9/02/2013

Looking at the World

Reading Orthodoxy has me thinking anew about the best way to present Christianity to modern society. To me Christianity is a way of looking at ourselves and the world. C.S. Lewis captured this nicely when he said “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

Christianity makes specific claims about the world, about who we are, and about history. But arguments about those specific claims seem to miss the point of how people come to believe things. At the end of Doug Tennapel’s Creature Tech, the main character (a scientist) has converted to Christianity. He says “As I look at the world, nothing has changed. The evidence is the same. But I have changed”.

I think that is spot-on. Converting to Christianity is about changing, not about accepting the conclusion of a set of arguments. And as such, I think that narrative is an important way of explaining Christianity and showing how Christianity explains why the world is the way it is.

In Orthodoxy Chesterton is telling a story that he finds compelling, and inviting others to find it compelling as well. Now, compelling is not the same as true. But the evidence that the world gives us is subject to multiple interpretations; there is no way around asking “what way of looking at the world makes the most sense of it to me?” Maybe the world has blind, unguided processes at the bottom. Maybe it has a Mind and a Purpose. But no deductive argument will get you there, you just have to weigh the evidences as you find them and reach a conclusion that makes most sense to you.

There are lots of ways to go about showing how Christianity makes sense of the world. I have made previous attempts here and here. Another example: Spiders strike me as are a strange combination of beautiful and grotesque - beauty in a web glistening with the morning dew; and in the incredible act of spinning a web in the first place. Grotesque in the fangs, the eyes, the bloodsucking. Spiders can be both Charlotte and Shelob. Sharks are similar: elegance and grace in service of a perfect killing machine. To me these are hints that something is wrong; the world is not the way it is supposed to be.

Of course this is all terribly vulnerable to confirmation bias. Perhaps I am just picking out the examples that support what I already want to believe, and ignoring any data that doesn’t fit?

That is certainly a possibility. But, honestly, it can’t be completely avoided. Confirmation bias could also lead one to conclude that “life is nasty, brutish, and short”, or “the universe is all there was, is, and ever will be”. The most important questions about human life can’t be rigorously tested in a way that would definitely rule out confirmation bias. A serious commitment to intellectual honesty and self-examination help. But in the end we just make sense of the world in the best way we can.

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