The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Bite-Sized Metaphysics (Series 101)

[Note: an overview of Series 100 can be found [url=]here; along with links to the four other series, once they become available.]

[Entry 1, “Preliminary Clarifications”]
A sceptic, in perhaps the broadest sense, is a person who does not immediately accept a proposition, but questions it. In this sense, I believe any good thinker, including any good Christian, ought to be a ‘sceptic’; so long as the questioning is intended for understanding, and not for the sake of throwing as much fog as possible.

In perhaps the most limited sense, there is a philosophical (or, rather, sophistic) position known as ‘scepticism’, where the intent is to call everything into inextricable question (even “intents” themselves). I will be discussing variations of this position later.

Usually, though, I use ‘sceptic’ in a more moderately broad (though not the broadest) sense, to refer to people who do not already agree with me on many important (even “crucial”) details. This seems more polite than calling such people ‘unbelievers’ (for many people who disagree with me may in fact believe in God, even as I believe in God, in some fashion); or ‘infidels’ (which has connotations of treachery).

At any rate, all of my writing is in honor (and love) of the positive sceptic: the one who questions in search of (perhaps better) answers, and who is willing to believe whatever can be found to be true–even if she doesn’t yet know what that is.

gets out popcorn

Looking forward to this. So far, could we equate your broad understanding of ‘sceptic’ (thumbs up for UK spelling) with ‘critical thinker’?


in the broadest and most positive sense, yes; although for convenience sake there will be times when by ‘sceptic’ (and yes I habitually prefer the British spelling even though strictly speaking ‘skeptic’ is closer to the original Greek :wink: ) I mean those who do not yet agree with me on various positions.

I do wish to emphasize the relation between those two connections, though. After all, by terms of the slightly-less-broad usage, practically every Christian in world history, past present and future, counts as a sceptic in relation to me (unless they happen to believe exactly the same as I do in all particulars, which I do not expect or even especially desire); and I in relation to them. Yet, does this difference mean that they are necessarily my enemies, or that their differences are necessarily not due to critical thinking on their part?

No. No moreso than my differences from them are necessarily due to a lack of critical thinking on my part.

The same principle must be extended, then, by me, as a logical consequence, to all others who disagree with me. My beliefs, in total, will not be someone else’s beliefs, nor my rationales their rationales; but to disrespect others, on this ground, is an open pit. I may disagree with others for such-n-such reasons, but to disrespect others due merely to differences would require, for logical coherency, that I also disrespect myself for disagreeing with them.

I realize that this initial focus on myself will seem egotistical. I’ll begin addressing this soon in future entries. Until then, I will point out that, psychologically, the egotist would be looking for ways around the logic of the previous paragraph, in order to try to keep his own self-respect while sacrificing the respect of other people as competition against his own ego.

I will also mention here, that it would be difficult to overestimate the importance of my observations in this comment, to the material content and results of the forthcoming rationale. To anticipate where, from nearly a decade of experience now, I know this is going to go: it would be no exaggreration to say that I am now and will always remain an orthodox trinitarian Christian (and, subsequently to this, a universalist), because I believe and accept what I have just said in regard to myself and other people. Even if those people are my opponents; even if I disagree with them strenuously as to fact and truth; even if we are and must (in this vale of separation) be enemies.

I believe the theological doctrines of Christianity to be true, because I accept, as a logical necessity, quite literally for sake of argument, that I am required to truly love even my enemies. If I don’t, then I retain my own epistemic rights (or do I…?!) only by, to put it bluntly, cheating. Or by waging a war of oppression, to put it another way.

Those results are a far piece (and maybe a far peace :wink: ) down the road. But when I was looking over my answer to you, I recognized the fullness of where I will be going, present already in my reply. For whatever it may be worth, I thought I should say something about it. :slight_smile:

Qoh dont’t forget the asprin and head massage as well :mrgreen: (sorry Jason :blush: )

Great!–now I have an image of Qoh sprinkling BC powder on his popcorn!! :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue:

But I fully hope and intend for each entry to be not much larger than the first one. :slight_smile: Or about one composition window in size. (The first entry was a little longer because I didn’t count the introductory explanation. :wink: )

Consider my comment to Qoh to be two comments, then. :laughing: (I can’t promise my discussion comments will be only one composition window in size… :wink: )

In a way I miss being on CServe forums, where a 10K character limt was applied to every post. Not that I couldn’t find ways around that, but still. :sunglasses:

[Entry 2]
It may be rightly asked, then, why I believe Christianity to be true. I don’t only mean that this may be rightly asked by a sceptic (though that, too); I mean that I may rightly ask this in proper self-criticsm!

But of course, if I do this, then it means nothing as an exercise unless I play fair: I must be prepared to alter my own beliefs if I find better light to walk by. Otherwise, I am not being faithful to truth–only to my own beliefs.

Admittedly, if I turn out to be the final fact of all existence, upon whom all truths (including the truths of my own existence) depend for reality, then that might not be improper!–but then again, I might not be (let us say) God Almighty, either! If I am not, then I am dependent upon supervening facts of reality, whatever (or whomever, or Whomever) those are; and, to put it mildly, I will not be acting in best conjunction with that reality, by treating my own beliefs as the final ground of truth.

All of which is an initial (and very partial) illustration of the breadth of topics that will be covered, one way or another, explicitly or implicitly, in deciding what to believe as true in what is called a person’s “worldview”. Put more briefly, these are some of the topics of the discipline of “metaphysics”.

[Entry 3]
By tautology, someone who sets themselves to rigorously consider what they should believe, will (or should ideally) be rigorously considering what they should believe.

The very first thing I obviously discovered, when I sat down many years ago (in 1999) to do this, is that I already believed very many things to be true: I was enlisted (and had enlisted myself) on the side of the existence of a particular ‘sort’ of God, since my early childhood.

Indeed, if I look more closely I will find that I am bringing particular notions to the table even if I provisionally set aside the larger notions of God’s existence and character.

(The next obvious thing I discovered, is that there can be a difference (though not necessarily so) between how I previously or first came to believe these things to be true, and how-and-why I may believe them to be true now, today.)

It seemed best to me, then, to first spend time leveling the playing field, so to speak, before beginning a positive argument of discovery about what I should believe to be true for my “worldview”. But: leveling the playing field in what way?

[Entry 4]
Level the playing field in what way?

In such a way that alternate ideas are given fair consideration–otherwise I might as well just re-assert what I already believe and go spend my time doing something else!

But most (or all?) alternate beliefs are already held by other people, who consequently also have certain understandings of God (or of ‘theology’ or at least of something regarding truth). Whether ideas exist or not without a person having the idea, other people do or can have alternate ideas from my own. Am I to respect or disrespect those people, from the outset?

But I have already seen the open pit of disrespect, and how I cannot consistently hold to such an action without rendering irrelevant, at best, any rationale of my own.

It is true that, where ideas differ, I will be disagreeing with other understandings–regardless of which of us is more accurate to the truth on any particular topic or topical set. But would it be a total disagreement? What if there are places where I agree with an opponent on something?

[Entry 5]

Agreement may seem threatening. But without agreement, without common ground, without common grounds–I can have no way even to successfully communicate. Even an intention of oppressive competition requires such a common ground. How much more a respectful, and respectable, discussion?–one that does not render my own rationale irrelevant as anything more than a tool for promoting my egotistical self-interest.

But a union of communication is threatening, potentially and sometimes even actually. On one hand, if you cannot understand why I believe what I do, then why should I expect you to accept that I have argued validly to a conclusion different from what you believe? At the same time, if you (truly) understand why I believe what I do, then you might be able to effectively (and properly) refute me!

A communication of communion, involves submitting to vulnerability. If I am only interested in self-protection, then I will (quite reasonably, even!) reject this. But then the actual accuracy of my reasoning becomes irrelevant: I will be sacrificing truth to myself, in principle and maybe even in practice. Ironically, even pride in my competency requires that I reject and root out pride in my effective power.

So it will be expedient for me to highlight commonalities of belief, for both our sakes: my own and my reader’s.

However, this may involve clearing away some misunderstandings which would otherwise block our efforts.

[Entry 6]
I do not say these would (necessarily) be willful misunderstandings, either on your part or on mine.

A misunderstanding can easily result from incomplete information, or from a logical mis-step in discovering the implications of the information, or even from a mere misconception about a piece of data.

But though inadvertent, such misunderstandings do have results in our consequent understandings about what to believe to be true. You or I might decide that Argument A cannot be true ‘because’ Proposition Z about God (for instance) prevents it from being true; yet Proposition Z may be a misconception.

It seemed best to me, then, to spend time first, before beginning a positive argument about what I should believe to be true for my “worldview”, leveling the playing field, so to speak.

Where to begin, though, in leveling the playing field?

[Entry 7]
Well, the most basic place to start seemed to be with myself; just as, when stepping forth to climb a mountain or ford a canyon or swim an ocean, I have to (obviously!) move myself along through examination and action. But examination, of myself and my surroundings, with an eye toward such a venture, includes checking for obstacles in the way of such a venture. What if I myself am one of the obstacles? Are there ways in which that could be true? If so, I had better deal with those now!–or else I will be tracing a path to nowhere! (Or worse.)

Self-reflexively turning the tables upon myself, then, my own first suspicion would be: ‘Aha! He is going to sneak in some presuppositions, so that when he “begins” his “main” argument, his conclusion will have already been built-in from the start!’

After all, I have seen other writers try exactly this tactic. So, I made a resolution not to do such a thing, and to watch out against doing such a thing.

Not that presuppositions can be avoided. But I should try to find and face presuppositions that I am necessarily using in arguments; not try to sneak them into an argument ahead of time in order to ensure I come out where I start out currently wanting to go (wherever that is). It may happen that presumptions I am tacitly making for argumentation, lead by logical corollary somewhere else than what I currently believe! If so, I can choose either to be accurate in my thinking, or to conveniently sacrifice accuracy in order to protect myself. (But am I truly protecting myself by sacrificing accuracy and exposing myself to error? The question practically answers itself.)

[Note: I have one or possibly two more entries to go in this series, for those who are wondering. This will lead into a next topic, which will have its own thread, as series 102. And so forth.]

[Entry 8]
And so I reach a next warning against myself: if I argue ‘x is true’ and a denomination or some other group or individual agrees that ‘x is true’, then I should fairly admit that I agree on that issue. This way I can fairly claim to have a difference of belief with other people, too: my opposition when our truth-claims collide will not be due to reluctance on my part to find actual agreements with my opponents insofar as I can.

Moreover those agreements should not primarily be for ‘my own’ benefit, as ammunition for my own defense; but for our benefit together. Otherwise I will be led into selective abuse of agreements, and thus into abuse of those with whom I am disagreeing: it will not be about us, in an interpersonal relationship, but only about me.

So, if I think proposition X is correct, I am obligated to admit that other people who share a belief in proposition X are also correct on that score, and thus to acknowledge some real credit on their part, independent of whatever ideological use (or inconvenience!) I may find in recognizing that shared agreement. If I don’t, then I am the one who is willfully burning a potential bridge, of communication and understanding, between those people and myself. To say the least, such an action on my part cannot be done in legitimate conjunction with any goal or duty to interact with persons as persons; at best I could only be trying to make them react to my mere stimulus: the same as if I was trying to enslave them by a dark enchantment.

[Entry 9–final entry for this series]

Of course, rigorously speaking I might discover later that this is in fact all I can be doing; mimetically enchanting other humans in a competition of domination.

Until such time as I can examine that notion further, I will simply note here that if all I am doing is trying (so to speak) to coat you, my reader, with paint so that you will fluoresce when exposed to ultra-violet light, then I am not really presenting arguments to be judged. Attempting to only induce a memetic reaction may be much safer for me; but it denies and traduces your own existence as a person. At best, any ‘argument’ I attempted to make would be the same as making ‘love’ to a plastic doll; it could only be a pretense (at best) on my part, even if the doll was very complex and efficient in its reactions.

Thus, if I present an argument (as such) to you, I choose instead to be at least consistent with the immediate implications of doing so: I will treat you as a person, and let the corollaries fall out where they may from that treatment.

It will be work, and where we truly oppose one another it can be only uncomfortable work. I will hope, however, that I can find enough common ground for it to be tolerable work–and that in the end it will have been worth an opponent’s time and effort, whatever the outcome.

On the other hand, for an opponent who dismisses my attempts with an airy wave of the hand and a platitude (my opponents will probably be quite familiar with similar tactics coming from my side of the aisle), it will not be work at all and probably not uncomfortable!

And so I come to the topic of my next series (102, which starts here: is there any point in discussing such topics at all?