Monday, March 06, 2006

And Then There Were Three

This post is part of an ongoing dialog between my friend Ernie and me about the validity of Christian belief (roughly speaking).

This will be a brief response to Beneath Belief, the third of three posts by Ernie.

Ernie had asked for suggestions of "specific assertions, ontologies, and/or ethics" that we could examine. I proposed these four:

  • The Bible is (is not) an honest and reliable document.
  • Eternal damnation can (cannot) be justified (if the Porsche is not already red)
  • Social good is (is not) evidence for the truth of Christianity.
  • Christianity is (is not) best explained as a solely human construction.f

These were too absolute, not contextual enough for Ernie, who rewrote them this way:

  1. The Bible is sufficiently reliable to enable me to grasp truth that I could not grasp without it
  2. If there are transcendent values, then there exist systems of justice which justify eternal damnation under certain plausible circumstances
  3. Christianity has created more social good than any other belief system
  4. The success of Christianity is not adequately explained by scenarios that discount all supernatural intervention and/or inspiration

Ernie dings me for making binary statements, but with the possible exception of (1), I would consider his to be binary as well, just slightly more elaborated. And I expect that we would elaborate as necessary before and after choosing a topic. My intention was to offer short statements that captured the essence of the issues; of course, I may not have succeeded.

The rewritten (1) has completely dropped the notion of honesty, and (in my mind) lowers the bar by only requiring reliability for a non-zero amount of truth, without saying what that truth is, and without acknowledging that the Bible could, on the whole, be more unreliable than not.

(2) is fine.

With (3) I think Ernie has changed the sense of the statement in a significant way. My version stresses (more than Ernie's) the questionable utility of "social good" as an indicator of truth. Several statements that Ernie has made, as well as his recently posted testimony, lead me to believe that this is an area where we disagree, and which can be addressed as a matter of epistemology.

With (4), I do not see a tremendous difference between our two versions, other than my use of "best explained" versus his contrary "not adequately explained." Nor do I see where (4) depends so heavily on (2) or (3), or why it might require an ethical framework before it can be tackled.

I need to wrap up for the night. I am happy to discard (2) for now, but think that (1), (3) and (4) are all viable options, if suitably elaborated. Ernie, do you still think (3) and (4) are still out of reach?

1 comment:

Dr. Ernie said...

Hi Alan,
That's a fair critique. My larger concern, though, is what you think of my definition of 'belief' as a "complex vector function" of trust, experience, and reason. If you're comfortable with that, I'm happy to re-examine your specific questions in light of that paradigm.

Though, I honestly think we'll have a meatier discussion if you instead critiqued my 'empirical' arguments here:

Best, -- Ernie P.