Re: Lakatos and the hard core

From: George Murphy <>
Date: Fri Sep 10 2004 - 08:49:50 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: "Glenn Morton" <>
To: "'George Murphy'" <>; <>
Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2004 8:36 PM
Subject: RE: Lakatos and the hard core

> -----Original Message-----
> From: George Murphy []
> Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2004 4:25 PM
> To: Glenn Morton;
> Subject: Re: Lakatos and the hard core
> >>> & that has to be my 1st response to your post. The Lakatosian
> hard core isn't invulnerable? I know dat. I've known dat for a long
> time, & I see no justification for the suggestion that I'm using his
> description of the scientific process "in a slightly wrong manner."<<<<
> Well, my comment came from what I viewed as a begging the question in
> the previous note.
> You had written:
> >>>>> & I should add that your supposed parallel between Lenin
> > & Christ doesn't work. Among other things, the idea that in
> > any sense Lenin still lives is inconsistent with who Lenin
> > was.<<<<<<
> If Jesus isn't already presumed to be the son of god, then having a
> relationship with christ is also inconsistent with who Jesus is. It was
> at that point you mentioned Lakatos. So if the misunderstanding was
> mine, then I apologize.

    I wasn't trying to prove that one can have a relationship with Jesus &
can't with Lenin. My point was that claiming that "Lenin lives in my heart"
or something like that is inconsistent with what Lenin himself thought and
the whole structure of Marxism-Leninism from its inception. That isn't the
case with Jesus & Christianity. This type of claim about Lenin is
internally inconsistent while the same claim about Jesus is internally
consistent. But of course that doesn't prove that the latter is true.

    But this brings up a larger issue. We're dealing 1st of all with issues
of science & religion & I've tried to focus on those concerns in the brief
statement of my program. But we would really miss the boat if we didn't
remember that an evaluation of the truth of Christianity has to give
attention to other issues. It can't even be limited to "theology" in the
sense of formal reflection on the faith. People believe in Christ, and have
since the beginning, because they think they have reason to believe that he
is the solution to problems of death and corruption, guilt, alienation and
meaninglessness. People claim to "know" that their sins are forgiven and
that they are justified in God's sight because Jesus was crucified and
raised from the dead. The theology of the cross as Luther stated it was a
way of saying that the cross of Christ is an answer to the problem of sin.
Most Christians would say that the success of Christianity in dealing with
these existential issues is a strong argument in favor of its truth. But
this is not the kind of truth that can be tested very well by scientific
means, Lakatosian or otherwise.

    Then there's the question of historical truth. One argument that has
sometimes been made for the resurrection of Christ as an objective event is
the post-Easter behavior of Jesus' disciples & the rise of the Christian
church. A form of that argument has been used recently by N.T. Wright in
_The Resurrection of the Son of God_ & I think that there's a good deal of
merit to it. But it's at best a strong plausibility argument, even when
combined with other evidence, & not the sort of proof that a physicist (as
physicist!) would accept.

      I'll refer to this latter point below in connection with your comments
on the crucifixion, flood & creation.

> >>>> But of course its vulnerability is indirect: It's not a matter
> of "verifying" or "falsifying" the hard core by some single "crucial
> experiment." It comes instead from judging whether or not the research
> program in question is progressive or degenerating: Does it predict or
> explain novel facts without significant changes in the theories of its
> protective belt or is it necessary to keep changing those theories to
> accomodate new discoveries - as, e.g., with the steady state theory? &
> one can really only judge between competing research programs. <<<<
> Sure, that that indirectness is why I think creation IS important. As I
> have said many times, If God didn't create the world, then his son,
> isn't really his son. That is an indirect falsification of the sonship
> of Jesus. So, given that you often tell me that Creation isn't
> important, but now are telling me that the resurrection and who jesus is
> is the hard core, what are the supports for this view in your mind?
> What are the supports, which if disproven would crumble the center in
> your Lakatosian view?

    1st, I have never, _never_ said that "Creation isn't important."
Creation is a very important theological claim that the world is ultimately
dependent upon God alone and - existentially - that God is the creator and
sustainer of my life. I also agree with the main current of the Christian
tradition that this doctrine is best understood as including the claim that
the universe had a beginning _of_ (not in) time, though that's not essential
to the basic doctrine. But I have said that Gen. 1 & 2 are not to be read
as historical narratives, and that it's not helpful to try to make them
historically or scientifically concordant with modern accounts of the big
bang, evolution &c. It isn't accurate to equate that view with thinking
that creation itself isn't important. Creation is a theological, not a
scientific, concept.

    2d, I am not "now" telling you my view as if it had been concealed
before. & it isn't accurate to describe it as "the resurrection and who
jesus is
is." It's the cross - or more fully the cross-resurrection event - that's
the hard core.

    3d, I think your approach, which seems to make Christ's divine sonship
dependent upon a particular view of creation, is exactly backwards.
Theological statements about creation should begin from the standpoint of
the cross & resurrection of Christ & the claim that this event reveals the
creator. That's how I proceed in arguing that God's activity should be
hidden in creation - i.e., in everyday events _and_ in origins.

    4th, since one of my conclusions is that God _doesn't_ "leave his
fingerprints all over the evidence," success of the ID program would raise
serious questions about my own approach. So that's a way in which my
program is theoretically vulnerable.

> >>> I think Lakatos provides a good description of the way science
> works & that there's a good deal of value (cf. Nancey Murphy) of
> applying it to scientific method. <<<<
> I agree. I think Lakatos is the best description of the workings of
> science. It is a shame I didn't run into him until after I left
> philosophy grad school.
> >>>>> But I've never tried to formalize my "chiasmic cosmology" research
> program in strict Lakatosian fashion: It isn't a recipe for doing
> either science or theology. Considered as a theological program, I'd
> sketch my approach this way.
> Hard core: "True theology and the recognition of God are in the
> crucified Christ." (A quote from Luther.)
> Of course this has to be fleshed out both from the Bible and from
> "secular" history &c. To keep it brief, "Christ" means Jesus of
> Nazareth as he was
> proclaimed by the apostles. & lest there be any question about this,
> "the crucified Christ" means "really nailed to a cross & died outside
> Jerusalem under Pontius Pilate." & "as proclaimed by the apostles"
> includes the resurrection of the crucified.
> & I think I have to add: Of course people can develop all kinds of
> "religion-science" programs. But if something's going to be presented
> as a distinctively Christian program it seems to me that its hard core
> ought to have something to do with Christ.<<<<<
> I agree with you. But in my view the only really verifiable or
> disprovable support is the flood or creation. There is absolutely no way
> we can, from this day in age, demonstrate that Jesus was actually
> crucified, must less resurrected. We have verified that there were
> romans, there were jews, there was crucifiction. But we can't verify
> that that particular man was a jew who was crucified by the Romans.
> That is beyond the evidence

    Again I think you have this exactly backwards. There are specific
historical events which historians will say with practical certainty
happened. Of course we can't _prove_ that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified
under Pontius Pilate in the same way that we prove things in math or
physics, but we can produce evidence to convince historians that there's
little doubt that it happened. & in fact that's the case: Very few serious
scholars (other than Muslims who ignore historical & literary evidence)
today would deny this.

    OTOH your creation & flood scenarios are, at the most generous estimate,
claims that certain historical events _could have_ happened in some way that
is loosely correlated with accounts in early Genesis. OK, there was a
Mediterranean flood ~5 x 10^6 yrs ago. But the further claim that a hominid
saved his family & a lot of animals on a boat & that his descendants then
peopled part of the world, in a way that has any real correspondence with
Gen.6-9, is sheer speculation. It's absurd to claim that we know this with
anything like the degree of probability that we know that Jesus was
crucified ~ A.D. 30.

> My protective belt IS the flood and creation. I know of no other. I
> can't prove a theological statement is true or false. How do I prove
> that God says "Love your neighbor" without previously begging the
> question by believing that God told us to Love our neighbor?
> >>>> Protective belt: The main theological flexibility here is
> provided by the possibilities of biblical interpretation. That
> flexibility is not infinite though because such interpretation
> can't conflict with the hard core or clear knowledge of the way the
> world is. (The latter point would take some development but it would
> derive from the understanding of creation noted below.)
> Novel fact: The statement of the hard core implies that the creator
> and sustainer of the universe (i.e., God) is recognized in the event of
> the cross, so we may expect that God's method of operation in creation
> is also recognizable here. Those who've read stuff of mine previously
> will know how the argument's going to go. It leads to the claim that
> God's activity in the world is hidden and that the world can be
> understood "though God were not given," a claim that scientific progress
> has given a lot of support to.
> <<<<
> I have read some of your stuff. The problem I have is that proving that
> the world is understandable without a god doesn't seem very protective
> of the hard core. In some sense your view is similar to Bohm's hidden
> variables form of quantum.

Maybe, but you could do worse than that.

> >>> Of course that's pretty obvious now - though some theologies still
> struggle with it - but it was hardly obvious when Luther made his
> statement in 1518. Nor was it something I had in mind when I first
> started this program over 20 years ago. (In fact I remember arguing
> rather vehemently against Bonhoeffer's "though God were not given"
> statement.) So this can reasonably count as a novel fact for the
> program. ("Novel facts" in this sense are not limited to things that
> weren't known when a theory was developed, but includes those that may
> have been known but weren't used in the development of the theory.
> E.g., the prediction of the precession of Mercury's orbit counts as a
> novel fact for general relativity because Einstein didn't use it in
> developing the theory.)<<<<
> I must confess, I am not very familiar with Bonhoeffer or his statement.
> For all I know I may very well have repeated it. But it just doesn't
> seem to me very useful to learn that God's works are hidden from view
> and that is a reason therefore to believe the hardcore of the cross.

Well, it happens to be true & it's hardly obvious for Christians that it is
true - witness PJ's notorious "fingerprints" quote.

> >>> There's a lot more to say about this & you may be inclined to
> weigh in with criticisms at this point. But as I said earlier, one can
> really only judge between competing research programs by seeing which is
> more progressive or more degenerating. So I think it's fair to ask at
> this point what the hard core of your theology-science program is.
> What's in your wallet?<<<<<
> Money is in my wallet. In my research program I look around for what is
> objectively verifiable (or at least objectively supportable) from the
> claims of christianity. As I said, the resurrection is not objectively
> verifiable from this late date. Subjective relationships with deities
> are not objectively verifiable. We have verified that the Romans, the
> Jews existed but that doesn't help us with the hard core--of the cross.
> I agree with you here that the cross is central. But it is also totally
> unverifiable.

No. This is simply untrue. As a putative historical event it is verifiable
in the same sense that other historical events are verifiable. & that event
~2000 years ago is certianly more verifiable than one that supposedly
happened 5 million years ago.
> Knowing that the general history of the Jews is approximately correct,
> doesn't help with the cross either. A good historical novelist can
> weave interesting false tales and make them look real. That means that
> only some unique claim is verifiable. That then points one to something
> in the physical world. We can't, as I said earlier, verify that Jesus
> loves me or any other theological statement. They are accepted or
> rejected by assumption.

As I explained at the beginning, it's overly simple to say "they are
accepted or rejected by assumption." People have deeper reasons for
accepting or rejecting such claims than just the need for some axiom for a
logical argument. We may not be able to verify that Jesus loves me with
scientific evidence but if people didn't have some reason to believe it
Christianity would never have gotten started, let alone survive. & please
note that I'm NOT saying that this proves Christianity to be true.

> But a global flood, or a claim of creation that
> can be verified, or made to fit within modern views is such a
> verification.

A global flood & the fact that the universe seems to have had a temporal
beginning can be verified. That those things happened in a way that agrees
in any serious sense with early Genesis AND with the intent of the writers
of early Genesis is quite another matter. All you have done, and I think
all you can do in your attempts at historical & scientific concordism, is to
present speculative could-have, might-have scenarios.

  That is why creation is so important to me. It isn't per
> se, that I am resting my belief on it (although you and others may
> disagree), it is that all else is fideism! I can believe in Jesus untill
> the bunnies come home but that won't be any support for the hard core.
> I can believe in drinking arsenic until the bunnies come home but that
> won't save me if I drink it. Belief alone is simply not sufficient for
> trust. There must be some contact with reality.
> The disciples had that contact in what they saw at the empty tomb. I
> don't. I can either believe their claims or reject them, but either way
> it is fideism. And just because 12 men can claim the same wild tale
> doesn't support it either. There were 12 men, I believe you all
> testified to Joseph Smith's veracity. Doesn't make it so, though. And
> if we make God tell us fibs about eating pork and divorce, then we may
> need 12 guys to testify for his veracity. But that won't make it so
> either.

This is a misuse of the term "fideism." That means believing something with
no evidence at all, not just believing things for which there isn't analytic
proof. If we were to misuse the term fideism in your sense virtually
everything we do in the world, including my belief that this message I'm
typing will get through the internet to you, would have to be called

Furthermore, Jn.20:29 is a strong criticism of your view. In your terms,
Jesus is commending fidesim. I remember in an exchange several years ago
you argued that Thomas was being _commended_ for his refusal to believe
without seeing, but that is in glaring contradiction with what the text
actually says.
> And that is why my program.

    You still haven't told me what the hard core of your program is! You
say above that " My protective belt IS the flood and creation." But what is
the protective belt protecting. The protective belt is supposed to consist
of theories that can be modified as needed to protect the hard core. It
sounds to me more as if the flood and creation (in your sense) _are_ the
hard core.

Received on Fri Sep 10 09:45:49 2004

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