CHRISTIAN TRACTATUS - SECTION 6

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

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.

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

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.

6.2.1 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.

6.2.1.1 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.

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.

6.3.1 Hence, Christianity is worthy of greater attention than are those systems of limited consequence, on account of the seriousness of its propositions.

6.3.1.1 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.

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.

6.4.1 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.

6.4.1.1 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.

6.4.1.2 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.

6.4.2 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.

6.4.2.1 In practise, the above examination is a continuous process because one's knowledge of the world is continually growing.

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.

6.5.1 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.

6.5.2 This raises the issue of the distinction between knowledge and understanding.

6.5.2.1 This distinction may be illustrated by the example of games, such as chess, with rules that are applied recursively. The game is not understood simply by learning the rules. A child may quickly learn the rules. This corresponds to knowledge. However, playing the game intelligently may occupy (some would say "waste") the lifetimes of supremely able adults. This corresponds to understanding.

6.5.3 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.

6.5.3.1 Also, since we may not know what all the theorems generated by the model are, we may never know whether the model truly mirrors the world.

6.5.3.2 Similarly, when subscribing to some systematic explanation of the world, some world view, we do not know, and may never know, whether it is an accurate model of the world.

6.5.3.3 It is easier to demonstrate the deficiencies of a model than to prove that it has none. The latter may be impossible.

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

6.6.1 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.

6.6.2 These irrational or irrelevant reasons include :-

a). Cultural bias due to accident of birth

b). Desire for political or social advantage

c). Fear of a moral vacuum

d). Fear of death

e). Desire for immortality

f). Desire for a meaning to life beyond the material

g). Desire for a direction in life

h). Impatient desire for answers to life's mysteries

6.6.3 The fact that people may hold religious beliefs for illogical reasons is, in itself, no argument against the substance of these beliefs.

6.6.4 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.

6.6.5 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.

6.6.5.1 This is particularly so where there is believed to be a consensus of experts in favour of a particular view (eg. the theory of evolution) which may therefore be accepted quite uncritically by the majority.

6.6.5.2 In times when religious views represented the common outlook, the majority would have accepted these views as most modern persons do the materialistic / scientific world view.

6.6.5.3 This dereliction of duty is inescapable because of the pressure to live one's life and the general necessity to assume that the burden of proof has been correctly apportioned to the experts.

6.6.6 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.

6.6.6.1 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.

6.7 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.

6.8 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.

6.9 Coming to understand the world as it is is one of the chief joys and privileges of life. This privilege is easily cast away.

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

6.10.1 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.

6.10.2 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.

6.10.3 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.

6.10.4 The experience of totalitarian regimes in the 20th and earlier centuries well illustrates the misery generated by the collective belief of falsehoods.



© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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