeo-Christian Tradition

  1. Angels1 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.
  2. The evil counterparts2 of angels seem to have appeared on the scene much later, however, and developed into a dualism under the gnostics.

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Footnote 23.1

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.

  1. As theology developed, and with it an increasing feeling for the divine transcendence, the need for mediators between God and man seems to have been felt, and was taken to extremes in post-Biblical times. Their real existence is therefore additionally open to doubt beyond the common objection of lack of direct observation.
  2. Since angels ultimately bore the characteristics of spiritual courtiers, this aspect may not have been thought of until the monarchy (ie. under David & his descendants).
  3. Theophanies had been reported to have occurred during the times of the patriarchs and judges (eg. to Abraham, Lot, Moses, Manoah etc).
  4. There are plentiful accounts of angels in the Pentateuch, though in the guise of messengers of God, which appears to have been their original function (as is evidenced by etymology of the word for "angel" in both Hebrew [malak] and Greek [angellos], both of which mean "sent one"). The term "angel" may, of course, have been edited into earlier texts, though there is no way of proving this.
  5. Much more could be said on this subject, including an analysis of the other forms of heavenly being (eg. the cherubim, which appear to have been depicted in the Tabernacle, the seraphim etc).
  6. The fact that angeology caught the imagination of later Gnostics and Kabbalists should not infect this analysis, however.

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Footnote 23.2

The evil counterparts of angels seem to have appeared on the scene much later, however, and developed into a dualism under the gnostics.

  1. Even the idea of Satan makes little impact on the Old Testament. When he does appear, as in Job, his character is not straightforwardly evil and antagonistic to God.
  2. The identification of the Serpent of Genesis with the Devil is not made plain until the New Testament book of Revelation.
  3. The only references to Demons in the Old Testament may be those, in Genesis 6, to the "sons of God" and their activities with the daughters of men.
  4. The similarities between such stories and the Greek legends of gods, Titans and heroes are to be noted, but there is no automatic deduction that there is some underlying reality. A shared mythology is more likely.
  5. Demons and Satan clearly play a much larger role in the New Testament, as do the notions of demon possession and exorcism.
  6. It is probable that these ideas are non-Hebraic, having been absorbed from the surrounding cultures with a greater love of symmetry (dualism).
  7. The identification of demon possession with mental illness makes the existence of demons very dubious.

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Footnote 24: (Non-theistic Ethics)

  1. 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 sanction1.
  2. The fundamental problem with non-theistic ethics is that we risk coming down to premises that are nothing but matters of opinion2 (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.
  3. As with any system that claims to provide knowledge, we can examine an ethical system both for internal consistency and for conformity3 to the world.
  4. 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 morality4, respectively, for these two aspects.
  5. The aim of ethics is to determine the rules5 of conduct which have the highest probability of achieving those ends towards which we think our society (or the individuals within it) should aim.
  6. A fundamental question in building any theory of ethics is: should ethics be individual or collective6? Because, as a contingent fact, we live in societies, I suggest that ethical principles have to be treated as collective.
  7. A principle that will assist us in defining ethical strategies is that of reflexivity7. That is, that we should not (in general) do to others what we would not have them do to us.
  8. In any ethical system, we need to provide a procedure whereby we can categorise8 an action as right or wrong.
  9. Since we have defined right action to be parasitic on our conception of the good, what is it that constitutes the good9?
  10. By defining the good in the way we have, we have adopted an essentially consequentialist10 (utilitarian) view.
  11. The stance I am adopting here is that of a liberal ironist11. This term, (but not necessarily the meaning I apply to it) is due to Richard Rorty.

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Footnote 24.1

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.

  1. As such, it is to be expected that such a system of ethics might therefore be universally acceptable to reasonable people.
  2. This Appendix also points out some of the problems in the way of coming to a consensus on such an issue, and leaves unresolved many of the detailed working out of the issues. It is an exploratory paper only, an outline sketch of some of the issues involved in setting up a system of ethics that doesn't depend on divine authentication.

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Footnote 24.2

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.

  1. However, this risk does not set ethics apart from other areas of potential knowledge. It also applies to our choice of final vocabulary in other areas of enquiry, as has been noted in the body of this paper.
  2. With this in mind, we prepare ourselves to address the possibility that ethics is simply a matter of choice : that of a society deciding how it wishes to live, what its goals are to be and what it is to value.
  3. While this is not fatal to an ethical system, in that it simply makes it pretend to relative rather than absolute truth, it is fatal to the program we have set ourselves - that of finding a system of ethics that is universally acceptable - unless we can expand the scope of society to include the whole of the Earth's population.
  4. Since ethics is not a solitary matter, this Appendix relates it to the individual in the context of a society.
  5. Because any society is part of the world, and is constrained by the world, we can expect certain ethical principles also to be constrained by the world. Hence, we may hope that conformity to the world may add an element of absolute truth to an appropriate ethical theory.

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Footnote 24.3

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.

  1. That is, are there any test cases that show the ethical system to be self-contradictory (internally incoherent)?
  2. Alternatively, are there any indications that the theory is inconsistent with the rest of our beliefs about the world or with our knowledge of the world (externally incoherent)? Such external incoherence includes impracticality.

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Footnote 24.4

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.

  1. I will use the term ethics with reference to the principles that underlie right action, irrespective of any praise or blame that might accrue to any individual action or agent.
  2. This is not to suggest that "virtue is its own reward". For instance, a priori, the principles of right action might well turn out to be hedonistic, at least in part. However, I am suggesting that ethical theory is primarily prospective : it looks forward to the results of actions.
  3. I will reserve the term morality for the concern with awarding praise or blame to individual actions or agents consequent on successful or unsuccessful attempts to implement ethical or unethical actions. Hence, I am suggesting that morality is essentially retrospective, as in the case of moral judgements of past actions.

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Footnote 24.5

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.

  1. Therefore, ethics has no interest in the retrospective justification or condemnation of a person's actions (as in a court of law) or even of his motives. Evaluating a person's moral worth is simply not the issue.
  2. I include an element of probability in the definition of the goal of ethics because the consequences of any course of action are seldom totally predictable.
  3. Because we have chosen to define ethics as a system of rules or principles by which to achieve ends, we need to examine the criticism that we are adopting a policy of "the ends justify the means".

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Footnote 24.6

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.

  1. Let us assume that an individual acts so as to achieve his own ends wholly at the expense of the ends of others (or, at least, ignoring the aims of others). In this case, he can only expect others to act likewise. This will lead to many of his aims being thwarted and a lot of energy being wasted on conflict. Consequently, he will have a greater chance of increasing the percentage of fulfilled aims if a principle of co-operation is adopted rather than one of confrontation.
  2. While a strategy may be wholly competitive or partly or wholly co-operative, the fact that the strategies of others are involved implies that an ethical theory that aims to achieve its ends cannot ignore the aims of others. I will argue that aiming at a measure of co-operation is the most efficient strategy.

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Footnote 24.7

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.

  1. I believe this statement to be true because (as a contingent fact) we share a large number of needs and goals with other people.
  2. This is the negative version of the Golden Rule ("do to others as you would have them do to you"). My objections to the general application of the Golden Rule are two-fold.
  3. A neglect of the Golden Rule, but general acceptance of its negative counterpart, may be seen as enlightened self-interest. The Golden Rule aims at equality in society and actively aims at "doing good". On the other hand, the negative version only seeks to avoid oppression. Consequently, while it may avoid the ruthless exploitation of one's abilities at the expense of others, it does not command the expenditure of one's talents in their favour.
  4. It is to be noted, nonetheless, that a judicious application of the Golden Rule is not proscribed by the system of ethics I am proposing. It is optional and to be encouraged, but not normative.

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Footnote 24.8

In any ethical system, we need to provide a procedure whereby we can categorise an action as right or wrong.

  1. I take it that an action is right if it is likely to increase the weighted sum of good available to those (including myself, the agent) likely to be affected by it. We can thereby define the set of right actions (in any context) if we can define what we count as being good.
  2. The term wrong is not equivalent to "not right". An action cannot be categorised as wrong simply because it cannot be categorised as right. A large proportion of our actions are simply functional, with no ethical dimension.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 24.9

Since we have defined right action to be parasitic on our conception of the good, what is it that constitutes the good?

  1. In the introduction to this Appendix, I implied that ethical systems contain elements both of relative and of absolute truth. The good things that are prized by a society split into those that are that society's free choice (and are not further justifiable by appeals to the world) and those good things that are justifiable by appeals to the world.
  2. The good things that are justifiable by appeals to the world (for which justification will presently be given) are such as:
    • Physical life and health, including those things (in due proportion) that make life and health possible (such as food, clothing, shelter).
    • Freedom of the individual to pursue his own projects. This infrastructural good is a prerequisite for all else and is to be taken to include freedom from molestation by others.
  3. Examples of goods that are not justifiable by appeals to the world are such as:
    • A society's form of government (given that it provides those goods identified in the previous section).
    • A society's cultural identity.
  4. How can we justify this distinction between natural and arbitrary (cultural) goods? The naming convention just given is one such way. The first set of goods may be seen to be justified by "nature" in the sense that, for instance, the basic necessities of life are the natural prerequisites of any human life.
  5. However, are we justified in placing freedom of action & freedom from molestation in this category (as we have done)? The arguments for & against may be broken down as follows.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 24.10

By defining the good in the way we have, we have adopted an essentially consequentialist (utilitarian) view.

  1. The strict consequentialist view defines an action or strategy as right if it has the highest probability of maximising the good. That is, if the action is expected to lead to the greatest sum of good for those capable of being influenced by it (including the agent himself).
  2. In order to perform calculations to decide right action within the consequentialist view, the good (otherwise known as utility) must be summable over individuals. This immediately leads to problems.
  3. If utility is equated with the value or quantity of some good (such as money) that is directly summable over individuals without qualification, then goods of utility X could be divided between (say) two individuals in any manner we wish with equal rightness of action. For example, we could either divide the money equally or apportion all of it to one and none to the other. In either case, the sum of utility is X, making the two options ethically indistinguishable.
  4. Similarly, no distinction could be made between selfishness and altruism. It might be ethically immaterial whether I expend my energies on providing quantity X of good for myself or for another. However, either extreme is likely to be unacceptable. The former extreme violates our principle of reflexivity, the latter additionally brings us to a situation that is only sufferable within a theistic world view with a future rewards structure.
  5. Therefore, scaling factors are required to ensure that no individual is left out.
  6. It is always to be noted that we do not want to constrain our individual into always making full use of resource R. He has R at his disposal, and an option open to him is to do nothing with it if the utilitarian calculations allow.
  7. This theory avoids the situation of selfish "haves" exploiting the "have nots" in two ways:
    • Application of the principle of reciprocity by the "haves", though this is not explicit in the calculations.
    • Revolutionary pressure. That is, the disadvantaged in society will be forced to act so as to increase the weighted utility of the good by taking from the "haves", who will thereby be constrained to make concessions.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46


Footnote 24.11

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.

  1. I use the term liberal to mean the view that as much freedom as possible should be given to people to act as they like and to believe what they like provided that they do not transgress too much on the freedom of others by so doing.
  2. While agreeing with Rorty (and Shklar) that "cruelty is the worst thing we do", I do not use this notion to define the liberal attitude, if only because cruelty (in the sense of hurting another) is a risk we undertake if we seek to interact with others meaningfully and deeply. A society that avoided cruelty at all costs would be too insipid.
  3. I borrow Rorty's term ironist, but use it to mean one who realises that all things are contingent (ie. could have been otherwise), who does not take himself too seriously and whose realisation that all knowledge is no more than probable allows him to leave space for the views and actions of others.
  4. However, I do not agree that our culture as a whole (and especially our scientific knowledge) is a chance development which could have been arbitrarily otherwise. There are obvious contingencies everywhere, but the fact (as I take it) that culture and science are responses to the world, which is given (even if we and it could, in a different world, have been otherwise), places constraints on the development of science and culture, including ethics.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46



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Timestamp: 01/11/2017 16:33:26. Comments to theo@theotodman.com.