Bridging the Gap

The separation between secular and spiritual thought seems to be a central aspect of the problem of modernity. They need not contradict and it was a mistake to let them diverge. The task, then, is to reconcile the secular and the spiritual.

The proper way to bridge the gap is to build at both ends and meet in the middle. To that end, the destination must be seen from both sides – that is, secular knowledge must become theologically relevant, and religious belief must be justified on secular grounds. I think we can accomplish both.

I say this as a recent convert who was raised as an atheist. The world runs according to knowable physical law; nothing I know contradicts this. Christianity is true; nothing I know contradicts this either. The two appear to contradict when compared directly, but never within the realm of the knowable. This is an illusion brought about by incomplete understanding – the contradictions will vanish like mirages once we close in on them.

All truth is entangled; this holds between religious and secular belief, to the extent both are true. We used to know this, didn’t we? Then natural discoveries started contradicting our understanding of the Bible and that knowledge got lost in the shuffle. It’s time to bring it back.

I already presented a theological argument for the entanglement. The naturalistic argument is simpler: Religion evolved in the world, therefore it is entangled with the world. Either way, theological belief and temporal reality are related and that relationship can be observed and studied.

It should be studied.

I got interested in religion because I learned it works in the pragmatic sense. That took nontrivial intellectual effort and a number of assumptions that are not commonly shared. If the practical benefits – and the necessity of faith for reaping those benefits – can be established in a more accessible way, we have a compelling case from the secular point of view.

On the Christian side, establishing links between theology and observable fact should be of interest, at least for resolving disputes and clarifying open questions. This implies making falsifiable predictions based on religious belief. I think it’s important to test our faith in this way; I’ll expand on that later.

The main disagreement between the sides would be that of primacy. Did God create the world or did the world create him? I think this is a philosophical trick question: the answer, once understood, will be unarguable, inconclusive and obvious.

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5 Responses to Bridging the Gap

  1. A necessary, but extraordinary difficult project for a Christian. That is, to present the faith in not only a reasonable light but one that is true.

    The real intellectual challenge is not mere atheism but something called philosophical naturalism as pointed out by Rudolph Otto in his book Naturalism and Religion.

    Look forward to hearing your arguments.

    • Contingent, Not Arbitrary says:

      Yes, the naturalistic barrier may be unbreakable. Pragmatic optimality of beliefs can be investigated within the barrier, though.

      I’m working with the assumption that Christianity is optimal or can be made so within the parameters of the Revelation. Barring God directly revealing himself, the metaphysical interpretation of that optimality may remain a matter of faith. The pragmatic necessity of that faith, however, would not.

  2. “I’m working on the hypothesis that religious beliefs have secular consequences – and that the metaphysical details of the beliefs matter for those consequences.”

    That is quite correct, as far as we can see.

    “The behavior, in turn, would have an impact on outcomes like family formation and birthrates, to continue with the fertility example. We observe that the secularized West does, in fact, have a fertility problem.”

    (Comment was blocked on a different post.)

  3. ( For some reason your website blocs us from commenting: Will it work here?)

    “I think the problem started with the scientific revolution.”

    An additional possibility is that the Reformation opened the floodgates. It was the Sine Qua Non.

    Later, you had Spinoza and others (presumably) who started doing “biblical criticism”. Then, you had Descartes raising problems; this was followed by Hobbes – the first of the new materialists….

    If there is a problem between science and faith and if science has shown faith to be false or unreasonable, one question to ponder is at what point in history did science “win” over faith?

    Which scientific discovery or theory make faith untenable?

    It seems clear that most/all scientists did not just say “hey, my new discovery refutes God”. For example, Newton was a Christian and clearly did not see a problem. What about Darwin? Darwin, as much as possible, tried to stay away from anything controversial; however, Darwin did make a few remarks that could be interpreted as critical. Nevertheless, from the start, you had different people taking different things away from Darwin’s theory. Asa Gray on the one hand, Huxley on the other and Marx on the gripping hand.

  4. (Perhaps you need to check the filters. Best IE.)

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