CHRISTIAN TRACTATUS - SECTION 14

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14. Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity.

14.1 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.

14.1.1 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.

14.2 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.

14.2.1 The reasons for this state of affairs are twofold :-

a). Firstly, such simplistic bases have very little explanatory power. Hence, such statements do not form the basis for much else.

b). 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.

14.2.2 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 ?

14.2.2.1 Admittedly, it is simplistic to suppose that any unified "super-force" would (to quote a popular book on superstrings) be a "theory of everything". Even if a thoroughgoing reduction can be carried out, so that everything is ultimately explicable in terms of the GUT, this does not imply that quantitative predictions of macroscopic phenomena based on lowest order phenomena will (or could) ever be practical.

14.2.2.2 The above is true even if we insist that "emergent properties" are indeed explicable (or even predictable) in terms of those of the next lower order. It would still be true that each order of phenomena is best explained in terms of its own or the immediately prior order rather than by going right back to basics.

14.2.2.3 However, the explanatory power of reductionism is real and quantitative, even if the calculations are difficult to perform. It is powerful in principle, even if there are practical difficulties. However, the application of a religious maxim is not quantitative, leads to no predictions and cannot be falsified. It is not in the same category.

14.3 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.

14.3.1 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.

14.4 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.

14.4.1 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.

14.5 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.

14.5.1 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.

14.5.2 The doctrine of direct creation does not explain why the forms of animate & inanimate things are as they are (except in a purposive sense).

14.5.3 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.

14.5.4 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.

14.5.5 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.

14.5.5.1 Either way, the above dilemma complicates the foundations of Christianity.

14.5.6 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.

14.6 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 :-

a). Scientific investigation deals with first order questions such as "what" and "how".

b). 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.

c). 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.

d). 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.

e). However, questions of purpose cannot be used to choose between theories that aim to deal with the "what-" and "how-" type issues.

f). Second order (purposive) questions can only be asked once the first order questions (at least the "what-" type questions) have been answered.

14.7 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.



© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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