The n-dimensional GodDecember 18, 2008 — Deacon Duncan
I’d like to continue yesterday’s look at Anthony Horvath’s post attempting to find a way to resolve (or at least rationalize) some of the contradictions in the Christian Gospel. In the second part of the post, Horvath takes us on a tour of Flatland:
In Flatland, the characters exist in a two dimensional world and have their geometry- and logic- all worked out. Until, that is, a sphere breaks into their world. Now, a sphere is a three dimensional object, so naturally the 2D entities have great difficulty perceiving what they are seeing. A sphere, breaking through a plane, appears first as a single point and then a varying sized circle depending on how far the sphere comes in. Are the triangles and squares face to face with a logical contradiction? Not at all. Rather, the logical rules that apply to the 3D world incorporate and transcend the logical rules of the 2D world.
“Incorporate and transcend”—a very key term, as we shall see. The laws of 3-dimensional geometry do not contradict the laws of 2-dimensional geometry. They are consistent with it, at least at their point of intersection (no pun intended). And that is going to pose something of a problem for this particular attempt at reconciling the inconsistencies in the Gospel.
First, though, let’s look at the intended goal of this argument.
Given the truth of Christian theism, I propose that we are in precisely the same sort of situation, with a few important differences- ie, God is not merely an entity occupying a higher degree of existence- he is that AND he essentially permeates all degrees of existence as it is. This poses interesting epistemological problems if God wants to reveal himself and make himself known to the occupants of our ‘degree of existence.’ But I’m not here talking about that.
The point here is that if this is true, a number of the difficult to comprehend ‘contradictions’ in Christian theism are viewed as paradoxes that (plausibly might) entirely ‘make sense’ from the point of view of the super-natural perspective. How can Jesus be both God and Man without diminishing either? It can be a mindbender- especially if you insist in viewing it only in ‘2D’ terms (eg, in only ‘naturalistic’ terms).
So the goal is to give Christians an excuse to ignore inconsistencies in the things men say about God, on the grounds that it’s possible to imagine the possibility that they might in some unknown (unknowable?) way make some sort of sense in some sort of unknown (unknowable) dimension, or something like a dimension, that lies beyond our own. As you might imagine, I can see some problems with this.
First of all, let’s start with the fact that these speculations about God are not based on any kind of theological observation. God does not show up in real life, such that we could observe Him manifesting any actual characteristics that would imply some sort of transcendent dimensionality. Horvath is “discovering” the extradimensionality of God the same way Agatha Christie “discovers” who the real murderer is: by making it up.
This is actually a fair sample of theology in action. Apart from linguistic and historical questions, much of theology is done pretty much the same way as a novelist develops the plot: you take the story thus far, and try to imagine some new scenario that will be both plausible and compelling. If you succeed, you will become famous as a great theologian (or novelist, as the case may be), and people will tell and re-tell your story. If not, there’s always someone else giving it a go, and the competition leads to the evolution of increasingly plausible and compelling fictions. As long as you know the difference between fiction and truth, that’s a not necessarily a bad thing.
But I digress. The next problem with Horvath’s argument is a category error: the relationship between 2D geometry and 3D geometry is a mathematical relationship, yet he applies it to entirely unrelated areas like “the nature of incarnation” and “the problem of free will.” He even suggests that to explore the truth on a real-world basis is to limit yourself to a view that is merely 2-dimensional, being “only” naturalistic—even though dimensionality (in 2, 3, 4, or n dimensions) is one of the properties of the natural world. By arguing that “naturalistic” reasoning is inappropriate, he shows that his analogy is not really analogous: he’s taking a natural phenomenon and inferring that its characteristics apply to a domain that, by his own definition, does not share those characteristics.
Another problem is that this is not an exploration of a specific, real-world problem. Horvath takes the intersection of 3D geometry with a 2D plane, and turns it into a metaphor for, well, like, you know, whatever. The goal is to apply this kind of thinking to problems in general, problems with parts of Christianity that conflict with each other and don’t make sense. He gives a few examples of ways this argument can be used, but what he really has in mind is that “a number of the difficult to comprehend ‘contradictions’ in Christian theism … (plausibly might) entirely ‘make sense’ from the point of view of the super-natural perspective.”
This leads us to the big problem with this argument: it’s not an explanation, or analysis, of any particular problem where n-dimensional mathematics might lead us to some legitimate insights. Instead, it is a rationalization, a blanket excuse for ignoring the contradictions and inconsistencies that might otherwise alert us to “truth decay.” It’s a generic appeal to the idea that, when the Gospel says things that are inconsistent and don’t make sense, we ought to ignore the problem and assume that some kind of reconciliation must exist “out there” in the Great Unknowable.
This is the primary function of a rationalization: to deaden the mind to the significance of inconsistencies and contradictions. And Horvath’s argument performs that function admirably: there is no conceivable contradiction that a false gospel could propose that could not be blandly pigeonholed and ignored on the grounds that there’s an answer for that one in some transcendent dimension that you and I can’t get to.
As a consequence, those who accept Horvath’s argument can never know whether or not the Gospel is true. By glossing over the inconsistencies in the Gospel, they render their minds incapable of detecting the only clues we have which could reveal the falsity of a false Gospel. Their understanding, dulled by rationalization, will always report the Gospel to be true, whether it is true or not. But if we keep our minds sharp, we can know whether or not the things men say in the Gospel are really true.
This brings us back to Horvath’s original observation: that the laws of 3D geometry do not contradict the laws of 2D geometry, they incorporate them (and extend them). A 3D figure obeys the laws of 2D geometry insofar as the 3D figure intersects the 2D plane; the intersection of the figure and the plane is consistent with 2D geometric laws. This means that the contradictions and inconsistencies we find in the Gospel are not analogous to the seamless and elegant integration of 2D and 3D geometries, but are instead a genuine problem, a warning sign that we ought to pay attention to.
The definition of gullibility is when we are willing to believe whatever men tell us, despite inconsistencies and contradictions that ought to inform us that we are being deceived. By training ourselves to overlook genuine problems, to deny the contradiction, and to put our faith in amateur speculations about what might exist in some fanciful supernatural “dimension,” we build up our gullibility, and strengthen our ability to swallow blatant falsehoods without question. Is that really a worthwhile goal?
Some people think that Christians are dumb and atheists are smart, but that’s simply not true. Many Christians are just as smart as the smarter atheists, and many atheists are just as dumb as the dumber Christians. What intelligence does is to make the arguments (and rationalizations) more sophisticated, as Horvath’s rather clever argument shows.
In the end, though, it boils down to a fairly simple question of fact: does God show up in the real world or not? If He doesn’t, then all we have to go on are the words of men. If we want to avoid making ourselves deliberately gullible, then we must resist the temptation to let “cunningly devised tales of men” lure us into rationalizing away the only clues that could warn us we’re buying into a falsehood.