Thursday, November 09, 2017

Alternate Bible history

So-called Street Epistemology was popularized by militant atheist Peter Boghossian. One way of viewing it is that the Street Epistemology is attempting to set a trap for Christians by posing a dilemma. They will ask questions like "On a scale from zero to one hundred, how confident are you that your belief is true?" "What are the top three things that make you confident that your belief is true?" "What role does X have in your knowing that the belief is true?" "How confident would you be in the belief without X?" "What evidence would change your confidence in the belief?" "If evidence has no power to alter your confidence, are you really believing based on evidence in the first place?"

The strategy is clear. When you give reasons for your faith, they will ask if your faith would be weakened in case each reason was shown to be doubtful. If you say it wouldn't weaken your faith, then they win because they take that as a damaging admission that your faith wasn't ever really based on evidence. But if you say it would weaken your faith, they will burrow under your reasons to make your faith crater. However you answer the dilemma, they win. 

To some degree, Street Epistemology is a throwback to old debates about whether God-talk is meaningful. And the criterion of meaning was verifiability. Atheists like Antony Flew, John Wisdom, and A. J. Ayer championed that approach. 

Now, in fairness to Flew, some 20C theologians could be very slippery. They protected Christian faith, as they construed it, by detaching Christian faith from its traditional grounding in historical events. That rendered it impervious to empirical disproof. But that protects Christianity by redefining into nice, inspirational ideas that don't match reality. It's important for Christians to avoid stepping into the trap of saying their faith is unfalsifiable in that sense. For they already lost the argument if Christianity is unfalsifiable in that sense. 

However, the conundrum is a false dilemma. Let's recast the issue. Even if, hypothetically speaking, Christianity could be proven false, an atheist wouldn't be able to get much mileage out of that, because something approximating Christianity must still be true. 

According to the Christian worldview, reality is a combination of necessary truths and contingent truths. Many facts about the real world could be different. There are possible worlds in which Bible history is different. It was possible for God to choose someone other than Abraham. He wasn't the only person in Ur to whom God might have revealed himself. It was possible for Jesus to choose a different betrayer. Judas wasn't the only treacherous man in Palestine. 

In principle, God might have relocated Bible history on a different continent with a different people-group. Possible worlds in which the Son becomes Incarnate as a member of a different ethnicity or race. 

There are many ways in which Bible history could be other than it is in our world, yet still be fundamentally the Christian story. Different setting. Different plot. Different characters. But analogous regarding the same kinds of events that must occur to redeem fallen humanity. 

At a metaphysical level, there are necessary truths that must be the same in all possible worlds. It's arguable that necessary truths require a theistic foundation. Moreover, a particular kind of theism, with narrow parameters. Something approximating classical theism. Likewise, if God is triune, then that's a necessary truth. It's arguable that abstract objects depend on God's existence. 

So even if a Christian were to concede that Christian theology is possibly false, the alternative won't be atheism or Buddhism or polytheism or Islam, &c., but Christianity 2.0. An alternate history that's structurally similar to Christianity in our world. That has the same metaphysical machinery. Christianity in an alternate timeline or parallel universe. Dissimilar in many details, but having core similarities. 

To take a comparison, consider religion on Perelandra and Malacandra. These have different planetary histories in relation to each other, as well earth history. And the religious practice is different. But the underlying theism is the same. Same God. 

Keep in mind that Street Epistemologists are simply toying with a thought-experiment. But even at that level, it doesn't begin to move Christianity out of the column. If we're going to debate hypothetical scenarios, then there are hypothetical variations on Christianity. Variations that retain orthodox Christian theism. The underlying source is the same.  

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