Thursday, October 18, 2007
Can the Resurrection be Historical?
There is something greatly incongruous about making historical statements concerning an event that is based upon the “supernatural.” The whole of modernity is based upon denying the supernatural, and upon creating an entire symbolic universe devoid of that concept. To interject the Resurrection into the modern truth régime is to violate the basic canons of what it means to be modern. Thus, we should never expect to find historians hawking Josh McDowell books. If we find scientists supporting the doctrine, they will only do so by distinguishing between their private matters of taste in personal belief and scientific fact. Is this really an acceptable state of affairs? Fifty years ago it was a fact of life. It was just something that had to be accepted like the weather. But in this age, after the advent f postmodern thought, we need not be so dogmatic. It is not that I expect historians to ever speak of the Resurrection as “historical fact.” I would speak so myself. But I think it is fair to say that the exclusion of such events from scientific parlance is misleading. To doubt an event “unhistorical” is misleading. The unwary are given the impression that such events cannot happen. All I really means to speak of the Resurrection as “unhistorical” is to say “we don’t dare speak of this in that way because it’s not ideologically acceptable.”
While it is true that postmodernism has taken some harsh blows, is no longer the big shocking new academic fashion, and has been relegated to the archaeological strata of the course catalogue, along with “existentialism in Europe 3202” and “John Dewey and the American School of pragmatism, 2710,” it is by no means true that postmodernism is finished. Like most academic trends when they become established, when they reach the phase where Freshman intro courses are developed, postmodernism has seen its heyday, but we can still state certain of its premises seriously. Two of the major premises of postmodernism are: (1) No met narratives; (2) our understanding of reality is merely a construct and not a direct meditation of truth. What this means is we don’t have a clear undeniable proof of the nature of the world, what we get is our understanding of the world. No “Meta narrative” means no more overarching grand explanations of all reality, no more ideology, no more great story that explains it all. While this premise rules out Christian theology (for the most part) it also rules out the scientifically based empiricist who reduces everything to numbers and what cannot be reduced to numbers just isn’t worth knowing. Both of these are “meta narratives.” What postmodernism clearly establishes is that there is no world of facts that can be arranged like little building blocks in such a way as to stack up to a total and undeniable demonstration of all reality. “Our understanding of reality is merely a construct” means we are not engaging the world of “things” directly, what we see is not what we get. What we get is our understanding of what we see, and that is filtered through a perceptual filter that is made up of prior symbolic understanding. Its’ all filtered through glasses tended with the colors of our hopes and dreams. The scientifically minded skeptic is more than ready to admit that this is the case for the religious believer. The scientifically based skeptic is ready to tag the believer as irrational and living out a fantasy with an imaginary friend. But what his septic doesn’t see is that his scientifically based skepticism is no less a fantasy and a simulacra of what is real. To construe reality of devoid of anything beyond the numbers is to merely reduce reality to the sets of building blocks of we stack them.
The Postmodern critique of scientific understanding was shattered in the mid 90’s. This is not the great disaster for postmodernism that a lot of people thought it was at the time. The postmodern critique of science in the 90’s had run wild; it needed to be brought down a peg. The so-called “hard project” was basically on the verge of denying that factual understanding of reality was possible. The knockout blow was delivered in the form of an article by a leading physicists, Sokal, published in a literary journal Lingua Frnaca. In the article, Sokal made statements that were so extreme as to be almost idiotic. Statements such as “we scientists no longer consider the concept of an ‘outside world.’” The postmodernists were just beginning to revel in their victory of common sense when Sokal came back with a follow up article mocking the hell of them and saying, “you really believe this crap?” After that point the postmodern project declined and number crunchers everywhere rejoiced. This blow came only a couple of years after the first major blow to Derridianism. Derridianism was the heavy artillery of the postmodern crowd. When one of Derrida’s major allies, Paul DeMann, turned out to be a collaborator with the Nazis during the German occupation of Belgium, the Derrian ship took a direct torpedo blow that all but put it on the bottom of the ocean of ideas. But in the academy postmodernism retrenched into the world of “women’s studies” and “identity politics” and to this day haunts the classroom in any place where feminism is discussed. Postmodernism wields great power in the academy, at least in the liberal arts end of things, and for the rest of society they are great basket weavers. Nevertheless, this was only the “perspective adjustment” the postmodern critique of science needed to snap out of its malaise. There have been many unfortunate outcomes but basically the major concepts mentioned above are still very viable: (1) No met narratives; (2) our understanding of reality is merely a construct and not a direct meditation of truth. What this means is we don’t have a clear undeniable proof of the nature of the world, what we get is our understanding of the world.
Consider the basic driving metaphor of the “hard project.” The “hard project” was the extreme end of the postmodern critique. This is the perspective that Sokal was aiming to hit. The hard project came close to denying that there is any meaningful concept of “reality” and that all perceptions are hopelessly subjective. Their major metaphor is the night sky; the night sky is an illusion. This is scientifically the case. There is a gravitational sense that warps our visual image, so that stars are not actually where they appear to be. While there is some truth to this, to try and put it into a dictum such that “there is no night sky” is to make another sweeping construct based upon half-truths. We only know about the gravitational lens because we have the instruments, developed by scientific thinking, to demonstrate that this is the case. We only know that the appearance of the stars is an illusion because we can demonstrate where they really are in relation to our visual perceptions. The night sky is a good metaphor for the way appearances fool us about the nature of reality. It is not absolute proof of any sweeping ideology or theory because to construct such a concept is to commit the same fallacious maneuver the metaphor is designed to negate. The upshot of all of this is that we need to critically aware of ideologies that try to claim too much in the way they organize the world for us. But this works as much for scientifically based ideologies, and those that try to hitchhike on the coattails of science, such as modern skepticism. We need to be aware that when we try to limit our understanding of what is possible in life, we will lose the phenomena. When we make grand rules such that “there is nothing beyond material realm” we are making a metaphysical statement, one that we cannot back up. The attempt to back up such a statement often leads to a philosophical reductionism that is merely narrow-minded and all attempts to verify the construct are merely begging the question. Of course rule no one, (no Meta narrative) might be construed as a problem for Christianity. If ever there was a Meta Narrative, Christianity is it. Science is not so much a Meta Narrative as it is a method, but the skeptical monopolization of science is a Mata Narrative. Science is neutral. The function of science is the gathering of data toward the purpose of explaining the workings of the natural world. What we conclude about the purpose and ultimate origin of the natural world is a Meta Narrative and is beyond the scope of science. Science is not the only form of knowledge. To use science in that way is to forge a Mata Narrative of it. Christianity is a Mata Narrative, but that’s fine because we cannot live without them. The slogan “no Meta Narratives” is just that, a slogan. What it should be taken to mean is “be aware of the baggage you take on if you buy into this story.” It should not be taken to mean, “don’t ever construct a story” because to say that is to construct a story. We can’t live without constructs and symbolic universes; this is the method through which we think. We construct our view of reality by stacking up the little bits of data and imposing a meaning upon the patters we see in the whole. We can no more avoid doing this than we can avoid sleep. We need to be aware and we need to be critical. So Christianity as a private metaphor shared by a community of believers, is one thing, Christianity as a “fact” interpreting the world is another. Science as a method for determining facts about the workings of the physical world is one thing, science as the engine of a driving skeptical movement aimed as crushing religious belief is something else.
What I’m advocating is keeping the secular market place secular. But “secular” means neutral not “anti-religion.” This is quite a chore because all forces tend to seek the crowding out of all other forces. Nevertheless this is the only real solution. Secularization was invented in the first place as a means of overcoming the strife of the religious wars of Europe. We need not “demonstrate” that the resurrection is a “historical fact.” This is impossible because it is a tenet of faith. What we can do is to demonstrate that the claim is a viable possibility. Ten we can try to understand the claim as a viable tenet of faith not as a fact to impose upon the world. In short we need to understand the resurrection as a truth claim, not an historical fact. Registering a doctrine as a “truth claim” is not a demotion from the status of “fact.” It is a recognition that the truth claim a guiding principle for the faith community, but not something we impose upon the world, neither is it a fantasy. To do this we have to come to terms with the notion “fact” and the meaning of scientific data in the overall project of construct building. Essentially the materialists have relinquished the possibility of limiting possibilities to “the natural realm.” Now this has been something they did not know they were doing, but they have taken positions that make a strict materialism logically impossible. Modern materialism evolved out of the enlightenment. It bore the baggage of the skeptical crisis of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, it was formed as a reaction to Newton and Boyle who basically made argument form design (the argument for the existence of God) into a necessary part scientific method. Many forces arrayed themselves in such a way as to produce a reaction against Newton’s Christianity, which had once been lauded as the direction of modern science. These forces included the left over issues of the skeptical crisis (which pitted faith against reason) the battle of the books, which pitted scholasticism and classical learning against modern scientific empiricism, and the political struggle against the heavy hand of Richelieu’s church. The hatred of modern scientifically minded philosophes for scholasticism was unbounded. The feeling developed that only that which is empirically proven can be trusted. This was viewed by post Revolution thinkers as the only tonic for the dogmatic authority of the church. When LaPlace presented his scientific theory of the universe to Napoleon, the emperor is said to have asked how it was that the system lacked any reference to God. LaPlace is reputed to have remarked, “I have no need of that hypothesis.” That remark has long been seen as the sounding death knell of the inclusion of God or religious idea in the factual understanding of “reality.” Science became the modern umpire of what can be taken as real, and matters of faith had no place in science.
LaPlace’s statement was based upon the assumption of naturalistic cause and effect. He had no need of the God hypothesis because naturalistic cause and effect explained everything; all we really needed to know was the workings of the physical world. There was no reason to accept any truth beyond the physical world. Thus modern science developed with the understanding that it’s true domain was the physical world; scientists just ignored the fact that making dictums about what the world included and excluded was a metaphysical ordering beyond the domain of science. Modern skepticism grew up feeding itself upon the delusion that science is its ace card against religion, that it alone is scientific and that science is there to reinforce skepticism.
1) The notion of something from nothing voilates basic assumptions of materialism
a. Materailism based upon cause and effect
Dictonary of Philosphy Anthony Flew, article on "Materialism"
"...the belief that everything that exists is either matter or entirely dependent upon matter for its existence."
Center For Theology and the Natural Sciences Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate: God, Humanity and the Cosmos (T&T Clark, 1999) http://www.ctns.org/Information/information.html Is the Big Bang a Moment of Creation?(this source is already linked above)
"...Beyond the Christian community there was even greater unease. One of the fundamental assumptions of modern science is that every physical event can be sufficiently explained solely in terms of preceding physical causes. Quite apart from its possible status as the moment of creation, the Big Bang singularity is an offence to this basic assumption. Thus some philosophers of science have opposed the very idea of the Big Bang as irrational and untestable."
b) Something from nothing contraidicts materialism
Science and The Modern World, Alfred North Whitehead.
NY: free Press, 1925, (1953) p.76
"We are content with superficial orderings form diverse arbitrary starting points. ... sciene which is employed in their deveopment [modern thought] is based upon a philosophy which asserts that physical casation is supreme, and which disjoins the physical cause from the final end. It is not popular to dwell upon the absolute contradiction here involved."[Whitehead was an atheist]
c) Causality was the basis upon which God was expelled from Modern Science
It was La Plase's famous line "I have no need of that Hypothosis" [meaning God] Which turned the scientific world form beliving (along with Newton and assuming that order in nature proved design) to unbelief on the principle that we dont' need God to explain the univrese because we have independent naturalistic cause and effet. [Numbers, God and Nature]
2) Materilism Undermines Itself
a) Big Bang contradicts causality (see quotation above)
b) QM theory seems to contradict cause/effect relationship.
c) Rejection of final cause
3) Probabalistic Justification for assumption of Cause
We still have a huge justification for assuming causes inductively, since nothing in our experince is ever uncaused. The mere fact that we can't see or find a cause isn't a proof that there isn't one.
4) Therefore, we have probabalistic justification for assuming Final cause
Thus, the basis upon which God was dismissed from scientific thought has been abandoned;the door to consideration of God is open again. The reliance upon naturalistic cause and effect in consideration of ultimate origins is shattered, but this does not make it rational to just assume that the universe opoped into existence with no cause. Since we have vast precident for assuming cause and effect, we should continue to do so. But since naturalistic cause and effect seems unnecessary at the cosmic level, we should consider the probablity of an ultimate necessary final cause.