Truths About What Is Invisible: An Elucidation of the Essay ‘On Internal Truth of Religious Discourse’ 27 October 2020 – Tags: philosophy, religion
By Charles Goossens
‘Do they exist or do they not? That is the question’. The discussion is about whether immortal souls exist. The answer to this question is, that as believers people will say that indeed immortal souls exist. ‘But, an adolescent remarks in the classroom, perhaps people themselves invented these souls’. The understanding teacher replies: ‘Let us look then, how people make immortal souls’. The idea of making or devising higher things may be applied more broadly. That would be a question of devising or ‘constructing’ a religion.
Just a few weeks ago in 2020 a book of mine was published on ‘Moderate Constructivism’, as the subtitle reads. It is a reprint of my book from 2000 supplemented by a new essay. This essay and the rest of the book were written for philosophers. The present elucidation of the essay is less technical. The paper is about religion. A higher, religious world may be devised and made by what I call religious extrapolation. Religious extrapolation may be explained by means of circles. Circles around us are not perfect circles. But we can devise perfect circles. Then from imperfect circles we extrapolate to perfect circles. Similarly from the visible world we may extrapolate to a higher world and from our finite lives to never-ending life.
If people devise and make an immortal soul or a higher, religious world, they are like authors of a play or a novel or like poets. Comparisons often fall short and this comparison falls short indeed. But the important thing here is what the comparison is actually about. In a novel all kinds of people appear and are involved in a variety of plots. Many statements about what is happening in the novel or play are true in the story. We see Hamlet confronted with the jester Yorick’s skull. In the case of religious extrapolation we find something similar. Many statements are true in the texts about the higher world, that is, the world created by extrapolation. This is internal truth.
Devising or making a religion would in reality be a complicated, lengthy process in societies with traditions of ideas and old practices. Devising a religion would be a process of experiences, visions, emotions, and deeply felt new insights. People would have reasons for creating a higher world by extrapolation. For religion can be valuable to people, even though it is about a higher world in the perspective of religious extrapolation.
Believers think and speak about the higher world as insiders. Their religious texts belong to a special literary category, so that it is important to pay attention to different literary categories: novels, plays, poetry, research of historians, religious texts in the perspective of religious extrapolation, religious texts independent of extrapolation, and so on. In religious texts dependent on extrapolation the same assertions may appear as in texts of the three monotheistic religions; that God created heaven and earth, for instance. Whether or not religious statements depend on extrapolation, appears at the metalevel, that is, when we speak from the outside about these statements. Extrapolation is mentioned at the metalevel. Moreover, certain assertions which are true in one literary category, need not be true in another. This applies when research of historians on the one hand, and religious texts on the other, are concerned, to mention just one case.
Let us look at central doctrines of Christian believers as a special kind of discourse distinct from science and philosophy. I will use here the expression ‘the Christian message’. The higher, religious world the message is about, essentially differs from the world around us: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD’ (Deuteronomy 6, KJV), ‘After that he appeared in another form unto two of them’ (Mark 16, KJV), ‘And the dead in Christ shall rise first’ (1 Thessalonians 4, KJV). Convictions of the believers belong to a special kind of thinking and speaking, having its own fundamental rules and characteristics. The fundamental law says that there is one God. And believers are provided with Bible, ecumenical councils and tradition to know whether or not some point of doctrine belongs to the Christian message. The fundamental rules have been developed further over the course of time.
Moreover, believers may be provided with special ways of access to the higher world: religious experience, trustworthy tradition and trustworthy testimony, for instance. Traditional proof of the existence of a unique divine being may be added to these ways of access. Thinking about the design of the universe as a way to a creator is an understandable example of such proof. This is not proof in the strict logical sense but indeed rather routes of access. All of these routes at the same time may be reasons or motives to believe. Believing is not something arbitrary and people while believing also know what they are doing. Google has something about this in ‘Motiva credibilitatis’! When such reasons or motives to believe are the issue, certainties as well as probabilities are important. This is the same in the case of other decisions we take in our lives, such as choosing a partner for example. Decisions to believe or not to believe are personal decisions for those confronted with these deep, important issues.
As I already mentioned, I characterize my ideas as ‘moderate constructivism’. The core of this is: If we create a higher world, statements about that world are true for the insiders. That is a fairly uncontroversial idea. This way we understand that religious extrapolation is one of the possible explanations of religion. It is not the explanation. That possible explanation concerns two points. First, religion would have been created by ‘construction’ and second, and more precisely, the higher, religious world would have been designed and made by means of extrapolation.
Outsiders of the Christian message are confronted with several critical issues. The central miracles of the life of Jesus (such as his resurrection) are improbable historically. Miracles are improbable by definition, otherwise they would not be miracles. But this does not imply that Christians wrongly accept these miracles. Moreover, from the fact that metaphysical entities like immortal souls are philosophically controversial, it does not follow that doctrines about these entities have to be rejected by Christian communities. Whether or not doctrines belong to the Christian message, depends on the fundamental rules of Christianity. This is similar to religious statements in the perspective of extrapolation. For in that special case the higher world is a world created by extrapolation and statements about that world are true independently of statements belonging to other literary categories just mentioned. Furthermore, explaining a religion by extrapolation does not change the religion to be explained. Whether Christians have reliable routes of access to the higher world, is not definitely decided by science or philosophy. This is so because the routes of access at the same time are personal reasons to believe. These are matters internal to Christianity.
Certain arguments support explaining religion by extrapolation. The striking similarities which may be found between a religious world under extrapolation and the religious world seen by one of the main religions, present one such argument. Religious extrapolation itself does not appear in the religious discourse of insiders nor as far as they see, will the extrapolations be part of the worlds created by religious extrapolation. A religious world in the perspective of extrapolation may show many, varying religious things, persons, states of affairs and events, and to the insiders such a world may look quite the same as any other religious world.
For many believers of the monotheistic religions, Jewish believers, Muslims or Christians these critical issues are a kind of external white noise.They themselves feel supported by age-old traditions and world-wide communities and concentrate on their own religious realities.