CHRISTIAN TRACTATUS - SECTION 1

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1. The world is open to investigation.

1.1 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.

1.2 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.

1.2.1 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.

1.2.2 Note also that in this treatise, "the world" does not have any connotations of "the (evil) world system" as in Christian Theology.

1.2.3 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.

1.2.4 "The world is all that is the case" (Wittgenstein).

1.2.4.1 It must be noted that (like Wittgenstein) I refer the term "world" to facts rather than simply to things. Hence, "the world" refers not only to existent entities but also to relations between existent entities.

1.3 Idealism and solipsism are to be rejected.

1.3.1 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.

1.3.2 Solipsism is an extreme form of immaterialism which states that only I exist, since all I perceive are my own thoughts or perceptions.

1.3.3 I reject these views, not because they are refutable, but because they are irrefutable. They explain everything & nothing.

1.4 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.

1.4.1 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.

1.4.1.1 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.

1.5 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.

1.5.1 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.

1.5.2 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.

1.5.3 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.

1.6 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.

1.6.1 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.

1.7 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.

1.7.1 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.

1.8 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.

1.8.1 Hence, the openness of the world implies that any explanation of the appearance of things that relies on divine or other deception is false.

1.8.1.1 Hence, for example, the assertion that God or any impersonal process created the universe with the appearance of age is false. If the universe appears to be very old, it is because it is very old.

1.8.1.2 Taking this example further, let us assume for the sake of argument that the universe was created ex nihilo instantaneously some time ago. Then, at the time of its creation, it would not, according to my principle, have borne the appearance of age; for that would have been deceptive. Consequently, the universe could not have been created in a developed state, nor could it quickly have attained to such a state.

1.8.1.3 Hence, according to the principle of openness, any assumption of the type of omfalos (the notion that [on the assumption that the Biblical record in Genesis Chapter 1 is history] Adam would have been created with a navel, trees with rings etc., and therefore would have had the appearance of having had a natural origin even though directly created) is fallacious.

1.8.2 Similarly, appeals to unrecorded miracles to explain geological or other phenomena are to be rejected.

1.8.2.1 Appeals to recorded miracles, such as the one alluded to in the above example, are to be evaluated as described elsewhere in this paper.

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

1.9.1 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.

1.9.1.1 The Thomist distinction between general & special revelation is valid (given a belief in revelation at all).

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

a). The world is open to investigation.

b). The world is as it appears to be.

c). There is nothing intrinsic to the way the world is constituted so as to discourage the pursuit of knowledge.

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

a). Because measurements disturb a system, certain pairs of quantities may not be knowable simultaneously at the quantum level.

b). It is impossible for our knowledge of the world to be exhaustive.

c). Theories based on insufficient information are frequently false.



© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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