Saturday, May 07, 2005

Is Christianity Falsifiable? Part 2a --- Rational Extraterrestrial Life

Atheists and non-Christians have every right to ask just what would falsify Christianity. After all, a view that lacks any falsifiability criteria is either not well-defined, or is so trivial and all-explaining that it ends up not explaining anything. As a personal exercise, I have tried to list some criteria that, if shown to be reasonably true, would make the Christian worldview particularly difficult to hold.

The previous entry gave two criteria by which, were they demonstrated to be reasonable or strongly believable, I would have to pack it in regarding the historic Christian faith. These were, roughly speaking, (1) arguments pertaining to the late dating or the falsity of the NT authorship claims, and (2) arguments pertaining to the character or veracity of the eyewitness testimony.

If it wasn't made clear below, I claim no originality in putting forth (1) and (2). I'm pretty much regurgitating the Evidentialist line of thought here.

I'd also like to note that I'm trying to avoid falsifiers that have no reasonable chance of being instantiated. For example, I could say something like I'd stop believing if they dug up Jesus' body. This, of course, would immediately falsify Christianity. However, this is not a criterion that really has any chance of being met, even if Jesus' body has rotted in some tomb somewhere. This wouldn't be any different than a dyed-in-the-wool Darwinist saying that a videotape of God creating Adam and Eve would falsify his Darwinism; even if God did create Adam and Eve directly, rendering Darwinism's more excessive claims false, the criterion can't be met. So we're really trying to play fair here, making the playing field as level as possible.

Besides (1) and (2) listed in the thread below, do we have a reasonable third potential or actual falsifier?

This next point will spark some genuine debate I think, even among orthodox believers. For me, the following would be very hard to reconcile with divine revelation:

(3) The existence of rational and moral life somewhere else in the universe.

Let it first be added that point (3), while troubling for me [were it true], did not apparently trouble somebody of the calibre of a CS Lewis, for example. Lewis seemed to have no problem with extraterrestrial rational and moral creatures, both in his fictional and nonfictional writings.

(a) The Space Trilogy of Lewis, consisting of the works Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, weaves a really quite lovely account of extraterrestrial life into a not-too-well-disguised Christian worldview that will delight Christians and come across as heavyhanded to the grouchier unbelievers out there. Lewis, in the opinion of the PP, is nigh-effortless in doing so.

(b) For a clear nonfictional demonstration that Lewis had no problems with aliens, and in fact even longed for their existence, see his essay The Seeing Eye . I have this essay in a book by the same name: The Seeing Eye, and Other Selected Essays from Christian Reflections [Ballantine Books]. The PP has tried unsuccessfully to find the text of this essay online, where large chunks of it can be easily cut-n-pasted to back up this claim.

One is in rather heady territory when one finds one's self butting heads with somebody as high up in the pantheon as a CS Lewis, but, this is one area where I think Lewis' romantic side seems to go against clear revelation.

In the essay, Lewis states, in what appears to be the crux of the matter:

The third thing is this. Some people are troubled, and others are delighted, at the idea of finding not one, but perhaps innumerable rational species scattered about the universe. In both cases the emotion arises from a bliefe that such discoveries would be fatal to Christian theology. For it will be said that theology connects the Incarnation of God with the Fall and Redemption of man. And this would seem to attribute to our species and to our little planet a central position in cosmic history if rationally inhabited planets are to be had by the million.

Skipping a parapgraph, Lewis then states:

Now it seems to me that we must find out more than we can at present know --- which is nothing --- about hypothetical rational species before we can say what theological corollaries or difficulties their discovery would raise.

Lewis then goes on to list some possibilities regarding the aforementioned hypothetical rational species [HRS]:

(i) The HRS might, in Lewis' words be "like us, rational, but, unlike us, innocent --- no wars nor any other wickedness among them; all peace and good fellowship." In this contingency, Lewis states

I don't think any Christian would be puzzled to find that they knew no story of an Incarnation or Redemption, and might even find out story hard to understand or accept if we told it to them. There would have been no Redemption in such a world because it would not have needed redeeming....If we were wise, we should fall at their feet...

(ii) The HRS might, in Lewis' words, be " ours, contained both good and bad. And we might find that for them, as for us, something had been done, that at some point in their history some great interference for the better, believed by some of them to be supernatural, had been recorded, and that its effects, though often impeded and perverted, were still alive among them." This situation is similar to that of Homo sapiens, that is, it is similar to us. For this contingency, Lewis goes on to state:

It [the great intereference mentioned above --- PP] need not, as far as I can see, have conformed to the pattern of Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. God may have other ways --- how should I be able to imagine them? --- of redeeming a lost world. And Redemption in that alien mode might not be easily recognizable by our missionaries, let alone by our athiests.

[O Clever and Witty Lewis!!]

(iii) The third HRS that Lewis entertains is like the second mentioned in (ii), except that here, the HRS "needed redemption but had not been given it." Sort of an Old Testament-like HRS, if you ask the Pedantic Protestant! Here, Lewis then goes on to state:

But would this fundamentally be more of a difficulty than any Christian's first meeting with a new tribe of savages? It would be our duty to preach the Gospel to them. For if they are rational, capable of both sin and repentance, they are our brethren, whatever they may look like. Would this spreading of the Gospel from earth, through man, imply a pre-eminence for earth and man? Not in any real sense. If a thing is to begin at all, it must begin at some particular time and place; and any time and place raises the question: `Why just then and just there?' Once can conceive an extraterrestrial development of Christianity so brilliant that earth's place in the story might sink to that of a prologue.

The PP notes that our planet and race does sink to somewhat that of a prologue in the aforementioned second book of Lewis' Space Trilogy , namely, Perelandra.

(iv) The fourth and final HRS that Lewis considers is in the contingency where "we might find a race which was strictly diabolical --- no tiniest spark felt in them from which any goodness could ever be coazed into the feeblest glow; all of them incurably perverted through and through. What then? We Christians had always been told that there were creatures like that in existence. True, we thought they were all incorporeal spirits."

In this situation, if realized, Lewis states in a manner that seems glib to the PP:

A minor readjustment thus becomes necessary.

In summary of (i)-(iv), Lewis seems to exhaust the possibilities for a purported HRS here, seemingly making the classifications two-way: ontological moral status [completely good, some-good-n-some-bad, completely bad], and status with regards to redemption [yet to be redeemed, already redeemed]. In an argument-by-cases, Lewis contends that no situation would really trouble him, since in any possible situation of his he finds nothing troubling.

His argument appears to be convincing, or, at least, psychologically comforting. I'd certainly like his argument to be victorious, since in a certain sense, the fewer falsifiers, the better.

The next part, aptly named Part 2B, will attempt some loose commentary on Lewis' argument.


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