[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.
Near the end of the previous entry, which begins chapter 12, I introduced an example featuring myself making a cloud through supernatural power, and considering what a naturalist friend of mine, Chase, might decide about my claim that I had done such a thing. This entry continues the chapter by expanding the complexity of the example.]
Let us say Chase has a friend, Reed, who is a supernaturalist. The possibilities become complex from here, so I will set up a sieve to help distinguish them. Remember, however, that in every case I am in fact producing the cloud through supernatural power. My claim is presumed (for purposes of this illustration of principles) to in fact be true.
I.) I create a cloud with supernatural power, and then call Chase (the naturalist) and Reed (the supernaturalist) to come look at it. I claim I did this with supernatural power. (Although I don't have a (II) element, I am assigning this a (I) label in order to help emphasize the ovearaching unity within which the suboptions are occurring.)
I.A.) I am someone who, for one reason or another, often claims what is not true.
I.A.1.a.) Chase knows me well; and so knows I am someone who often claims what is not true. So he has no preliminary expectation to believe me--thus, prudently speaking, he should not believe me.
I.A.1.b.) Chase does not know me. But Chase is a naturalist; as far as he knows, supernatural manipulation of Nature cannot happen. Why should he believe me? Anyone can point at a cloud and say, "I created that."
I.A.2.a.) Reed knows me well. As far as he knows, such a thing could occur; but also he knows I am someone who should not be trusted. Unless he had good prior (or other concurrent) grounds for accepting my word (which I have not provided in this example), there is no good reason why he should be expected to believe me.
I.A.2.b.) Reed does not know me. At this point, it's a toss-up; but I think he would be justified in a fairly agnostic stance, reserving judgment until he finds or receive more evidence (which, in practice, could amount to provisionally discounting my claim, of course).
I.B.) I am someone who usually tells the truth, or someone who would not be expected to invent something like this in my circumstances.
I.B.1.a.) Chase knows me well. It would therefore be quite fair for him to conclude that I believe what I am saying; but he has no good reason to deny his naturalism on my mere say-so. And, after all, a cloud is pretty much a cloud. His most reasonable conclusion would probably be that I am mistaken. (Medically, psychologically, coincidentally, whatever.) Let us go further: he gives me a medical/psych exam and (assuming no exam-rigging presumptions based on my claim vs. his philosophy) I receive a clean bill of health; meaning that he has good grounds to believe I saw the cloud form when I wished for it to form. And the chances that an atmospheric phenomenon of this sort would spontaneously arise at that point in time (when I wished for it) are remote; but even the most remote possibility is better than what Chase thinks is impossible. So he should go with that, and disbelieve me.
I.B.1.b.) Chase does not know me. He is basically in the same position as option I:A:1:b--anyone can point at a cloud and claim to have made it through supernatural power. Given his philosophy, he would be justified to disbelieve me.
I.B.2.a.) Reed knows me well. He would still have to contend with the possibility that I am mistaken, or even the possibility that I am playing a game with him. But he would be inclined, I think, to believe me; and it would be fair of him to do so. Still, it might be a very cautious and provisional sort of belief. He did not actually see me make the cloud.
I.B.2.b.) Reed does not know me. Basically the same as I:A:2:b.
I could introduce the concept of witnesses now. When Chase and Reed arrive they find x-number of witnesses who claim to have seen me do this. The weight this lends to my claim would usually be positive, but could vary widely according to circumstances.
In the best-case scenario, numerous witnesses who are demonstrably upstanding sensible and honest citizens (perhaps even likely to suffer by the claim, certainly not gain much) might convince Chase that he is not being intentionally deceived. Their testimony might even convince him to take a closer look at his core belief (upon which his judgment of the possibility of the cloud's supernatural formation depends). But as long as that core belief remains honestly accepted as valid (even if he has done 'the math' wrong, and just hasn't found the error or hasn't carried the math far enough yet), Chase might still properly decide that a spontaneous mass hallucination, or mass lying by people not otherwise known to be liars, or a freak atmospheric phenomenon, or some other (perhaps unknown) grotesquely improbable explanation must be true--because (he thinks) the other cannot be true. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
Reed, meanwhile, believes that something like this could happen, and so such ideal witnesses would be good grounds for him to more strongly advocate a good belief in the cloud's appearance.
Please note that both Chase and Reed are (I believe, and am claiming) making proper decisions in every one of the situations I have presented. Chase (in this example) happens to be wrong, but it is a very understandable error. In the case of the numerous ideal witnesses, he might possibly be a bit embarrassed--or maybe even honestly relieved!--to be shown after all to be wrong; but he was still making a very prudently proper choice (in my idealized example) given his data. I do not think he would have anything to be ashamed of, given his core belief plus only scanty evidence. [Footnote: or, worse, given countervailing evidence! If the crowd of people asserting my little miracle happen to be obviously untrustworthy and/or likely to gain heavily by lying, then this might count very fairly against my claim!] Of course, if the truth ever does become clear to him, he could still choose to reject (as far as possible) what he himself has now recognized to be true. But that is another issue for another chapter. [Footnote: I will be thoroughly considering this behavior, its implications, and its consequences, in Section Four--primarily in connection to my responsibility as a person.]
This is the type of situation in which most people find themselves concerning 'evidence' of supernatural events (or even often of claims about natural events!) If a supernatural event occurs, it will either be perceptible or imperceptible. If it is imperceptible in its effects (immediately or otherwise), there is an end to the matter. No matter how perceptible such an event may be to me, if it is functionally (according to its characteristics) imperceptible to you, then I do not think you can legitimately be considered unreasonable for not believing it happened. From your perspective, it would be indistinguishable from a lie or a mistake. If, for example, God speaks to me and gives me a message to pass on to you, how are you to tell whether I am lying or mistaken or not?
I think this is why prophets in Jewish and Christian scripture (and to a certain extent in Muslim tradition--and not discounting other religious traditions as well) almost always are portrayed as being able to back up their claims with "attesting signs". Whether or not those events actually happened, you should be able to understand why such events would be considered very useful and helpful; especially to a population who lacks access to formal analysis principles. Once authority has been solidly established, the attesting signs would not strictly be necessary.
For that matter, if the signs were sent by an Entity Who strongly wanted us to establish a personal and loving relationship to Him, I think there would very probably be a sharp limit to how many (and under what circumstances) signs would be given by this Entity. Such events would excite (almost inevitably) fear and wonder; which are not necessarily bad feelings in themselves, but could possibly build up attitudes of cowed submission rather than personal trust and love.
If, besides all this, the sub-entities in question were rebellious to one degree or another (and thus likely to abuse any authoritative power given to them), then an even sharper limit could reasonably be established by the Entity as to where, when and how many attesting signs would be sent.
Finally, if this Entity was also the IF--the Independent Fact of reality upon which everything else is based, including Nature--and if the IF was supernatural; then at the level of the system we call Nature, 'natural' events would be by default the 'norm': this is why Nature could be distinguished as one system and not another. Thus, effects introduced into this system by the IF, other than what we might call 'maintenance' effects (normally below our threshold of perception), would be relatively rare purely by Nature being, per the supernaturalistic hypothesis, an established and distinct subsystem.
Of course, I have not yet argued positively for any of this. But it doesn't take much imagination to see, that if certain conditions could be established, then the frequency, circumstances, and types of 'obvious' miracles--obvious interruptions or supercessions of the natural process--might easily follow an inferable pattern.
Let me jump ahead quite a lot, for a moment: it does not surprise me in the least (once I have thought the situation all the way through) to hear that God sends obvious miracles at what He (not necessarily I) would consider to be lynchpins of history; nor does it surprise me to see a lack of obvious activity (setting aside what I may think of as suspiciously convenient circumstance!) in my own general vicinity; nor that there should be few prayers of mine granted in an obvious and immediate fashion; nor that missionaries in underdeveloped regions should report a higher incidence of obvious miracle than either they or I find in already heavily Christianized societies (even if increasingly apostate ones) such as the United States and most of Europe; nor that the reports of Christianity's spread through 1st Century Mediterranea in the face of strongly established religious/state conflicts of interest should include reports of an unusually high incident-rate of miraculous activity; nor that as the burgeoning Church becomes stronger over time, such activity begins to drop off in the reports; nor that such activities are reported to be lesser in scale than the reported activities of the founder of Christianity himself.
I easily grant that particular instances of these reports should always be up for discussion (and also debate--which is the only means a sceptic has of entering into discussion, I remind my brethren!) And I also grant that elements of this pattern can be explained in other ways. I even grant that the total pattern can be explained in other ways. Yet the general pattern that emerges from my own tradition and experience, does also fit the inferred pattern I find emerging (subordinately) from my metaphysic. And this increases my confidence, that by following this particular tradition, I am on the right trail. [See second comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
As I have said, however, this is jumping ahead quite a lot; it may be only of direct interest to my Christian (and perhaps other theistic) fellow-believers. My sceptical readers should very properly have a different perspective on the subject of 'evidence': specifically, what kind of evidence could a sceptic fairly accept? This leads me back to my main topic for this chapter.
If I was a sceptic, what kind of evidence would I accept?
[Next up: evidence from reasonable scepticism to reasonable belief]
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- ► 2010 (151)
- ► 2009 (142)
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- a sieve of curious si...
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- evidence and the burd...
- Bloodline: Fact or Fiction?
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- an unwanted level of ...
- The Shroud of Turin to be Retested
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- thought and imaginati...
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- theism or atheism
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- theism and atheism?
- Faith & Reason
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- God and gods
- Bloodline -- The Da Vinci Code Redux
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- in question of multip...
- How Should I Be A Sceptic -- in question of infini...
- The Evolving Nature of Evolution: Counter Example
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One of my co-bloggers, J.L. Hinman, author of the very fine Metacrock's Blog recently showed me some data which some atheists are using...
A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the Gospel of Matthew’s account of the slaughter of the innocents. Therein, I argued that som...
A friend mentioned to me that he ran into an argument I had not heard for a while. Apparently, in A World Full of Gods , Keith Hopkins stat...
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[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.
[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]
At the end of my previous chapter, I demonstrated that metaphor does not necessarily need to mean something less than its imagery suggests; and that to immediately presume otherwise is a common fallacy in the discussion of religious propositions. Incidents and claims should be taken on a case-by-case basis, and filtered through an already developed philosophical position.
So, to return to my example of Jesus' Ascension into heaven: what you or I believe this imagery can mean, is constrained by what you or I have already decided is, or is not, possible. If a supernatural God does not exist, then Jesus cannot have moved from our Nature to a Supernature while exhibiting the extent of His divine authority and/or existence. The story must reflect some other set of objectively real events: for example, perhaps the story was invented for any of a number of purposes; or perhaps aliens levitated Jesus to a throne-shaped craft.
If, however, God does exist as the supernaturally transcendent Sentient Independent Fact--what can we say about the story?
Frankly, such a belief does not automatically exclude the forgery explanation--or even the alien-superscience explanation!
But it does include as a live possibility (to be strengthened or refuted on further grounds and evidence) that the traditionally 'orthodox' or reading of this passage is true. I have not yet begun to argue positively for the truth of a reality where the 'orthodox' interpretation could (much more would) subsequently also be true. But I have now reached the question of the principles of 'evidence', for such an inquiry.
When we are attempting to prove or disprove metaphysical and/or historical claims (and for convenience I am limiting my discussion here to religious issues), we all apply to 'evidence'--if we can. 'The burden of proof' comes to the forefront. In the case of purportedly historical claims (especially claims exhibiting circumstantial characteristics which match characteristics common to other historical claims we have found to be trustworthy), the burden of proof is almost always placed on the detractor who wants to discredit the purported historian.
This is a widely recognized principle of historical inquiry, and its widespread authority can be accepted as a practical affair by anyone who understands the principle involved: either we must assume that most of the time people are not only telling what they believe to be true but that they have a certain amount of accuracy in their reports; or else we will have no presumptive grounds for believing that any historical data can be recovered from documents--including modern ones. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
On the other hand, when the accounts conflict drastically with what we have already established to be 'the way reality works', then we have quite reasonable grounds (whether or not we are in fact correct about our philosophy!) for an initial scepticism of the claim. In that case, I suggest the burden of proof for the claim should fall on the purported historian and his defenders.
Thus, I do not begrudge the sceptics who demand more than a document (or other account) as evidence of real historicity for a claim. I am no different from them. Neither, I will add, are almost all of my brethren. The most fundamentalistic Bible-based 'faith-only' Baptist preacher would suddenly turn quite a different eye upon a conflicting claim from, say, the specifically Muslim or Mormon or 'Christian Scientist' documents. And he would do so for at least the reason I have just given: he can tell the claims are quite different from the way he thinks reality is (historically and/or metaphysically). He would require the burden of proof to be on the adherents of Islam, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the 'Church of Christ, Scientist'.
At the same time, and for the same basic reason (along with perhaps other reasons), a Jewish rabbi, or a member of the Internet Infidels, or even a Muslim Iman, will look to this preacher (and his supporters) for burden of proof.
I do not think this necessarily indicates sinful obstinacy by anyone involved. It might instead be a prudent (and loyal) recognition that the new claim conflicts strongly with what the resister accepts as a true underlying philosophy or history; although the resister may not describe it quite that way, of course.
Let me emphasize, before you misunderstand me, that I am not saying the burden of proof must always be put on the shoulders of one definable side of an argument. Historians do generally agree that the burden of proof should fall on the detractor, but not because there is some intrinsic property of being a 'detractor'; rather, because most of the time underlying metaphysical positions are not being called into question by historical analysis.
But when core beliefs are challenged, then I think the burden of proof ought to be placed on the shoulders of the asserter. This would mean, ideally, that in a dialogue entered into freely by two sides, both debaters should be ready to shoulder the burden of proof! But in the case of an intrusion by a detractor into the life or lives of asserters (i.e. where the detractor is also the initiator), then the detractor (mere politeness suggests it!) should not expect the established and assaulted position to sortie out onto his ground (so to speak), nor see a refusal to do so as a tacit or explicit surrender. [See second comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
Very well then; but in a situation like this--in a discussion or argument about what the Final Reality is and what He or It (or She?) has done--what type of 'evidence' is appropriate? I think the answer to this question is all-too-often oversimplified by believers and sceptics alike.
An acquaintance of mine once told me (quite seriously, I think, and not at all in a hostile manner) that she would believe the Devil existed when he appeared in front of her. If I had replied that I would believe 100,000 galaxies existed in the universe when someone shows me a picture of them and counts them out for me, she would have thought I was merely being funny. And she would have been right!--but only because my conclusions (and thus my beliefs) about reality allow quite easily for the real existence of 100,000 galaxies. I don't need much evidence or argument to believe they may well exist. If I was being careful and fair, of course, I would need some strong arguments (and I also suppose some strong evidence) before I staked a conclusion on the required existence of those galaxies. My friend's understanding of reality, however, does not easily allow for the possibility (much less the actuality) of the existence of a massively powerful and thoroughly hostile supernatural creature. She would not be favorably persuaded (much less convinced) with minimal evidence and argument; and rightly so. (Let me add, by the way, that we were discussing a literary topic, and not official debating metaphysics.)
I may have taken her by surprise with my actual response, though: I would not necessarily believe I was seeing the Devil in front of me in that situation, and I do already believe he exists!
Do you see how this fits with what I have said earlier? My belief that the Devil exists (and that he can perhaps do things on occasion like pop into view in front of people, through various methods) does not automatically mean that I would (or should) take such a situation at face value. I might be suffering from a brain tumor. I might be hallucinating after eating a batch of bad shrimp. I might merely have had an especially annoying dream. Someone who thinks about such issues as much as I do (and such themes are also prevalent in the fantasy literature and computer games I enjoy, although of course the metaphysical rationales are often very different) would have plenty of imagery to draw on by association in the case of a naturally occurring mental disturbance--even if we grant the Devil's existence and abilities. At the same time, granting his existence and abilities, he might also manifest himself to me through the manipulation of such otherwise natural events! But I would need something other than that mere appearance before I concluded (and thus believed) it really was the Devil.
This example illustrates a factor of supernatural operation which sometimes escapes sceptics who demand hard proof: the character of the proposed event would very probably dictate that some kinds of 'natural' explanations could similarly be proposed to explain the event--even if the event truly was supernatural in character. (Of course, other sceptics are not only quite aware of this, but robustly--maybe even a little too robustly!--make use of the principle. I will be discussing them presently.)
Let us pretend (what I do not claim) that I can create a cloud in the sky through supernatural power. What type of evidence and/or abstract arguments could a naturalist fairly accept, concerning this claim? (I am presuming the naturalist is an honest sceptic.)
First, I am not sure he would be obligated to accept any argument or evidence, if he had already responsibly concluded 'There is no such thing as supernatural power'. That type of conclusion is a core belief, which has deductively necessary consequences about what should and should not be accepted as true. Steadily mounting evidence to the contrary might suggest a prudent consideration on the naturalist's part that he should perhaps recheck his logical math; but that is not the same as abandoning his belief. He might conclude (after doing the logical math again) that one of his most basic conclusions was wrong; but I am not sure at what point it would be proper for him to reject his core belief, where the rejection was only based on apparent evidence to the contrary around him (not bearing directly on his overarching philosophical grounds). It would, at least, have to be extremely good evidence to overturn a prior philosophical conviction. And that kind of evidence is manifestly not usually forthcoming.
I am assuming, of course, that this particular naturalist--call him Chase--is a fairly stable and intelligent person with some training in how to discern these issues; and who either has no strong emotional stake for or against 'changing his views', or who recognizes that he feels strongly about the issues and nevertheless resolves to try thinking them through fairly and clearly. [See third comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
So, what kind of evidence (within or against Chase's philosophy, either one) can I produce for him?
Let us say I supernaturally create a cloud, and then call Chase over to see it. What does he see?
Is he likely to believe my claims from this? I see no reason why he should, especially in regard to his opposing philosophy. I might be a liar (or, more politely, playing a joke on him). I might be insane. I might be mistaken in some other fashion. There are no other options for Chase to choose from, as a naturalist. And even given supernaturalism's truth, any of those might still have been the proper explanation--not supernatural power.
[Next time: now let us say Chase has a friend, Reed, who is a supernaturalist...]
Media awareness has been spreading for the controversial new documentary Bloodline, which claims to present new evidence that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, had children and moved to Southern France, where they died and were buried. Its context is the mystery surrounding the small village of Rennes-le-Chateau and its abbe during the late 19th Century, Berenger Sauniere and what he may have discovered in the surrounding region. As the former mayor of RLC put it, the mystery is that when Sauniere arrived at RLC he was dirt poor, when he died he was just as poor, but during that period he spent enormous amounts of money on the lavish, idiosyncratic redecoration of the town parish, building a tower called 'Tour Magdala' and the extravagant entertainment of guests (this is important, because spending lots of money is different than actually having lots of money; Sauniere was a big spender but he didn't necessarily become very rich). The source of Sauniere's money is what fuels the imagination of conspiracy theorists, treasure hunters and esotericists: had he discovered some great treasure in the region which allowed him to sustain such an extravagant lifestyle? Or had he uncovered a secret so powerful that the Vatican paid him off handsomely to keep it under wraps? This last theory is the one which Bloodline advances based on some interesting new evidence (for a full catalogue of the theories which have been put forward about Sauniere's findings, see here).
What are we to make of this documentary? First of all the critical evaluation of the documentary's claims is made extremely difficult due to the sheer number of claims, suggestions and arguments put forward. It is hard to keep all the different strands of the story separate: contact with alleged members of the Priory of Sion, Sauniere's strange behavior, new looks at locations like the Rosslyn Chapel familiar from the Da Vinci Code, the discoveries of a team of treasure hunters led by Ben Hammott, questions about the historical Jesus and his relationship to Mary Magdalene, etc. To my mind the most interesting and substantial claims of the documentary have to do with the discovery of a tomb near RLC and the unearthing of bottles containing notes allegedly left by Sauniere as his 'confession' of a great secret, so I will focus on these in this post.
It is important to note from the start that anyone who tries to get the facts straight about Sauniere, the activities of the alleged secret society of the Priory of Sion, the suspicious activities of the Knights Templar or whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene fostered a bloodline will very quickly become trapped in a maze of assertions, speculation, ad hominems, articles based on very dubious sources and accusations thrown back and forth by the advocates of the various opposing theories about the origin of Sauniere's wealth, which however are all equally dubious. Even the circumstances surrounding Ben Hammott's discoveries are hotly debated, despite the fact that he has operated a website advertising his discoveries for some time now, and the media attention the documentary has been getting.
So what are the facts of the case? Ben Hammott (aka Bill Wilkinson), a treasure hunter, claims that by following certain clues left in the artwork decorating Sauniere's rebuilt chapel at RLC, he found his way to an underground tomb containing a shrouded body, chests of what appear to be gold chalices and a cloth bearing the Star of David (his version of these discoveries is given here). By following yet other clues he was able to unearth bottles containing papers signed by the priest himself, revealing information about the location of yet more bottles and finally, at the end of the trail, a wooden chest allegedly containing the cup used by Jesus and Mary Magdalene at their wedding as well as her alabastar anointing jar. Hammott believes that the tomb he discovered contains the remains of Mary Magdalene, and that the red cross on the burial shroud indicates the activity of the Knights Templar. If the information on the papers is accurate, the priest found the tomb and the chest, and these discoveries caused him to renounce his faith. Why? One of the papers containing the purported confession of Sauniere's loss of faith, which was shown on ABC's Good Morning America has the following written on it:
"The resurrection of Jesus was a trick, it was Mary Magdalene that took his body from the tomb, the disciples were fooled. Later...the body of Jesus was discovered by the Templars and then hidden three times...Rome knows all about this, but they can not afford to let the secret be known...they threatened to kill...if the location of the tomb was revealed..."
It is this claim, of course, more than any other associated with the Bloodline documentary, which is most relevant to Christian faith. The discovery that Jesus was married, or that Mary Magdalene traveled to Southern France and was buried there, is interesting historically but hardly of earth-shattering significance. If we had reliable sources to indicate that the resurrection was a hoax, however, orthodox Christian faith would be in ruins. Worse than that, however, it would show that there was actual malice and intentional deception perpetrated by the person whom people remember as the first witness to Jesus's resurrection.
So the question is, what reasons do we have to believe that Sauniere found good information to this effect? As it turns out, very few. Almost every step involved in these 'discoveries' has been ruthlessly questioned, and the answers from those involved have been far from convincing (see the vigorous back-and-forth that takes place on this forum; be warned, though, the exchanges are often very unpleasant and it is easy to get lost in the myriad speculations). We'll leave aside procedural questions about whether Ben Hammott had the right to remove artifacts from French soil, etc., as the main issue is the authenticity and significance of the finds themselves.
The analysis done by the Bloodline team (which includes director Bruce Burgess, Ben Hammott, Sandy Hamblett and Bill Kersey) to establish the authenticity of these artifacts was very superficial. They hired a professional archeologist, Gabriel Barkay, to confirm that the relics found in the wooden chest date from the 1st Century CE, and also found in the chest was a collection of coins dating from the 2nd Century BCE to the 12th Century. The problem is that such artifacts are relatively easy to purchase from a variety of sources, so we have no way of knowing where these items ultimately come from. We have no information about who brought them to Southern France and why. If we rule out the possibility that they were deliberately planted there recently as part of a hoax, all we can say is that it may be the stash of some crusader returned to France from the Middle East. But we have no evidence one way or another. Another piece of 'evidence' which the Bloodline team present is that families connected to the Priory of Sion and the bloodline of Jesus have 'confirmed' that these are the relics of Jesus and Mary's marriage (Bloodline website, News, February 6 2007). But this is really no evidence at all as the Priory of Sion at least in its modern form as popularized by Dan Brown was actually a modern hoax (see also here) and without independent evidence for a genuine bloodline (something which the team does NOT provide) we cannot simply take their word for it. The Bloodline team have received hundreds of emails from individuals claiming to be the descendants of Jesus and Mary, complete with psychic powers, celestial secrets, etc.
There are problems associated with the tomb itself. So far nobody knows exactly where it is. All the public has been presented with is some video footage (here and here) taken by Ben Hammott on several different occasions. There are some discrepancies in the footage, including an object which seems to have moved farther away from another one in between takes (compare still shots here). Ben Hammott moved the burial shroud enough to extract a hair from the corpse, which was sent to the Paleo-DNA lab in Canada (the same institution contacted to do patina analysis for the Jesus Family Tomb documentary) and they confirmed a maternal Middle Eastern descent of the corpse. This has been blown way out of proportion by the Bloodline team. The find only means that this individual, who has not been dated or had its sex confirmed, inherited DNA from a Middle Eastern haplotype group somewhere in its ancestry. It does not (necessarily) mean that this person was actually Middle Eastern, i.e. had Middle Eastern parents.
Another problem is that the Bloodline website published a quote from Jean-Pierre Giraud from the DRAC (the archeological body in France responsible for finds in the region), alleging that the French authorities have been made aware of this find and that plans are underway for a full investigation of the tomb. The problem is that others who contacted DRAC found out that the officials had only seen the same footage shown in the documentary and were asked for a quote. There are no official plans for investigation whatsoever, and Giraud no longer works for DRAC. This is a serious credibility problem which has not been adequately addressed by the Bloodline team. So the fact remains that we have no idea where the tomb is or who might be inside it. In any case, the Sauniere papers do not mention anything about the tomb of Mary Magdalene and they did not contain information leading to the discovery of the tomb (at least as far as we know-the full content of the papers is being very unprofessionally held back until Hammott's book is published).
What of the papers themselves? The sober truth of the matter is that these are in all likelihood modern forgeries. The difficulties which many different observers have noticed with the papers are many and serious. They are written in a garish red ink which resembles the trace of a felt-tip pen. The writing style is a childish print which looks nothing like Sauniere's elegant cursive writing, and the strokes more resemble contemporary Anglophone handwriting than 19th Century French (see the comments by archeologist Keith Matthews here and here). The papers are riddled with strange mistakes in the French grammar and syntax which are very unlikely to have been made by a native speaker. The priest's signature on one of the papers has several mistakes which would probably not have been made by the person whose signature it was. A professor of French linguistics who was contacted to analyze some of the documents concluded that:
-the documents might not all be from the same hand
-there are probably bogus attempts in the documents to create medieval-sounding words
-the style of French and the various linguistic oddities are "consonant with somebody who was not particularly educated and who is trying to write in a deliberately rather strange style," or even "compatible with something having been dictated, or written by somebody who, whilst a native speaker, and thus fluent in the spoken language, may not have had much familiarity with the rules of writing."
These observations make it highly unlikely that these papers were written down by a well-educated French priest who left behind many elegantly written letters in a flowing cursive style. But comments the linguistics professor made on another of the papers are far more damning:
"Regarding the third document in particular, my suspicion is that what you have here is a deliberately constructed representation of what the writer perceives this sort of document to be like, and designed to convince the unsuspecting that it is somehow authentic because it is obscure, badly written, and at times almost gibberish; or written by somebody who, with the best will in the world, was simply not capable of doing any better...I think that the entire document has been deliberately concocted, not so much to fool people, necessarily, as to create a spurious pseudo-archaizing and pseudo-mystical framework. I think it is unlikely, although possible, but in the case of the third document it has been put together by a non-native speaker who was so incompetent in French that they made a complete mess of the syntax." (my emphasis)
Shorn from its academic politeness and diplomacy, what this tells us is that at least one of the papers is a badly concocted forgery produced by someone who was a little too taken with the pseudo-mystery of RLC. This is all the more significant coming from someone who had never seen these papers before and did not know where they were supposed to be from. These observations, combined with the fact that the information the papers give completely contradicts everything else we know about Sauniere (there is no other evidence that he renounced his faith; on the contrary, to the day of his death he was a devout Catholic who struggled to be reinstated as a priest and was given the Last Rites) or early Christianity, for that matter (we have no primary sources for the claim that Mary Magdalene stole the body of Jesus, which seems unlikely at best given the heavy stone in front of the tomb, or that the Templars found the body of Jesus), make it unlikely in the extreme that in these papers we have reliable historical evidence that Christianity was founded upon a lie.
It is worth stressing that even if it turned out that these papers were authentic, we would still have to ask what reliable information Sauniere himself had found for these claims. Maybe esoteric speculation about Jesus was just as widespread in the late 19th Century as it has been in the 20th.
There is a lot more which could be said about the dubious claims of this new documentary (see here for a good review which draws upon biblical studies and archeology). Suffice it to say that unless the current finds are somehow miraculously authenticated and convincing explanations given for all the discrepancies, it is highly unlikely that we are facing the fall of orthodox Christianity. It is in fact eerie how similar this case is to that of the much-hyped Jesus family tomb: again we have amateur archeology, wild speculation, isolated out-of-context quotes from real experts, some magic-sounding computer analysis and a presentation of these finds to the media before being scrutinized by the appropriate experts. The majority of reviews of the documentary have been resoundingly negative (the Bloodline team are not above falsely attached a positive quote to an otherwise negative review; see here, the blurb for the Wittenberg Door review and here, the actual review): it doesn't take an expert to see that the documentary's claims rest on very shaky ground. In short: there is no evidence for a Jesus bloodline, no evidence that the resurrection was a trick, but plenty of evidence of charlatanry and deception. We'll have to wait and see what the truth behind this whole matter is, where the papers and tomb really come from, but I'm not holding my breath for any faith-shattering finds.
P.S. The story of the RLC affair is actually a fascinating one from a historical point of view. For those who want to learn more about Berenger Sauniere, the Priory of Sion, etc. the most balanced book in English (though not without its minor errors) is The Treasure of Rennes-le-Chateau: A Mystery Solved by Bill Putnam and John Wood.
P.P.S. The majority of Internet sources on this subject are full of distortions and unfounded speculation. Even the ones I have linked to may not be entirely accurate. If you try to find out more about this subject, proceed with great caution, critical sense fully attuned.
[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.
The previous entry, discussing metaphorical language use, in relation to religious belief, ended with the observation, "If we believe in God, and if we believe we have communications from Him, then we can trust (given we have already established those other notions) that He is giving us true and useful information of some sort, and so we could reasonably attach great authority to the communication. But it will still be up to us to figure out what exactly is being communicated, and why, and to what degree later information may alter our perception of what is being communicated to us by God."]
I realize this introduces what is perhaps an unwanted level of complexity for Jews, Muslims and Christians (like myself) who would prefer a straight-up straight-out reading of Scripture at all points. I am no different; but I also ought to ask myself whether the designs and intentions of God should perhaps be given some priority to my own wishes on this matter!
And, as a Christian at least, if I do consider our scriptures to be in any useful sense historically reliable (which, as it happen, I do), then I have my answer about God's actions on this subject. The man I believe to be God Incarnate, Jesus of Nazareth, rarely gave a 'literal' answer to any question, and the information he (or, rather, He) communicated to His followers was not always exactly what His followers thought He was telling them. Evidently, He did not even intend that His listeners would understand Him instantly! He expected them to work it out themselves; and sometimes the greater impact of what He said had to wait until His followers had other data at hand.
Or, as another example, if scientists (atheist or otherwise) now replace what we would call the 'scientific' details of the Genesis creation story (or stories) with more detailed information, then I think I am not working against God's own 'modus operandi' to seriously consider whether their theories help us understand better what God may have had to colorfully abbreviate for the sake of His original audience. If I flatly refuse to take modern science's attempts seriously, because God 'would not' tell our distant ancestors a story which was anything other than the pure 'literal' truth and could not be added to in understanding; then in taking that superliteral stance I would be (as far as I can tell) implicitly denying the divinity of Jesus--because that is not the way He worked!
So if we Christians think Jesus was (and is) God, then yes: God might give us information in this metaphorical, not superliteral, fashion. It remains to carefully check, on a case-by-case basis, to see whether He has done this or not. If I take seriously the message of the Hebrew prophets to Israel, as reported in the Hebrew scriptures, then God evidently communicates very often to us in this fashion: the truths of His messages have to be worked out to some degree by us, and later events and knowledge might bring expanded meanings (fully intended by God) to old communications. [Footnote: as with most contentions, there is a danger of heresy here; but by acknowledging the act of reasoning involved in the process, at least we won't be hampering our ability to avoid or reverse heresies.]
The preceding few paragraphs probably won't be very interesting to my sceptical reader--I still have a large and chewy wad of inferences (metaphorically speaking!) to successfully draw before I could fairly expect it to mean much to you--but the point I am trying to make for this chapter is that recognition of metaphor is not necessarily (or even usually) a means of explaining away religious propositions. Even in our own commonly shared 'mundane' experiences, metaphors usually mean more than they appear to say, not less.
The reality expressed by a metaphor can be (and often is) further along the lines that the metaphor itself represents, precisely because metaphors are shorthand ways of adequately (although somewhat inaccurately) expressing our ideas, to ourselves and to others. As in my solar system example, or the example of my book in your hands [assuming it was printed and bound], one single perception or expression taken by itself may be perniciously misleading; but multiple perceptions of the same event or object will (almost by default) provide us with a better composite 'picture' of what we are trying to think or say, correcting misleading perceptions but very rarely overthrowing completely our entire idea about the concept or object. You can often find authors (like myself) putting this strategy to use with illustrative analogies: different practical examples of the same principles allow us to provide for a richer and fuller understanding of the actual object or condition or idea we are trying to express to you.
Presenting the analogies as arguments, of course, is a conclusion-killing gaffe. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two situations; but even the abstract concept of those two situations illustrates the principle I am trying to get across here: metaphors are about something else--usually something more than the metaphor (by itself) implies. When the metaphors are mistaken for the something else in its entirety (or much closer to its entirety), then a faulty foundation is laid for whatever may follow afterward.
This is one reason why we humans make so many mistakes: the field for error can be very wide, especially when we are mistaking a piece for the whole. But we must be careful, following the same principle, not to automatically toss away every attendant proposition if we discover that someone has mistaken a false image for reality. And this brings me to Lewis' third point:
3.) "Thought may be in the main sound even when the false images that accompany it are mistaken by the thinker for true ones."
I may have my visual proportions mixed up in my necessary mental image of the Earth's proximity and size compared to the Sun; but I can still work the math and get it right. I may get some answers that consequently don't look right compared to my mental image; and of course that may be a clue my associative impression needs improving! But generally speaking it would be fallacious of an opponent of mine to attempt to refute my orbital mechanics calculations by reporting that they don't match my mental impressions, even if I happened to believe the content of those mental impressions (not realizing the content of both ideas must be exclusive). My opponent could use one of my concluded beliefs (A) to correct another related belief of mine (B), and he might rightly fault me for trying to hold both at once; but he could also be wrong to use the falsity of B to argue the falsity of A.
Lewis uses the example of a little girl who thinks that poison, in any given substance, is "horrid red things". She really believes that if she separated the poison out of 'poisonous' solids and liquids, the poison would really look like horrid red things. But an adult who attempted to refute her claim that lye is poisonous by correcting her false belief about what 'poison' looks like, would still be in for a nasty shock if he drank it! Indeed, with a little investigation he might have discovered that she did not believe lye poisonous because it contained horrid red things (which she knows she cannot see in the lye), but because her mother (who may have sufficiently accurate reasons for saying so) has told her the lye is poisonous and she trusts her mother. She thinks the red things are in the lye, not because she can see them, but because she already believes the lye is poisonous; therefore it must (as far as she is concerned) have those horrid red things in it somewhere. Her imagery turns out to be, upon fair examination, ultimately of little importance to the issue at hand: whether lye really is poisonous. If she was corrected about the nature of poison, it would probably not (nor should not) affect her belief about the toxicity of lye. She would know more, but she would not necessarily be refuted in her core belief.
Lewis puts this into religious practice with the example of the story of Jesus' Ascension into heaven. We do not know whether the original promoters of this story believed in a sky palace with God on a throne (they may not have--Jewish apocalyptic can be shown to be quite abstract with relation to Jewish metaphysical belief); but the imagery can stand for something other than this without gutting the main point of their proclamation. Indeed, the type of event which Christians claim happened here--one aspect of the Incarnated God departed from this physical Nature after beginning a drastic change in it, to a new (and superphysical) Nature which shall be progressively made out of this 'older' one, while verifying His identity as the basic Action of what I have been calling the IF--is not something that by its character would be easily perceivable or understood. If it did happen, I would not be surprised in the least if God allowed the witnesses to see the images they eventually reported--that would be the type of image which they (and millions and billions of people after them, even to this day) can understand, in principle, without training in formal metaphysics. It gets all the salient points across; and allows the expansion of detail for fuller understandings of the same event. A facetiously simple sceptic might say that she will believe the Ascension if we ever discover a 1st-century Palestinian sandal in geosynchronous orbit over Israel. That is not the type of evidence I would accept; neither is it the type of evidence I necessarily expect from the story. It is not (as far as I can tell) that kind of event; so it would not leave that kind of evidence.
This leads into the question of what kind of evidence a proposed supernatural event (such as the Ascension) might be expected to leave; which in turn shall bring up the question of possible and plausible relationships between Nature and Supernature (should Supernature exist).
[Next time: evidence, the supernatural, and the burden of proof]
You can call it an obsession if you like, but I am still fascinated by the Shroud of Turin -- the cloth imprinted with the image of a man that some claim to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. As I have stated previously, there are good reasons to think that it is real and equally good reasons to think that it's a fake. I personally haven't made up my mind one way or another about the Shroud, for while it is truly a fascinating artifact, if it is ever demonstrated conclusively not to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus it will have absolutely no impact on my faith. Still, the possibility that it is genuine is one of the things that make the Shroud so fascinating.
To many, the inauthenticity of the Shroud was sealed in 1988 when carbon-dating experts ran a test on a small portion of the Shroud and determined that the cloth dated from the 13th or 14th Century. Previously, I noted that physicist Raymond N. Rogers believed that the carbon dating gave an inaccurate date for the shroud because the portion of the Shroud sampled was a rewoven section which would give a false date. Apparently, that argument didn't result in a retesting.
However, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune by Electa Draper entitled Lab agrees to test Shroud of Turin for new theory, a Colorado-based physicist named John Jackson has convinced the lab that performed the original test to re-evaluate its findings. According to the article:
Professor Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, has agreed to test Jackson's hypothesis that contamination by carbon monoxide could throw off radiocarbon dating by more than a millennium.
It is possible, Jackson said, that even minimal contamination of the shroud by environmental carbon monoxide could have skewed the dating by 1,300 years — making it not medieval but contemporaneous with Jesus's life.
Jackson, who must prove a viable pathway for that contamination, is working with Oxford to test samples of linen under the various conditions the shroud has endured, such as outdoor exhibitions and exposure to extreme heat during a 1532 fire.
"Science still has much to tell us about the shroud," said Jackson, a devout Catholic. "If we are dealing with the burial cloth of Christ, it is the witness to the birth of Christianity. But my faith doesn't depend on that outcome."
While I will certainly be interested in the results of these new evaluations, I concur with Jackson when he says that faith doesn't hinge on the authenticity of the Shroud as the actual burial cloth of Jesus. The New Testament doesn't say, "believe in Jesus because we have his burial shroud." It contends that we should believe in Jesus because of the testimony of the witnesses to the fact that he has risen. The Shroud, if it is the burial cloth of Jesus, adds weight to those claims because the image implanted in the Shroud has yet to be explained. As the article further notes,
The shroud is either authentic or a hoax so ingenious that state-of-the-art scientific analysis has yet to explain how it was done,said David Rolfe, director of a new documentary, "Shroud of Turin."
"The shroud is brilliant and unfathomable," Rolfe said.
But the Shroud is not the basis of Christian faith, and if there had never been a Shroud then Christianity would still be what it is.
I look forward to the re-evaluation of the scientific-based dating of the Shroud, and will post any additional information that I come across.
[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]
People sometimes attempt to explain apparent contradictions in this fashion: "I was only being metaphorical." This does resolve the contradiction; but at the cost of retaining anything like the apparent meaning of the term or phrase thus 'metaphorized'.
If a person claims that 6 = 16, she can always later say, "I was only being metaphorical when I claimed '16'". But then, so much for '16' representing any kind of distinctive property. She really meant 6 = 6; and if she is going to play fair, she must remember that having 'explained away' 16 as a 'metaphor', she should not go back to its apparent attributes later and treat them as if they were in fact exclusively reflective of the properties of 16.
Thus I grant that this type of reductive metaphorization can be done. It can also be abused (and quite often is in discussions about religion), but if it is done fairly and the implications are kept in mind and not shuffled around for convenience, real progress can be made in hashing out the implications of an idea.
So, for instance, almost everyone except the vitalists thinks the fundamental units of Nature are blind, automatic and non-purposive; the opposite properties do not appear within Nature until a certain level of complexity is reached. Theists, atheists, dualists, all agree with this--even many (if not all) polytheists, and some pantheists might. [Footnote: specifically, some pantheists might agree that although the sum-total of Nature is really sentient, the particular units or even some complex parts are not. Our own bodies would make a handy analogy. ‘Negative’ pantheists, to give a very different example, would regard the fundamental units of Nature to be illusory; which certainly is no positive claim about their active sentience.]
Nonetheless, when discussing what these particular base-units are 'doing', we often end up talking as if we were vitalists; speaking for convenience as if muons and electrons and carbon-ring molecules were initiating actions instead of merely reacting and counterreacting purely to environmental stimulus or internal randomization.
It is very difficult to have a discussion about these entities unless we use words in this fashion. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool naturalistic atheist will occasionally (even often!) find himself speaking about the 'order' and 'design' of Nature using terms which do not fit atheism. And this isn't necessarily a bad, or incorrect, or misleading practice--unless he goes on to require as part of his theory of the origin of (for instance) sentience, that these particles really do initiate actions and have purposes after all. This would be an accident--he is an atheist, he doesn't really mean that--but the correction might have serious implications for the viability of the particular theory he was trying to build.
However, although we can and do sometimes use metaphor this way, I don't think this is the way we normally use metaphor. I think it is not only possible but also very common for us to use metaphor to stand for (or 'mean') more, not less, than what the imagery implies.
In writing this book I was inspired by the efforts of C. S. Lewis in his Miracles: A Preliminary Study. This is probably the only chapter that has a direct parallel in MaPS, though: the chapter on "Horrid Red Things".
Lewis asked us to understand three principles, all of which affect how and why and when we use metaphors. But I will be taking them out of his order of presentation, though, to better fit my own flow of discussion:
1.) "Thought is distinct from the imagination which accompanies it."
Sometimes this can be true without using metaphor, per se. For example, when I write Christian apologetics, I occasionally have background imagery in my head of cinematic fencing duels and/or epic music. When I wrote the first draft of this chapter, there were fragments of Jerry Goldsmith's score from the movie The 13th Warrior pinging around in the back of my mind. I suspect this happens because those sounds and images were stored in my memory with certain 'riders' or 'tags', so that similar emotions and cognitive thought processes would be likely to catch on those tags and 'pull them' in passing. This may be the psychological event known as 'association'; but it is not itself the event of 'building an argument'. I don't need to have associations with swashbuckling movie scores floating around in my head to cognitively analyze propositions, or to express my conclusions to myself and to you.
If I tell you about those associations, however, you can probably infer some useful and true information about the emotional and perhaps ethical quality I assign to my work. I could also choose to build sensuals like these directly into my relation of my experience, or even of my ideas: I would be expressing myself poetically, to help communicate the quality of my experience to you.
Similarly, associative sensory imagery can give me a means of expressing my ideas to myself--something to build on, and go beyond. If I am trying to think about the spatial relation of the Earth and the Sun to each other, I inevitably imagine what I am talking about. But I don't imagine it accurately; indeed, I cannot. No one can accurately imagine 93 million miles of space between the Earth and the Sun, much less the proper proportionate sizes of the Earth to the Sun, very much less the detailed physical description of each cosmic body. Granted, the physical description may not be important for expressing the distance and the calculated conclusions from the distance; my point is that even if my mental imagery was expressed to you in detail as my imagery stands, the resemblance to the 'real' things, in their real situations, would be extremely inaccurate.
But would that resemblance be inadequate?
It depends on what I am using the resemblance for, and the degree to which I mistakenly believe my imagery to reflect the reality. Thinking of the Earth as a blue dot instead of a blue/green/brown/white dot with all the clouds and continents and oceans and icecaps in their proper positions, does not mean my conclusions about orbital mechanics will be inaccurate. For that matter, the fact that I cannot quite get the distance/size proportion imagery correct in my head when I discuss the issue, does not mean I cannot reach proper conclusions about the subject.
Here, then, is a further principle subordinate to the first one. I cannot with total accuracy express the topic I am discussing with sensory imagery, even to myself. (It could be orbital mechanics, or genetics, or quantum physics, or psychology, or sociology, or legal theory, or any of a massive number of topics.) How much less, then, can I accurately express to you the details of what I am thinking about? Thus:
2.) "Anyone who talks about things that cannot be seen, or touched, or heard, or the like, must inevitably talk as if they could be seen or touched or heard."
I think this is correct; but I take it a bit further, along lines which Lewis himself discussed in that chapter and in other books (and which lines I think he would approve).
In principle, you could get in the right spatial position so that the lightstreams emanating from the Sun and reflecting off the Earth would each strike your optic nerves at the same time without you having to turn your head; and in principle, your eyes (or other recording instruments) might be sensitive enough to properly represent this state to your mind for processing. That is, in principle the spatial relationship of the Earth to the Sun can be 'seen'.
Nevertheless, I doubt whether an accurate attempt would succeed in giving the mental representation we might expect. Indeed there would still be some details inevitably missing: the Earth would at best be a mere white or whitish-blue pinprick of light, which misrepresents (as it stands) the complexity of its surface and atmospheric features. And in any case such a perception would by necessity ignore details on the other sides of the Sun and Earth!
Then there is the variety of appearances which might mislead without correction: if I am returning from the Moon to the Earth, I could possibly see the Sun and Earth together at the same time, and simultaneously I would be 'looking through' the 90+ million miles of space between them. But taken by itself, this image could be extremely misleading. The space certainly would not look like it is 90 million miles wide (because I would be looking along the space between the Sun and Earth, thus perceiving a foreshortened line, rather than perceiving the line in 'all its length'); the Earth would look much larger than the Sun; and the Sun would have hardly any visible detail, but would be a mere pinprick instead.
[Footnote: alternately, you yourself can go outside roughly once a month and see the full moon and the sun in the sky at the same time. Going strictly by that sensory image--especially during a solar eclipse--you might conclude they were roughly the same size; which is what some ancients did quite reasonably conclude!]
Even in the more complete sense, then, Lewis' dictum stands: we cannot even receive a fully accurate sensory impression of the relationship between things that can be 'seen' (much less what cannot be seen).
And this applies to everything in our experience. The book you are reading right now [obviously assuming I bother to publish it in print someday] presents one appearance to you; set it on the table, and it presents another appearance. The information you thus receive may be complementary by inference and conflation; but the mere presentations they make to your senses are not (taken by themselves) compatible, and may even be mutually exclusive. If I throw the book at your face, its appearance shall change once again rather drastically (a blur and a bright light in sequence) and shall be accompanied by different sensory impressions (a 'whiff' and a burst of pain-feeling, perhaps). Even when the book sits on the table without being moved around, its appearance taken by itself is misleading to the reality of the book: it does not really have three sides (the ones visible to you at any time), but six. And it is not sitting motionless on the desk. Its composite parts are in constant motion, and the book itself as a unit is hurtling through space away from the center of the universe, orbiting other galaxy clusters as part of a supercluster, orbiting other galaxies as part of a cluster, orbiting a galactic center, orbiting a star, revolving with the skin of the planet, tilting slightly as our planet's axis shifts, and drifting with our continent on a sea of magma. All these events are happening; but we cannot detect them all simultaneously and fully, nor even keep them all properly in our mind as abstract concepts!
We must use extremely inaccurate sensory descriptions of these things when communicating our ideas to ourselves and to other people, whether we know the extent to which we are being inaccurate or not.
And what happens, when we turn to concepts or physical events for which there cannot be, even in principle, accurate sensory information? The quantum physicists tell us that atoms are, in reality, unpictureable. Any illustration of a carbon atom is very inaccurate because photons don't interact with atoms like that. If you can understand this, then go one step further and consider how inaccurate the words 'understand' and 'one step further' are, to the mental events you are currently expressing! We never really see or hear or smell or taste or feel things in their completeness; but we must speak for convenience as if we do. We have no other way of thinking and communicating.
Some people would take this view into a complete philosophy of subjectivity or relativity. I do not take it that far; but neither do I claim that a perfectly objective thought or perception can be achieved--except perhaps by the IF (if It is Sentient). It is true that different circumstances will result in different appearances of the solar system or of my book in your environment. And it is true that taken as themselves these perceptions are not only misleading, but misleading to different degrees and in different ways in different circumstances.
But behind all of your and my subjective perceptions and expressions, are real objective realities, with their own composite properties. These realities might not be what I think they are--if atheism is true, for instance, then my experiences of being in a relationship with a supernatural God Who has a personality, must not be what they seem to me to be. But my subjective perceptions of such an event will reflect some other objective facts. An atheistic psychologist will agree with me that real objective events are occurring in my brain to produce this perception. But they cannot be the events that I think they are, if atheism is true.
On the chance that some readers have misunderstood me: I am not saying that all our perceptions and expressions are completely inaccurate; I would be refuting myself if I did, for I am expressing these thoughts to you and trying to convince you they have some sufficient accuracy! I am saying that all our perceptions and thoughts are (and must be, by our nature) inaccurate to some degree; but they may be accurate in one way while being inaccurate in another.
When I ask if you understand what I am trying to get across, I do not mean that I am asking whether you are standing in a deep ditch while I toss something above you spanning the sides of the ditch. I might mean that; but if you are familiar with the English language and can analyze contexts sufficiently, you will receive an adequate (not completely accurate) communication from me about the topic of your success at 'following' me in my 'point'.
And as you can 'see' from these last few sentences, I cannot 'jump off my own shadow'. Our languages are 'incurably' metaphorical. "We can make our language drier," says Lewis. "We cannot make it more literal." The 'literal' is in fact the 'actual'; our expressions and thoughts and imaginings (especially our imaginings) do not create the actual.
[Footnote: or at least very rarely do we create an actual that corresponds very closely with what we are talking about. If I deliver a speech on sound transmission, part of my communicated description will describe what I am in fact actualizing at that moment; but such circumstances are rare exceptions, not necessities.]
On the other hand, if there is a God, His expressions may be perfectly 'literal'. It is no accident, it seems, that in Judaism and its descendants, God speaks creation into existence. Then again, if there is such a God, and He communicates to derivative beings such as you and I, He will have to communicate in a fashion we can 'relate' to, through the Nature He designed and implemented (and still implements). And this means that what He tells us, however He might choose to do so, will be communicated in metaphor; just like what you tell me and what I tell you must be expressed in metaphors. To require that He could do otherwise would be not only to misunderstand how we already express ideas to ourselves and to others, but would probably require that we be God's equal in actuality and ability and independence. Even God (as I have argued earlier) cannot do what is self-contradictory; and it seems to me that expecting or requiring ultra-literal communications from God to us, requires contradiction.
Remember, however, that such metaphorical expressions may very well still be adequate (including in a historical sense). Indeed, if God expresses them then they will be fully adequate for whatever purposes He has in mind. But then again, we might ought to be cautious and careful about concluding what purposes He has in mind! If we believe in God, and if we believe we have communications from Him, then we can trust (given we have already established those other notions) that He is giving us true and useful information of some sort, and so we could reasonably attach great authority to the communication. But it will still be up to us to figure out what exactly is being communicated, and why, and to what degree later information may alter our perception of what is being communicated to us by God.
[Next time: an unwanted level of religious complexity?]
[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.
In my previous entry, I introduced two different examples of attempts to propose that the ultimate reality is both atheistic and theistic. (Not to be confused with ontological dualisms which would propose two ultimate realities with one being sentient and the other non-sentient. This concept was covered in previous entries, though it'll be discussed again in later entries where applicable.)]
On one side we have this concept: the IF is a Mind, but it has no plans and does not initiate events.
On the other side, we have this: the IF is not a Mind, but it has plans (or 'purposes') and initiates events (or 'strives').
What do these propositions offer?
The first one may seem to offer an explanation for the apparent intelligibility of the universe: the universe is not completely arbitrary, and there are notions we can discover about it which we can trust to a very large degree (maybe absolutely) to be true statements of the way reality really is.
These notions could be called static, or even objective, truths, although (like a mountain that isn't going anywhere) these truths would reflect different aspects under different conditions. Two oranges and two tomatoes will always take up four spaces in your box--unless you cut the oranges into sections, after which they are arguably no longer 'two oranges'. And the observations we make about things like this, give us data from which to infer reliable truths.
It would be easy to slur 'intelligible' into 'intelligent'; it would, in fact, be one variation of the famous (or infamous) Argument from Design. [Footnote: it would also, I think, be another variation of the externalistic fallacy: just because an entity behaves intelligibly, does not mean the entity is itself intelligent.] But I don't think the Stoics did this, necessarily. I think they looked around at their lives and their world, and concluded that the entities capable of the best efficiency were capable of reasoning. Greek thinkers were very concerned with 'efficient causes', and the Stoics were no exception; thus the final (and most 'effective') efficient cause must (they decided) be capable of Reason. The 'highest' thing they (and we) meet in our world is reasoning ability; thus Reason must in some way be a function of the highest thing. [Footnote: this would be one variant of the Argument from Reason, though not one of the variants I myself employ.]
Yet the Stoics do not seem to have been proposing an entity that could give commands or introduce effects into the natural order in any fashion; they had already had quite enough of that, thank you very much, from Greek polytheism.
At any rate, I can see that if I accepted the first variation of 'sentient and non-sentient', I might have some reassurance that reality was, at bottom, at least somewhat similar to myself--and a Stoic was very properly concerned with reaching his or her full potential, which involved interfacing most efficiently with reality (which naturally would be feasible if ultimate reality shares some key characteristics with us). At the same time, I wouldn't need to worry about this Mind personally bothering me--it has no purposes, no plans, no personality. It doesn't initiate action. It isn't going to send a priest to my door asking for contributions to the temple, or for my sons in a war--or for my soul's allegiance. I can pay attention to it as a Mind when I want to, and when I feel like it; it is convenient to me. (Time to suggest new laws at the public forum? Well, let's think about how this divine Mind would try to order things if it was faced with our particular situation, and if it had intentions.)
The second proposition offers me a very similar package, despite the switch in characteristics. Instead of the cold, unfeeling mechanism of Darwin and his ilk, Nature must be alive--like me! [Footnote: remember that insofar as natural mechanism goes, the supernatural theists would also usually be included with the "ilk" of Darwin...] Nature is 'up to something', and for all I know it could be something good--if not for me, well, then for my descendants, because self-ordering is in Nature's character, so to speak. (Or, well, somewhere in Nature's character anyway, mumble mumble entropy mumble...) I am alive; it is alive. It and I are not so different. I can look back in all sorts of history, and see Nature providing just the right events at just the right times to bring about--me! At the same time, I needn't worry about Nature bothering me--it has purposes and initiates action, but it has no personality. The kind of actions it initiates are, well, really beneath my notice; too simple and basic to bother me. It isn't going to send a priest to my door asking for contributions to the local parish, or for my sons in a crusade--or for my soul's allegiance. I can pay attention to it as a Life when I want to, and when I feel like it; it is convenient to me. (Look at the past, this is the way history is going; and that means this is the way Life itself, the irreducible Fact of the universe, is striving to go. It is mankind's destiny to be part of the plan I am advocating.)
Obviously, these two ideas throw a sop to my own pride; it is (only) up to me to figure out what the Divine Nature is up to. The Divine either isn't smart enough to understand its own plans, or despite being 'rational' it doesn't have plans. It either isn't smart enough to have opinions of its own, or despite being 'rational' it cannot initiate judgments to form 'opinions' per se. The world is on automatic pilot; and the pilot is an autistic savant who happens to be pretty good at piloting! He's going to do his job, which is only worth my time noticing on the macrohistorical scale, and I'm going to do mine (vitalism). Or, he's going to do his job (except, y'know, without intentions of doing so), and I'm just along for the ride; although it makes a difference to my happiness whether I buckle-up in a first-class seat and take the ride as it comes, or pop open the hatch to crawl out on the wing (early Stoicism). Either way, the pilot isn't going to come out of the cabin and annoy me. I may have to put up with some unruly passengers, of course; but that is to be expected.
On the one hand, we have a denial of initiation ability for the IF; but it still somehow represents the necessary order of interactions between cause/effect, ground/consequent. It is unconscious, but can still produce efficient mental effects--as I can reactively answer questions under anesthesia, although I didn't choose to.
On the other hand, we have an affirmation of initiation ability, although this doesn't include the processing of efficient mental effects. Yet despite its initiation ability, it is still considered to be (quite overtly so) 'unconscious'. Thus it doesn't consciously judge--especially it doesn't judge me! The particular actions it initiates are essentially beneath my notice. For all practical purposes, it is not initiating actions at all.
An atheist, in distinctive opposition, would say: the IF does not initiate actions. It does not think. It is blind, unconscious, automatic. There is no point in saying that It has Reason if those other claims are true about It; that is just playing with words.
A theist (including, I think, some polytheists and pantheists), in distinctive opposition, would say: the IF does initiate actions. It has purposes, and plans, which It is striving to bring to fruition. It knows where it wants to go; and It knows where It wants Nature to go. And that means It knows where It wants me (and you) to go, because one way or another we are part of It. And if It has plans and purposes, then by default--by definition of what a 'plan' and a 'purpose' is--It is intentionally, actively excluding one set of potential behaviors for another set. There is no point in saying It does not have Reason if those other notions are true about It; that is just playing with words.
The n-SIF advocate (for example the naturalistic atheist) and the SIF advocate (for example a Jewish theist) both cut pretty cleanly, I think, through the contradictions of the attempt at a middle-ground. For this reason (and for some reasons involving contradictions in general, which I have already covered in previous chapters), I will eventually be required to decide, if I can, whether the IF is sentient (as an action initiator that can, among other things, actively judge the coherency of linked propositions), or non-sentient (a blind, automatic, non-purposive mechanism that initiates no actions but very effectively reacts and counterreacts).
The middle-ground pantheist (this type of middle-grounder is typically a pantheist, although not all pantheists accept this both/and proposition about the IF) may reply that she didn't literally mean the IF has Reason, or that it has 'purposes'. She was 'only' speaking metaphorically.
I note that in the way she would use this term, she means something reductive--she means the reality is less, not more, than her description implied. I also note this can only lead to a n-SIF proposition if it is followed through consistently! No one ever bothers to say they were 'only' speaking metaphorically when they denied something had active purposes or when they denied something could accurately judge abstract links of reality in what we would consider a 'cogent' manner. No one bothers to say they were 'only' speaking metaphorically when they described reality as 'blind, automatic and non-purposive'. The middle-ground proponents could turn out to be atheists (of some sort) after all; it is, at least, another example of how the attempted position collapses into one or another distinctive position when any kind of practical application is made.
On the other hand, I don't think reductionism is a very good example of what it means to speak 'metaphorically'. Although I think such reductionistic use of metaphor can represent a definite notion that its adherent is trying to get across, such a tactic can be abused to imply that whenever anyone speaks metaphorically they really mean less than they appear to be saying.
I strongly disagree with such a use, and the removal of this misconception will help some people deal with claims about 'religion'. So to the topic of metaphor I now turn.
[Next time: 'on' metaphors]
[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. A continually updated table of contents for all entries so far can be found here.]
I have been arguing throughout this book that philosophical positions can be most cogently divided into two mutually exclusive categories: non-Sentient Independent Fact, or Sentient Independent Fact. I have reached this position mainly by tracing the implications of apparently competitive belief-systems (it turns out they were advocating one of these at bottom all the time), or by discovering that competitive theories end in self-contradictions.
But some people throughout human history would agree there is such a thing as the IF (or at least we must presume there is, in order to build philosophies and subsequent sciences) and that we can discover particular things about it (at least in principle); yet they would also propose that this IF is, in essence or in effect, sentient and non-sentient.
For instance, the early Stoics (dating back before the Christian--or, if you prefer, 'Common'--era) believed the rock-bottom irreducible Fact of reality possessed Reason. Because of this, they insisted that human laws should be drafted and polished to mimic as closely as possible what we could discover about this divine Reason. At the same time, these Stoics insisted that this Reason had no purposes. It was, after all, the physical element of Fire (which they thought was the basic building block of all reality--today we would think of it as ‘energy’); and Fire, while it clearly ‘behaves’ very effectively, has no purposes. They thus rejected the concept that the Ultimate would initiate its own agendas or plans within 'our' world or in our societies. In a way, this philosophy was a rejection of Greek polytheism, perhaps (curiously) by combining the characteristics of two of its ultimate aspects: Chaos and the Fates. Exactly how people got to this belief is not what I am concerned with, however. Some early Stoics proposed (in effect) that what I am calling the IF was really sentient, and really non-sentient.
This type of idea can be found in many cultures, across many eras. In the late 18th through early 20th centuries, as scientists and philosophers were hammering out the implications of biological evolutionary theory, some thinkers proposed vitalism to be true. The rudimentary non-reducible Fact of reality is (according to this proposition) the space-time system we call Nature (taken as a whole); but the basic irreducibly fundamental units of Nature are alive. Yet they are too simple to have a mind: it seemed evident at the time that minds (per se) could only be exhibited in the nervous clusters we call brains. The totality of Nature, considered as a whole (since it is not a 'brain'), must therefore also be considered mindless. Yet (said the vitalists) evolution could be explained as the striving of this mass of ultimately living matter to the intrinsic purpose of self-organization. Entropy might win out in the end, but the natural cohesion of matter (despite entropy in the meanwhile) illustrated this purposeful organization.
Against the vitalists were the mechanists who proposed that Nature as a whole was not and could not be alive, and certainly its most basic units were not alive; and without life (or even with rudimentary life), purposes did not exist at that level. Obviously the mechanists included atheistic naturalists; but (for what it is worth) they also included supernaturalistic theists of various stripes, trying to make sense of the new data.
Again, the scientific/philosophical combinations involved at this juncture are too numerous for me to try to trace (and frankly I haven't the pertinent information to do so). My point is merely that vitalism was another (yet distinct) example of a belief that what I call the IF is both sentient and non-sentient. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
'It really can think, but it really has no purposes and does not initiate action.' 'It really cannot think, but it really has purposes and does initiate action.' I think either version of this concept is necessarily self-contradictory at the primary level; and anything built on this concept will either carry that self-contradiction at its core, or else emphasize (perhaps accidentally) one side at the expense of the other--thus ceasing for all practical purposes to be that sort of belief.
Where self-contradictions are maintained throughout more complicated expressions of the concept, I can literally have no good reason to accept the proposition and so no good reason to accept anything developed afterwards on those grounds: the self-contradiction itself ensures (as I illustrated earlier) that there are no grounds. Advocates of this type of notion might be saying true things about reality when they get to their more complicated proposals; but they would be saying those true things despite their initial position, and this would tell me that if they do happen to be matching reality, then there should be another way to get there.
Furthermore, an attempt to begin in flagrant contradiction must (as a practical matter) collapse into either one proposition or another, in order to maintain some kind of cogency (so far as I have examined SIF and n-SIF propositions). The Middle and Late Stoics, for instance, focused increasingly on the practical application, at both the individual and state level, of the ethics derived from the ultimate Reason. Eventually, some Late Stoics began to express their views in language that hinted an approach to--or maybe even an acceptance of--the notion that the divine Reason was a purposeful, fully sentient deity; the IF was a SIF. [See second comment below for a deferred footnote here.]
This would be only another working-out of issues I have raised before (primarily why I should avoid truly contradictory claims about the IF, if I am going to bother searching for true ideas about it); except that it also has more than a passing acquaintance with some issues I will be raising later in my second section. So I will focus a little longer on these two propositions, and see what comparing and contrasting these claims can tell me about how we, as humans, perceive 'sentience'.
[Next time: trying to have and not have sentience]
I have been reading an apologetics text book, Introducing Apologetics, Cultivating Christian Commitment, by James E. Taylor.
Dr. Taylor, who had been "a committed Christian" most of his life, writes about how in college he began experiencing intense doubts about his faith. Unlike many stories that start like this, he did not find his faith encouraged by the study of philosophy or Christian evidence. In fact, although he "spent must of [his] senior year trying to find arguments for God's existence," he could not find a sure foundation by his investigation.
Obviously, because Dr. Taylor ended up writing an apologetics textbook, he somehow found his faith strengthened. If it was not the study of apologetics, what was it? In his own words,
It was a spring break trip to Mexico with a few hundred fellow students to lead vacation Bible school programs and evangelistic meetings in various neighborhoods around Ensenada. What I found during that trip was that the experience of Christian service, evangelism, worship, and fellowship revived my faith in God. This revival happened because through these experiences I had a strong sense of God's presence and activity.
Because of his experiences, Dr. Taylor rejected evidentialism -- the idea that Christian belief is reasonable only if supported by sufficient proofs -- and embraced fideism. Fideism gives faith pride of place over reason. Dr. Taylor is careful to claim that he is a "responsible fideist" rather than one who rejects rationality altogether.
By "reasonable fideist" Dr. Taylor means that he will steer a middle path between "just having faith" and an overemphasis on reason. "Too much confidence in reason may lead to doubt or unbelief because no combination of arguments and evidence can prove conclusively that God exists or that Christianity is true" on one hand, but that "too much emphasis on faith to the exclusion of reason may also lead to doubt or unbelief because there are legitimate questions of an intellectual sort about Christianity ... that trouble sincere believers and seekers."
I accept Dr. Taylor's point that a Christian's faith is reasonable based on that person's experience of God. William L. Craig calls this the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. In legal jargon, it is self-authenticating. Lest someone object that this is overly convenient, I would point out that it is consistent with the view that God desires relationship with mankind. If God desires a relationship with the poor and the rich, the educated and the ignorant, those with access to the latest scientific research and those consigned to live in illiterate, pre-industrial societies, then He is likely to establish a means of encouraging such relationship that is not dependent solely on the tools of education and reason. In other words, God's love is not limited to those who have the intelligence, time, resources, and education to pursue detailed philosophical arguments or embark on years of historical research.
Nevertheless, I may disagree to an extent with Dr. Taylor's contention that evidences and arguments cannot prove important elements of the Christian faith, such as the existence of God. For example, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge." Psalm 19:1-2. Rather, it seems to me that reasonable faith can rest on one's experience of God and that there are strong evidences and proofs supporting that faith.
I do believe that human reason has suffered from separation from God, but not to the point that rationality itself is suspect. Rather, it is the frailty of the heart, prejudices, and sin that clouds our ability to properly utilize it. Of course, my difference with Dr. Taylor may be one of slight degree. I have not read his analysis of several leading apologetic arguments, such as the Kalam Cosmological Argument or the evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. If I can make the time I will let you know what I find.
[Introductory note from Jason Pratt: the previous entry in this series of posts can be found here. The first entry can be found here.]
In my previous chapter I explained why I think the concept of two or more IFs (whatever their other characteristics may be) leads, one way or another, to a functional proposition of only one IF.
So far when I have discussed a sentient IF (or a SIF), I have identified the IF as 'God'. But of course our history is full of religions where people declare the existence of numerous gods. Notice I have changed the big 'G' to a little 'g' in that statement. I am not trying to belittle this type of belief, but to preserve an important philosophical distinction.
I had to delay this discussion until after I had already covered the issue of what an IF is, and also until after I had established that there was no real point to discussing multiple-IFs (whether sentient, non-sentient, or any mix thereof). Now, I can now safely go back and cover this important distinction. [Footnote: I am also now in a position to cover in more detail what I mean when I contrast a non-sentient IF to a sentient IF--and that will be the topic of my next chapter.]
The IF, as I have been describing It (or Him), is the basis (even the 'base' or foundation) of reality as a whole. What I can discover and reason out about the IF, will affect the scope of intrinsic possibilities of any future propositions I may consider.
If, for instance, I discover that philosophical naturalism must be true, then I must reject as an error any supernatural theory of angels or devils. 'Angels' and 'devils' might still exist, but if naturalism is true they cannot be supernatural in origin or character. It would be a contradiction for entities to have aspects not dependent on Nature, if Nature is the IF--and if naturalism is true, only Nature (one particular system of reality) exists: a philosophical naturalist denies the existence of multiple systems in an ontological sense.
So, any conclusion I reach about reports or propositions concerning angels and devils (for example) should reflect any previous conclusions I have drawn about the characteristics of the IF.
Here is a different example of the same concept. In some versions of Greek mythology, the Fact from which all other things derive their existence is Chaos. It does not think; it is not moral; it makes no choices. It simply reacts and counterreacts according to its own self-existent character. From Chaos, directly emerge the Titans. The Titans cannot overthrow Chaos; and not only are dependent upon it, but also exhibit many of its characteristics. From the Titans come Zeus and Hera, who begin the process of begetting the other gods of the Greek pantheon--and the other gods produce more gods and demigods, humans, etc. (I am not saying this is how the pantheon was developed by Grecian cultures historically, by the way. I am only borrowing one common, and perhaps fairly late, version of the myth as an example for purposes of illustration.) The new gods can overthrow the old Titans because they are not utterly dependent upon them; but they cannot overthrow Chaos. Indeed, many Greek myths illustrate quite well, that (in their own fashion) the gods continue to exhibit the fundamental characteristic of the chaotic Final Fact. (The main difference is that the gods can take actions rather than merely react; and they do seem to have at least a truncated grasp of morality, neither of which are characteristics of non-sentient Chaos.)
The Greek gods, therefore, are not IFs; they are very powerful derivative entities. The entities derived in turn from them, could be less, more, or equivalent in power to them. The gods can trump each other, and to a certain extent they can be trumped by natural processes. (It can be difficult to tell, from story to story, whether these natural processes are or are not supposed to be gods themselves; either way, the principle is the same.) The gods are not supernatural; they are preternatural. And even if in some ways they might be considered to be supernatural (the distinction is sometimes smudgy and sometimes clear, as should be expected in stories told over long periods of time in a culture which developed and honed the practice of principle analysis), Chaos is supernatural to the gods and they still depend upon It.
This example illustrates why, although I consider the question of the existence and characteristics of gods to be interesting and even important; I don't consider it to be one of the first (or even middle) things to discover metaphysically.
Again, I don't mean this to denigrate those religions--I am trying to recognize the real implications of what those religions themselves have been designed to represent or 'say'. Polytheisms rarely (if ever) posit multiple self-existent gods (or Gods, in that case) from the get-go; and I have already explained why I think the very concept of multiple IFs leads to the recognition of a single IF anyway. So I should, and will, postpone the question of the character and existence of gods, until I figure out what properties the IF itself has.
Having explained why I consider the question of the existence of derivative gods to be secondary to (and dependent upon the conclusions of) my main task, I am now in a position to better explain my attitude toward Mormonism.
According to one prevalent interpretation of Mormon theology (though the actual tenets for the notion are, to the best of my knowledge, found only in two sermons, one each by Joseph Smith and Lorenzo Snow, which sermons are not regarded as canonical authority by the LDS church), 'God' was once a man (presumably human), qualitatively like us, who somehow achieved Godhood on a different world (or perhaps natural universe) and then went off with His wife to establish our Earth (maybe including, if I have understood the claim correctly, this evident natural universe in total).
I have a number of problems with this proposal (presuming I have understood these Mormons correctly): for instance, I think it is untenable to claim that natural properties can somehow develop into previously nonexistent supernatural properties. But more to the point of this chapter, I think such a philosophy might as well, at bottom, be some type of atheism--not theism.
Naturalistic atheism would not, in principle, exclude the possibility of a naturally produced creature eventually attaining massive natural power and then doing many of the things attributed to God by the Mormons (or by any traditional theism, actually). God would be a naturally produced entity; He (or, rather, he) would be 'a god', not God. He would still be, admittedly, the most interesting thing Nature (or some Nature somewhere in reality) has produced; and it would admittedly be prudent to obey such a powerful creature, in the same way that it would be prudent to obey King Arthur--or Stalin.
[Footnote: insofar as proper names go, it might be sufficient to say that he is 'God' if he is unique; but then one of the points to Mormonism is that any of us can attain exactly the same kind of development, and be exactly the same kind of entity as 'God'--and purportedly this happens on a fairly regular basis. The superiority of God to exalted humanity would only be the superiorities of a father to any of his natural descendants within a species.]
The Mormons thus seem to be telling me about an emergent god. That may be well and good, but I want to find out what the characteristics of the final Fact are. And, not coincidentally, 'traditional' Judaism and Christianity (and Islam, which also claims Judeo-Christian historical/theological roots but which is not connected to Mormonism) are trying to tell me about that Final Fact--what I am calling the IF. Of course, so is atheistic naturalism. One set of philosophies tells me the IF is sentient, one set tells me it is non-sentient. The Mormons seem to be telling me the same thing the atheists are telling me, or they might as well be, except with some unusual historical details.
[Footnote: the unusual historical details would, in many cases, be ones I happen to agree with, of course. The LDS Christian and I would disagree on the meaning of some of those historical details; but then neither, I suppose, am I likely to have total agreement on interpretation of meaning with any theologian even within the 'traditional' branches of Christianity.]
So the Mormons must be quite right about at least one thing: either they or we 'traditional' Christians (or both) have gotten far off the tracks. But maybe I can get some hints about the correct answer by checking out potential IF properties and the consequent implications. [See first comment below for a deferred footnote here.] Looking for the characteristics of the IF will give me at least a potential handle on what to make of existence/characteristics claims concerning entities which are (by the characteristics notably ascribed to them in their own stories) themselves derivative.
[Footnote: I understand there is another, perhaps less prevalent, type of Mormonism, wherein the three persons of God are treated as ontological IFs in themselves. I have already noted recently, though, how multiple-IF claims end up pointing toward a single IF after all, upon which the IF claimants would themselves be dependent. While my analytical examples were limited to two IFs, the principles work out just the same with any greater number of multiple IF claimants. This leaves me in much the same position, in regard to this variant of Mormonism, as to the more popular 'developmental' Mormonism: either way, the claims point back to an overarching IF; and as a metaphysician, my first concern is with figuring out the properties of that IF, insofar as I can.]
But throughout my book I have been dividing one of the chief potential characteristics, into sentience vs. non-sentience. Some of my readers may ask whether this is a facetious division; or at least, should I not introduce a third category? There are some pantheists (not necessarily all) who would claim that the IF is mindless yet purposeful--or words to that effect. So this is where I will focus my next chapter.
[Next time: SIF/n-SIF vs. ??]