Wednesday, November 09, 2005

“Voluntary Suspensions” Required by “Scriptural Theology”

Attempts at systematic theology in Mormonism tend not to stand the test of time; it is the revelatory and historical narratives that retain vitality and endure to be reinterpeted and reapplied on an individual basis in every generation. This means that most believers end up with an ad hoc, informal, often subconscious and implicit worldview. However, philosophers cannot help themselves, and in an interesting post Jim F. describes what he considers a legitimate form of systematic theology. His “scriptural theology” is defined by a method (“keeps its eye on the word of God as its origin”) and a goal (“intimate relation”—understanding and experience of “human being and our relation to God”). I complained that this approach seemed to require “voluntary suspension of the totality of our experience and knowledge, and the urge to integrate it all.”

Jim F. explained further, but I’m not sure I’m really ‘getting it’ yet, beyond recognizing the possibility that what I called an “artificial boundary demarcation” (or might also call ‘putting blinders on’) might be considered instead a helpful focus—on “the God we worship” rather than “the metaphysical god.” I am not yet sure these can be separated. The claim that they can be separated seems to require abandoning (Joseph’s?) claim in the Lectures on Faith that one comes to rely on God because of knowledge of his (metaphysical?) attributes. (Of course, the Lectures on Faith may be the Mormon index case of pathological theology Jim F. argues ought not be done: after all, they were dropped from the canon, in spite of the fact that their presence was responsible for the word “Doctrine” in the title Doctrine and Covenants, as the 1835 edition makes clear.)

In any case, I’ll try here to articulate what I meant by my “voluntary suspension” statement by giving one example in terms of method and one that suggests why “metaphysical questions” might in fact be relevant to the goal of intimacy with God.

First, an example of “voluntary suspension” in terms of method. The word of God teaches me about God’s creation of myself and my world. Presumably I am taught these things in order to convince me that (a) I have a relationship with God, and (b) it is a relationship that ought to be characterized by my obedience to him. However, allowing “the totality of our experience and knowledge” into the picture (scientific evidence in this case) raises the possibility that the scriptural account of creation is inaccurate, with possible consequences for the notions of whether I have a relationship with God or what is legitimately required in terms of obedience. Because I consider science a valid enterprise, I am uncomfortable with a focus on scripture that excludes consideration of the impacts of scientific claims on ‘theology.’

Next, an example of the “voluntary suspension” of questions relevant to the goal of intimacy with God. The word of God teaches me that God has control over the elements, and gives numerous examples and warnings of his willingness to exercise that control as a way of rewarding faith and punishing disobedience. (This is a major difference with the members of one’s family, and reveals an important limitation of the analogy with familial relationships.) On the other hand, our day-to-day observations of the world show that the elements cause considerable pain to innocent others. This raises questions about God’s existence, power, or benevolence, and therefore has potential consequences for my trust in and intimacy with him. By enforcing focus on the word of God, Jim F.’s “scriptural theology” would by fiat exclude from consideration our observations of pain to innocent others; but I am uncomfortable with the exclusion of such obvious empirical input.

I recognize that by legitimizing questions of theodicy based on observations of pain to others, I am at odds with a principle I have previously espoused when it favored me in my guilt—withholding judgment when one is not personally affected. I think I must retreat from that position to some extent, or at least qualify it. Our social interactions are sufficiently complex as to rely not only on direct reciprocity, but also indirect reciprocity and a presupposition of general adherence to cultural norms. In this context the establishment of reputations becomes necessary, and basing them in part on well-established observations that do not directly involve us may become legitimate. (Our proclivity for gossip suggests that in bygone ages or under dysfunctional civil authority it was/is necessary or at least effective, sort of like black markets in dysfunctional economies.) Therefore, it might be argued, it is legitimate to establish a reputation for God based on his observed actions with respect to the elements. I suppose one rejoinder may be that God is not just another member of our society but is a unique outsider above and beyond it (‘Where wert thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?’ and so on), and could never be in our debt, and therefore the concepts of reciprocation and cultural norms and reputation do not apply to him. Another (related I guess) is that it may be impossible for us to justly evaluate the facts, both because he operates on spatial and temporal scales beyond normal human consideration (‘My ways are higher than your ways’ and so forth), and because we may not be privy to comfort he may in fact provide innocent others in their extremities.

22 Comments:

Christian,

Thank you very much for taking this up as a post. I'm flattered. I'll try to say a few things by way of response, but I won't try to tie them all together. In addition, I'll probably continue to do most of my posting on the topic in the thread at T&S. That makes my life easier and I'm basically lazy.

First, I don't think that scriptural theology is a form of systematic theology. There are a number of non-systematic theologies, including narrative theology (closely related to scriptural theology), pastoral theology, and sacramental theology.

You are right that I think the Lectures on Faith  is a good example of what we ought not to be doing.

As for your examples: if I read the scriptural account as an account of creation that is somehow on a par with that of science, then of course I would have to raise the possibility that science shows the scriptural account to be inaccurate. But let me quote myself (in an as yet unpublished piece in which I refer to myself!):

Begin quotation: It is common to understand religious creation accounts as reflections on the origins of the cosmos, answers to the question “why?” that are in some sense parallel to the scientific question why. That is a mistake. There may be cases in which myth functions as a kind of primitive science, but the biblical story of creation is not one of them.[Note 1] The additional creation accounts of LDS scripture, namely, the books of Moses and Abraham, and the temple ritual, are at least equally cases in which scripture cannot be understood as primitive science. The multiplicity of accounts and the differences between them makes that difficult, if not impossible. Of course, secularists are not the only ones to assume that the Bible story of creation is a case of primitive science. Some religious people also make that assumption, especially those who consider themselves literalists. Ironically, when people argue for creation science or for what is usually called a literal reading of the Bible, they are agreeing with the secular understanding of things.[Note 2] They use a framework taken from secularism, with its necessity that explanation have a scientific form, to try to understand the Bible. Using that secular framework, when faced with the project of making scripture and science answer the same questions, some give up scripture entirely and others metaphorize it. Still others who call themselves scriptural literalists keep scripture and insist that its account can be brought within the secular myth, though of course they would not say that is what they are doing. But each of these three groups do essentially the same thing, they begin from a secular understanding of scripture.

Note 1: Those unfamiliar with this view should see, for example, André LeCocque and Paul Ricœur, Thinking Biblically (Chicago: U of Chicago, 1998) and Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).

Note 2: I quarrel with the description of “fundamentalist” readings of the Bible as literal readings. Such readings are exactly not literal—by the letter—readings; they are secularized readings, though in disguise. For more on this, see my “Scripture as Incarnation,” in Paul Hoskisson, ed. Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures 17-61 (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001).
End quotation

So the problem is that the question of whether the scriptural account of creation is scientifically accurate asks us to compare apples and oranges. It is a bad question.

I would respond to the question about theodicy that you raise in a similar fashion: it isn't at all illegitimate to ask how to reconcile the belief that God is just with our experiences of pain and suffering. But it is a mistake, I think, to put that question in the philosophical terms of philosophy. Job deals with the problem; other scriptures respond to it. One is better off responding to that issue as it occurs in scripture rather than in terms of philosophical theology because the god who appears in philosophical theology isn't the God who reveals himself in the scriptures and in our experience.

By the way, I have a lengthy essay on the problem of theodicy, too lengthy to include here or to post on T&S, but if you'd like a copy, right to me and I'll send you a copy.  

Comment by Jim F | 11/09/2005 11:22:00 AM  

I should say something about how I use the word "myth" in the quotation, above. It doesn't mean "false story." It means, instead, "an account that reveals a way of being in the world." Though that may sound odd, it is in basic agreement with one standard, scholarly use of the term.

And, by the way, I do know how to spell "write." I'm embarrassed by that last line.

Comment by Jim F | 11/09/2005 11:30:00 AM  

Egad! I should proofread more carefully. In the next to the last paragraph of my first response I meant "in the philosophical terms of theology" rather than "in the philosophical terms of philosophy."

On my way to dinner eating humble pie,

Jim | 11/09/2005 11:33:00 AM  

Jim, thanks for being charitable in not taking my post as "poaching," and for correcting my obviously mistaken use of the term "systematic theology" as applying to your post. Sorry I can't correct typos; unlike WordPress, Blogger doesn't have the ability to edit comments, only delete them.

I'm not very familiar with mythic or ritual or covenant/relational understandings of scripture, and how this might be something more than (mere?) metaphor. Habits of "secular"/ontological perspectives will be hard to break for me, and trying to smooth over the implications of the fact that the prophets of the Restoration seem have had such perspectives down to the present will be a tough sell. But I will begin to explore it by looking at the references you suggest. (I recently acquired the book edited by Hoskisson but haven't read it yet, except for the Oaks address on the internet a long time ago.) 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/09/2005 12:30:00 PM  

Christian:

How or why this "voluntary suspension of the totality of our experience and knowledge, and the urge to integrate it all" *voluntary* rather than simply dictated by reality, and thus involuntary?

Furthermore, how, if at all, is this "voluntary suspension" uniquely problematic (or undesireable) in LDS theology/philosophy but not in other contexts like scientific or secular epistimological thought generally?

Isn't it fairly common to have scientific principles that are true (or believed so) but that cannot be "reconciled" with each other and thus integrated into the totality of our experience? I'm thinking of my cro-magnon-esque understanding (or misunderstanding) of the dichotomies that emerge in theories on the duel nature of light, Newtonian vs. quantum physics, and ongoing efforts to reconcile what could be viewed as contradictory principles.

We wouldn't typically say that the independent principles are false simply because we can't reconcile them with each other. Instead, we would concede that we require more understanding and we could exert additional effort to obtain that understanding.

Nor would we claim to be *voluntarily* suspending anything. Rather, we would say that the nature of the phenomena is such that we simply can't reconcile everything--yet.  

Comment by Pete D. | 11/09/2005 12:44:00 PM  

Christian, I can't make any sense of the concept of poaching, so your post certainly didn't bother me. If someone wants to talk about something in a blog, why should we care that they do it on their own blog rather than on ours?

Pete D., I think we are generally in sympathy with each other. The only difference I see, at least so far, is that I am not sure that all understandings of phenomena can  be reconciled into one. (I don't think that the one great whole has to be a conceptual-intellectual whole; it could be the wholeness of a person rather than that of an intellectual system.) Perhaps they can be so reconciled, but I don't see why they necessarily have to.  

Comment by Jim F | 11/09/2005 02:59:00 PM  

Pete, if a change in point of view is forced by overwhelming evidence of the nature of reality, or if we are unable to appreciate other possibilities because of our entrenched paradigms, I would describe those situations as involuntary. 

By "voluntary" I meant consciously excluding information for the purposes of reaching some conclusion or understanding, sort of like how information can be purposefully excluded from juries' knowledge or consideration in legal proceedings. There may be good reasons for doing so, but it sometimes does violence to a layman's intuition for opportunities to guess at the 'whole truth.' It is this sort of discomfort I was expressing.

It is true that in some cases in science things cannot yet be reconciled due to lack of knowledge (e.g. quantum mechanics and gravity is widely believed to be one such example). Other times one theory can be shown to be wrong or of limited validity compared to another (e.g. Aristotle vs. Newton, or Newton vs. general relativity and quantum mechanics). The creation account treated in a "secular" perspective in the way I understand Jim's sense above (i.e. "scientific" or maybe ontological) is wrong in my opinion; more data is not going to help our creation stories turn out to be more scientifically respectable.

The wave/particle duality in quantum mechanics might be a better analogy than the others you mention to the kind of idea I understand Jim to be getting at. The wave/particle duality involves qualitatively different, complementary (indeed, mutually exclusive) ways microscopic entities are manifested depending on how they are probed. I understand Jim to be saying that (for example) creation accounts should be understood in a way that is qualitatively different from scientific factuality (and yet something more than metaphor). I don't yet understand what that could be. Whatever it is, two problems I see are (1) At some point and somehow, religion must make factual claims about ontological reality. Will we be resurrected and rewarded/punished or not? (2) How do I tell when the scriptures are speaking in the alternate non-factual mode?  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/09/2005 03:37:00 PM  

I suspect Christian, Jim meant the wave/particle divide as considered in the 18th and 19th centuries. I think the modern notion in QM is something quite different. There I suspect the better analogy would be the contradictions between GR and QM - although they aren't quite as pronounced as some of the differences in the 19th century.

The analogy breaks down somewhat because typically one theory of light dominated. You didn't really have both forms used simultaneously to the degree they could. 

Comment by Clark | 11/09/2005 03:41:00 PM  

Clark, I guess Jim can speak for himself but I stand by what I said. I think the wave/particle duality remains with us in QM. And I don't think the hoped-for reconciliation of gravity and quantum mechanics is a better analogy for Jim's position. For one hopes for a true reconciliation in the case of gravity and quantum mechanics, whereas Jim in his response to Pete has explicitly allowed for the possibility that no such reconciliation is possible between scriptural and scientific truths---just as there is no such reconciliation between the wave and particle manifestations of microscopic entities. They are simply complementary. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/09/2005 04:15:00 PM  

Rather I should say, I understand Jim to be saying that scientific and scriptural truths might  be complementary. I'm pretty skeptical, though interested in the idea. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/09/2005 04:18:00 PM  

Christian:

You say that "more data is not going to help our creation stories turn out to be more scientifically respectable." You seem pretty confident, but how do you know this without the data itself? Faith?

If by "voluntary suspension" you mean the tendency to make or stick with broad conclusions encompassing unknown quantities or contradicting known quantities, then I would agree that voluntary suspension is a bad thing. But that would be a phenomenon that exists in religious or secular thought alike, right?

I was getting the impression that you think voluntary suspension is required by religion and that makes religion problematic.

Jim F:

In the abstract I do believe that all phenomena can be reconciled, but not necessarily by us at this moment. I like the quote (Henry Eyring?) "I am only required to believe that which is true."

Mostly, I wanted to know why (or if) Christian views religion as requiring a "voluntary" suspension and whether or why this "suspension" that he speaks of is unique to religion (lds) and/or a bad thing. What I hear him saying though, is that it is only your particular view of religion that requires a voluntary suspension. Does it? Do you believe it impossible (even for God) to reconcile all phenomena?  

Comment by Pete D. | 11/10/2005 08:41:00 PM  

Pete, I don't want to discuss my reasons for doubting that the creation accounts can be thought of as scientifically respectable here in a comment. I will try to make it the subject of a post in the near future.

With regard to the "voluntary suspension" I meant that it sounded to me like the methodology of Jim's "scriptural theology" required ignoring information from outside the scriptures. I was/am suspicious that this amounts to an attempt to get rid of thorny problems with a kind of parlor trick---basically by defining things or restricting scope in such a way that the problems never arise. My concern is that religion will lose its authority in this approach---why should I believe or care about scriptural claims if the scriptures do not make real statements about what has or will happen to objects in the real world?  

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/11/2005 03:05:00 PM  

I wasn't asking you to discuss your current "reasons for doubting that the creation accounts can be thought of as scientifically respectable." I just wanted to know how you can be so confident that further data would not make them more respectable, when you haven't seen that data.

As far as your second paragraph, it gels with my question to Jim, and I want to hear from hin as to whether that is what he means. 

Comment by Pete D. | 11/11/2005 05:37:00 PM  

Further data is most helpful when a proposition has not yet been falsified. If a theory has already been falsified by valid data, no amount of new data will save it. (For example no amount of data I have not yet seen will rehabilitate Aristotle's dynamics or cosmology.) What I am putting off to another post are reasons why the proposition that the creation accounts are "factual" has already been falsified.

I don't know if Jim will make it back to this thread---on T&S he said he was going offline for a few days. I have done a first reading of his article in the historicity book he refers to above, and may write a post about it in the future. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/12/2005 02:24:00 PM  

Let me remind and clarify: even if the creation accounts are not factual, they might nevertheless convey important truths as myth (in the academic sense , not meant to be pejorative). 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/12/2005 02:48:00 PM  

Sorry not to have joined back in earlier. I suspect you have each moved on in the mean time, but in case you've not, here are a couple of ideas.

Pete D: Do I believe that God can reconcile all accounts? I don't know whether he can, but it is possible that he cannot. I don't believe that his divinity requires it. It only requires that he be able to use the right account in the right circumstances.

Christian: When you say "Even if the creation accounts are not factual, they might nevertheless convey important truths as myth," what do you mean by "factual"? Don't you, perhaps unintentionally, mean "factual from a scientific perspective"? I am willing to maintain that they are mythic (i.e., that they structure reality for us) and that they are also factual.

As to the original topic, theodicy: You may be interested in reading David Bentley Hart's short book, _The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami?_ Though, for obvious reasons, I don't buy his claim that we have to believe in creation ex nihilo and in the impassibility of God, I don't think his argument as a whole requires those beliefs. I highly recommend it.  

Comment by Jim F | 11/28/2005 03:58:00 PM  

Jim, thanks for coming back. I've put your suggestions on my reading list.

I think I did mean "factual" in a scientific sense. I am pretty unwashed philosophically, and am still having a bit of a struggle to guess how this myth category is more than metaphor, and factual, but not scientifically factual. I did a first reading of your chapter in the Historicity  compilation, but this question remains with me. I probably need to read the books you suggested earlier in the thread before I could talk intelligently about it.

The only thing I could come up with so far is that the creation accounts might be more than metaphor because the main "characters" are not symbols, but "play" themselves ("God" is really God, "Adam"/"Eve" are really mankind/womankind as in the principal meaning of the Hebrew, etc.), and that the relationships presented are in some sense an accurate reflection of reality.

Perhaps some examples might help me. What are the "facts" in the mythic creation account that make it "factual"? If it's about relationships, what are the relevant relationships I am to understand? Are accounts of Jesus' resurrection and the final judgment mythically factual or scientifically factual? If the latter, how do I tell when the scriptures are speaking in these different modes? 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/28/2005 07:28:00 PM  

Christian,

The earlier wave-particle discussion between you and Clark is helpful. I don't know what the majority of scientific opinion is about whether there will eventually be a way in which to reduce the results of the split-screen experiment to a single theory, but it doesn't matter to my point. The analogy is a good one if we can understand those who believe that no possible reduction to one account will explain the results, who believe that we will be stuck with treating light as a wave in one case and as a particle in another. They merely have to have a reasonable, rational opinion, not a correct one, to give us the possibility of more than one irreducible account.

The facts in one account are not the same as the facts in another because the account presumes a certain background theory. In the case of scripture the background theory is religious "myth." In the case of science the background theory is scientific "myth." And "myth" refers to any system for organizing our experience as a whole. We could also talk about a universe of discourse or even context, and I'll use the three here more or less interchangeably.

The facts of the creation story in Genesis are exactly what the text says: God created the heavens and the earth; he created the inhabitants of the seas and the air on the fifth day; he created terrestrial beings and human beings on the sixth day; he rested on the seventh. But none of those words or the claims they make in combination take their meaning from the ways in which they would be used in scientific language, and few (probably none) of the claims would even appear in a scientific text. Even terms or claims that seem to be the same are not, for they don't mean the same thing in the scriptural context that they would mean in a scientific context. (After all, context determines meaning; no words or claims mean by themselves regardless of context.) Thus, the claims of Genesis have no  meaning scientifically.

The same is true for the scientific claims about the earth's beginnings: few if any of the terms or claims of science appear in the Genesis text, and those that seem to don't have the same meaning—so it is equally true that scientific claims have no meaning in Genesis. Meanings are determined by context, and contexts are not necessarily reducible to one. Genesis and earth science neither agree nor disagree because they aren't within the same universe of discourse.

The mistake that most scientists and religious people make is to assume that the accounts they are talking about occur within the same universe of discourse. I believe that, ironically, they both assume that the accounts occur within the scientific discourse. If they didn't, some religious people couldn't be talking about the supposed need to include creationism of some kind in school science classes.  

Comment by Jim F | 11/29/2005 07:42:00 AM  

Jim, many thanks for the patient explanation. I know I need to do my own homework based on the references you've provided, and not expect an ongoing, detailed, time-consuming personal tutorial. But I'll throw some further questions out there that you need not feel obligated to answer if they're too time-consuming.

I'm open to this notion of different universes of discourse, but I think I will remain suspicious until I could get a 'feel' for it---enter into it, understand it, and perceive the meaning for myself from within that universe. How does one do that? (Ideally your unpublished paper you quoted above does just such an exegesis, and you will send me a copy! Short of that, I suppose I should try the references you suggested.)

I'm a little worried about definitions of the scriptural and scientific contexts.

With regard to the scriptural context, do you see the entire canon, both ancient and modern, as a unitary universe of discourse? Or do you allow that the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants might have different (possibly overlapping) universes of discourse?

It's true there aren't scientific terms in Genesis, but by 'scientific context' I don't mean to be limiting myself to the use of precise technical jargon, etc. I mean something like the following example. Suppose I go outside and kick a stone across the street. I see it, hear it, feel it, etc. Then I go inside and tell my wife, 'I just kicked a stone across the street.' To my present way of thinking, this statement to my wife would be a 'scientific text.'

Now consider the statement "[Jesus] was crucified, died, and rose again the third day" (D&C 20:23). Is this a "scientific text" in the same way my statement to my wife is? Or is it a "scriptural text" whose meaning is potentially very different than a common-sense factual reading---potentially as different as the 'scriptural' reading of Genesis would be from the 'scientific' (mis)reading of Genesis? 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/29/2005 03:17:00 PM  

Christian, I appreciate the chance that your questions give me to try to make what I think more clear because it helps me make it more clear to myself as well as to others. For obvious reasons, I won't be able to go into great depth, but I'll try to give an adequate sketch by answering your questions or responding to your remarks serially.

Christian: I'm open to this notion of different universes of discourse, but I think I will remain suspicious until I could get a 'feel' for it—enter into it, understand it, and perceive the meaning for myself from within that universe. How does one do that? (Ideally your unpublished paper you quoted above does just such an exegesis, and you will send me a copy! Short of that, I suppose I should try the references you suggested.) 

JEF: Sorry that I've not sent that paper. I forgot that I said I would. I'll do it right away.

I'm a little worried about definitions of the scriptural and scientific contexts.

With regard to the scriptural context, do you see the entire canon, both ancient and modern, as a unitary universe of discourse? Or do you allow that the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants might have different (possibly overlapping) universes of discourse?


Good question. I think they are one universe of discourse, though they are not unified in the way that a scientific or philosophical universe of discourse. They are not unified by having a logical, consistent set of terms that they use.

But I need to be more careful. I use the term "universe of discourse" (as well as a number of other terms, including "world" in Heidegger's sense—related to "life-world" in Husserl) in two ways: to describe the discourse of a particular realm of our experience or to describe the overarching, dominate understanding of the world that structures our understanding. The paper published in Historicity is concerned with the latter more than the former. Today a roughly scientific world-view/mythology/universe of discourse/world dominates; in general, we understand all other ways of understanding as they relate to that one.

That has not always been true, and it isn't necessarily true or best. It is only an historical fact that we see the world that way. We could see it otherwise, and if we did so that wouldn't necessarily negate the possibility of continuing to do science. It would only mean that scientific understanding was not the sine qua non of understanding.

It's true there aren't scientific terms in Genesis, but by 'scientific context' I don't mean to be limiting myself to the use of precise technical jargon, etc. I mean something like the following example. Suppose I go outside and kick a stone across the street. I see it, hear it, feel it, etc. Then I go inside and tell my wife, 'I just kicked a stone across the street.' To my present way of thinking, this statement to my wife would be a 'scientific text.'

Why would that be a scientific statement? Isn't it because we take scientific understanding to be the fundamental way of understanding, that by which we measure all other forms of understanding? Ordinary language doesn't usually fit into one of the universes of discourse if we use that term in the first way. As a result, it is neither scientific, nor religious, nor . . . . Nonetheless, it is dominated by a particular way of understanding the world. ("Understanding" here includes, especially, tacit understanding; it isn't limited merely to reflective understanding.) For us, that means that it is dominated by scientific understanding, causal relations of a certain kind.

But if our ways of understanding were dominated by a different understanding, perhaps a religious one, then the causal relations would themselves be different. If we continued to have science, which of course I would hope we would, they would include the almost exclusively efficient causality of science, but they would also include other understandings of causality, such as formal, final, and material, and the notion of efficient causality would be broader than that of contemporary science. In that world, "I kicked a rock across the road" would not be a scientific claim in the broad sense.

Now consider the statement "[Jesus] was crucified, died, and rose again the third day" (D&C 20:23). Is this a "scientific text" in the same way my statement to my wife is? Or is it a "scriptural text" whose meaning is potentially very different than a common-sense factual reading---potentially as different as the 'scriptural' reading of Genesis would be from the 'scientific' (mis)reading of Genesis?

When you refer to "the common-sense factual reading," you beg the question. You assume that the scriptural text is neither common-sense nor factual and assume, implicitly I think, that a scientific text is common-sense and factual.

It isn't that the meaning of the quotation from the D&C is potentially very different than a common-sense claim. It is that the common-sense claim of the scriptures isn't to be understood within the same network of meanings, relations, background, theories, etc., as a common-sense claim made within network. The scriptural claim occurs and gets its meaning within a context or universe of discourse of religious claims, of religious myth; the scientific claim occurs and gets its meaning within the myth of science.

The general point is that there are no facts in themselves. Facts have meaning only as they relate to worlds (to repeat: in the Heideggerian sense of "world"), contexts, myths, universes of discourse. But there is no reason to assume and good reasons not to assume that there is only one possible world. Most of us live in a variety of worlds at various times and in various pursuits. Different eras of human history have been dominated by different worlds. Those differences between worlds yield differences in meaning that cannot necessarily be compared. We must always ask what justifies reducing the understanding of any particular world to that of another, and we must recognize that the answer is often "Nothing."  

Comment by Jim F | 11/30/2005 01:25:00 PM  

Jim, thanks again for your detailed answer. I'll need to take a little more time to think about what you've said, but just wanted to mention one thing right away: no need to apologize, because I don't think you had promised to send the paper from which the quote on creation accounts was taken. (You had offered the theodicy essay, but I told you I had already been able to get that one from your website.)

In any case I look forward to reading it. 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 11/30/2005 01:54:00 PM  

You're right, I did try to sneak in the idea that a scientific text is common-sense and factual.

Your paper is challenging, more than I can respond to in a single comment or even post. I attempted a first installment here . 

Comment by Christian Y. Cardall | 12/02/2005 12:00:00 AM  

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