Saturday, May 15, 2010

Falling in Denial

The New Scientist has a very interesting article about the nature of denial as opposed to skepticism. Of course this article is aimed at examining (reasonably fairly in my opinion) the cases and arguments who deny that Evolution occurs, that HIV does not lead to AIDS, that there is no Climate change.

Now, there is a big difference between Denial and Skepticism. We can be skeptical about the claims of Evolution and reasonably doubt the evidence or the inferences made, but to deny Evolution is to take the more convicted position that Evolution doesn't happen in reality. Reasonable argument consists of claims supported by evidence and counterclaims which involve criticisms of that evidence. To take a position of denial is more risky because one ceases to doubt another's claim to be true and to be convinced of its falsehood. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but it can and does lead some into very dodgy ground, for example Denial of the Holocaust.

The trouble with conviction either for or against some claim is that one holds a position to be absolutely true and then find ever more outlandish ways to prove it. Their scientific theories will all have a confirmation bias and a selective nature. It is along this route that we begin to find the conspiracies: the Marriage of the Lord to Mary Magdalen, the Murder of Princess Diana, the Falsehood of the Moon Landings. A denialist will always have the same attributes of a Conspiracy theorist.

In discussing how to "beat" a denialist movement, Michael Shermer states:

We should not, however, cover up, hide, suppress or, worst of all, use the state to quash someone-else's belief system. There are several good arguments for this:

1. They might be right and we would have just squashed a bit of

2. They might be completely wrong, but in the process of examining
their claims we discover the truth; we also discover how thinking can go wrong, and in the process improve our thinking skills.

3. In science, it is never possible to know the absolute truth about anything, and so we must always be on the alert for where our ideas need to change.

4. Being tolerant when you are in the believing majority means you have a greater chance of being tolerated when you are in the sceptical minority. Once censorship of ideas is established, it can work against you if and when you find yourself in the minority.

Now, these are eminently reasonable and charitable. Would that Christians learn them more carefully. Mind you, we certainly begin to see Professor Dawkins in a more Denialist light.

But what of Christians. I suppose I now do have to ask myself the question "am I a denialist when it comes to the question of the ordination of women?" Folk who know me will know that I am very passionate about this. I am passionate about it because it is actually splitting the Church apart, and the decisions of Synod are not helping.

Well, I have posted before that no-one can escape bias. I do not believe that a woman can be ordained to the Diaconate, Priesthood or Episcopacy given the present Revelation of the Will of God through the Church via Scripture and Tradition. For the ordination of women to be valid, I would need to see a new and clear revelation from God because there is insufficient evidence for it in Scripture (more the reverse in fact) and Tradition has clearly demonstrated the opposite.

I concur that there is a diaconal ministry for women mentioned in Scripture, but there is no further evidence of women "Deacons". There is however, plenty of evidence of women ministry apart from Holy Orders which is much more pertinent: Deaconesses, Readers, Abbesses (who can forget the magnificent St Hilda?), even Doctors of the Church. To say that there is no room in the Church for women ministers is blinkered and foolish.

However, the burden of proof that Women can be ordained is firmly in the camp of proponents of W"O". It is true that St Cyprian says Consuetudo sine veritate vetustas erroris est (custom without truth is the antiquity of error). So one must look at the truth in order to find the depth of tradition. The truth is that Christ taught women, bade them bring Good news to His apostles, venerated them, sanctified them and treated them more highly than any other Rabbi. Yet, even then, even from this, there is nothing more reported by disciples who still found it important to report the Lord's acceptance of women in the same class as men. Martha did make a confession of faith comparable to St Peter, but St Peter is the one taken aside and given the keys by the Lord. This to me points contrary to the ordination of women!

What have I denied? Have I been unreasonable in my denial? Have I not weighed the evidence of Scripture? If I haven't, then tell me; there are comment boxes below.

Arguments for and against Ordination and Women are long and protracted. However, the latest movements from the General Synod to end provision for those who cannot accept the priesthood of women demonstrate that they are willing to legislate against dissenters. They believe that they have won the argument and that Forward in Faith are the denialists. FiF are not denialists: we have simply not found the arguments put forward by the Feminists at all convincing. However there is a difference between winning an argument and being charitable.

If we set out to win souls for Christ by winning arguments, then that presupposes that all people are Vulcan, swayed by logic alone. If the goal is to engage someone in argument and then win that argument but in the process drive the other away by the language one uses, then one has in fact lost the greater prize. Intellectual brownie points mean nothing when the Lord asks us "Who art Thou?" If one makes provision for dissenters, then one at least retains the salt by which to make life tasty.

However, the Synod is in a difficult position. Either it accepts that Women "Bishops" in the CofE will simply not be recognised by a significant proportion of its membership and make a decent provision for us, or it adopts this "Code of Practice" which will not do - will not safeguard those in dissent - and thus lose that proportion. I am convinced that the Code of Practice will come in, in which case I would suggest that the hierarchy of the CofE show one once of Charity and help dissenters to part company on a more amicable and Christ-like basis.

1 comment:

poetreader said...

Thank you. This is a well-thought-out and powerful piece. It brings a few brief thoughts to mind:

Any statement that begins "science says ..." is deeply flawed at the start. Science does not "say" - it "asks". The whole point of science is a deep-seated skepticism, beginning with observation, which may pr may not be accurate, and continuing through the processes of hypothesis and theory until a tentative conclusion is reached. All observations and conclusions can be, and must be, continually questioned or science has metamorphosed, by a process indistinguishable from denial, into something much like faith. So it is with those who insist that evolution is fact. In this unscientific insistence they become indistinguishable in logical process from the foolishness of "creation science" and dogmatism rather than scientific inquiry has come to dominate their thought. A scientist, to be truly scientific, must hold ALL theories, including that of evolution, no matter how convincing they appear, as provisional, and not only can, but should be continually questioning all of them. Science is skepticism, and thus is ever-changing.

Religion is a bit different. It springs from faith propositions, themselves the product of revelation, Such propositions and their interactions can indeed be approached with logic and their implications examined with logic, but it is the principles, the dogma, that have priority. God, being greater than the human mind can comprehend, cannot be confined by such logic as men can bring to bear, and any too tightly reasoned theology can be assumed to lack something of vital importance. Thus, as in science, so in theology, skepticism has a vital role to play. It is simple denial to ognore the necessity of apparent contradictions. Thus it is that both Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin were brilliant thinkers deft in applying both logic and intuition, but most called either Thomists or Calvinists have effectually deified logic and entered into denial of its insufficiency.

On the matter of 'ordaining' women, one finds two principles in revelation that seem contradictory, The assertion of the equality of men and women and the insistence that certain roles belong to men. We can grapple with this 'contradiction' all we want, but cannot faithfully veer to either of two logically cohesive positions: that women are inferior, or that there is no difference between men and women. Both are false, ruled out both by Scripture and Tradition. The history of the Church demonstrates this. Women have indeed often been in powerful positions of leadership in the Church, as your article points out, but women have never been ordained until this present (and may I say, nearly apostate) era. Does this look contradictory to a logical mind? Perhaps so, but so does the tension between God as One and the Godhead as Three, so does the tension in soteriology between faith and works, so does the insoluble conundrum of free-will vs. predestination ...
I could go on, but the fact remains that, when dealing with the infinite, finite minds will face insoluble seeming contradictions. The answer is, Live with it.

To follow logic all the way to one end or the other is to enter into denial, for one must deny the opposite and must go into mental gymnastics to do so. A true skepticism leads one to find the best place where one can rest one's mind, with the realization that there is still more understanding needed.

And I did say a few BRIEF thoughts, didn't I? Perhaps that was less than true.