It’s a net, not a chain

It’s a net, not a chain! Excuse me?! Your worldview. It’s a net, not a chain. Allow me to explain.

Your worldview – that is, your belief system – is a net, not a chain and when you understand what that means, I hope you will find it immensely comforting. I certainly have. In fact, I frequently remind myself that my beliefs are a net, not a chain and I find whenever I do, I’m greatly encouraged.

Okay. Time to do what I wrote at the beginning. Explain.

If you have ever entered into dialogue with atheists, you may (or may not) have noticed that they employ an awful lot of deductive logic. This is logic where the premises lead directly to the conclusion. For example,

All men are mortal

Socrates is a man

Therefore . . . Socrates is mortal.

The conclusion is unavoidable. It’s watertight. It makes you feel inviolate, as though you’ve employed a weapon and fought off the enemy. See that, you bounder! You can’t defeat me! I’ve just rolled out an argument which CANNOT be gainsaid. It can’t be defeated! Ha ha.

Atheists are particularly adept at poking holes in the Bible. Now watch carefully here, because it’s not what they argue, so much as the kind of logic they use to make their case. They approach their work as though they’re trying to ‘cut through a chain.’ Imagine that the Bible is one long chain. Each fact or assertion which it contains is a link in that chain. Whether intentionally or not, atheists often give the impression that their work is done by simply severing one link in the chain. Now, to be fair, they probably don’t believe that severing just one link is sufficient, but they often come across that way.

Here’s an example I found on the web:

Gen 6.4: There were Nephilim (giants) before the Flood.
Gen 7.21: All creatures other than Noah and his clan were annihilated by the Flood.
Numbers 13.33: There were Nephilim after the Flood.

From which we’re invited to draw the conclusion, ‘the bible is false.’

This particular objection is just silly but that’s not the point. The point at issue is this: what is a belief system? A net or a chain? If it’s a chain, then severing one or more links would render the whole system null and void. Unbelievable. False.

(As it happens – and this is the exception which proves the rule – there is one link in the chain which is indispensable. It’s called the Resurrection. 1 Cor 15.17: And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.)

Yet, the Resurrection really is the exception.

The fact is, a belief system isn’t a chain at all. It’s a net.

What does that mean?

Worldviews are like nets. They are composed of many parts which interlock together. Just think of all the claims they make. Who made the world. How the world was made. Where humans come from. Why humans are valuable (or not). The explanation of good and evil. The purpose of work, of relationships. Why (most) men love sport. Why you should brush your teeth. Why pandas look cute. Worldviews, good ones at least, give us answers to all these questions and millions more. So they’re like nets. They are vast and magisterial and ambitious and at the same time, they have holes. Yes, they do. They have holes. All of them.

Even Christianity. But that’s okay.

The reason it’s okay is not about faith. Faith isn’t the point at which believers give up trying to understand and just press the F button. Oh what the heck, I can’t explain this, you just have to have faith! That’s a sloppy way to adopt beliefs. (More on faith and knowledge another time.)

It’s okay to admit that belief systems have holes because, well, they’re absolutely huge! Our net relies a lot on the Bible, a series of books which assert thousands upon thousands of ‘truth claims.’ About history. About philosophy. About theology. The greater the complexity, the more vulnerable a worldview is to charges of contradiction and inconsistency. It’s inevitable. Not only is the reliability of our holy book attacked, but the relationship between the different parts is questioned and often twisted by opponents. And remember, the net itself is huge! Am I repeating myself?! Enormous! So it’s to be expected that the net will contain holes (areas of potential weakness.) Eg. Why a man who steadies the Ark of the Covenant with his hand is immediately destroyed is a mystery to me. Perhaps it always will be. Yet, here’s why, if you’re a Christian, those holes are nothing to worry about.

Belief systems are in a competition. And all they need to do is win. That’s it. They don’t need to be perfect. They just need to be ahead of the competition. What’s that phrase? In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Just being superior to the others is sufficient. Perfect sight is not required.

So, what is the competition?

Well, in our culture, it’s secular humanism. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think secular humanism comes a poor second in every contest which I care to contemplate. However, there is something else which enters the discussion here. And it’s immensely important. Worldviews are like a tasty treat. You pop them in all at once. You don’t take little bites. It’s all or nothing.

Opponents who use deductive logic to try and defeat a worldview are like chefs who try to cut up the treat piece by piece. Carve off creation by undermining Genesis 1. Nip at Numbers by lampooning Balaam’s donkey. Tear off the Torah by pointing out apparent contradictions in the Law. But this is futile, because you must accept the whole net. You must eat the whole treat. We adopt an entire worldview, not simply little bits.

To use yet another analogy (I seem to be in the mood for them) worldviews are like cloaks. You put them on and see how they fit. I like that one best, I think! And instinctively, whether you know it or not, you evaluate them based on the answers they give to the four ‘fundamental questions.’ They are:

Where did we come from? What’s the problem? What’s the solution? Where are we going?

So let’s compare.

Christianity asserts a first-mover who created the universe, including human beings; he is a Creator who loves his creation. The problem is that with our free will (essential to independent souls), we chose to rebel and all the evil in the world is traceable to our rebellion (and that of a spiritual being in the heavens). The solution is that God’s wonder and glory is revealed in the sacrifice of his Son whose action in dying for us brings us salvation. Our destiny? Glorious. All of this is presented in a Story which is compelling and which provides a basis for all the stories ever told. (More on that another day).

Secular humanism can’t explain why we’re here. We just are. Hold on. Some secular humanists assert a negative here: there is no reason for our existence. There is a problem but secular humanists disagree over what it is. Many do not believe in good and evil at all. Many believe in morality but at the same time, they also believe that free will is an illusion. No one can quite agree on the solution because without an over-arching purpose for the world, they can’t agree what the central problem really is. So they give multiple solutions to multiple problems depending on their perspective. Our destiny is extinction.

So, which wins?

Oh I know my characterization of secularism was a little . . . hmm, downbeat, but frankly, it’s accurate. And to win, we’re looking for accuracy. We’re looking for Truth.

It is, of course, possible, that there is no god. That’s possible, but I think as Christians, we have a better net . . . or treat . . . or cloak! It is not simply that we have better evidence for the beliefs we hold. It is the fact that when we compare our beliefs as a whole to those of the opposition, ours hold up better. We have a better net. It’s not a perfect net but it doesn’t have to be. It’s just better. In my eyes, a lot better. And I haven’t even compared our net to the other religions. When you do that, we look even better.

Belief systems are not chains, which can be destroyed with a handy pair of scissors.

They are nets. They have holes. Even ours. But ours, though a little holey in places, is still more credible than the alternatives. And that makes ALL the difference. If you’re a Christian, be encouraged.

If you’re not, I invite you to take a look at our net. Or treat. Or cloak.

© Richard Collins 2014