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Note: This is the third and final post in a discussion on the role of religious beliefs in theory-making. The other two can be found here and here .

In ancient Greece a religious controversy once broke out over the square root of two. The Pythagoreans, a Hellenic organization of thinkers who believed that all things were essentially reducible to numbers, had an irrational aversion to irrational numbers. Because they believed that numbers represented a realm of invisible mathematical entities upon which the visible world depended, the Pythagoreans insisted that there could be no genuinely irrational numbers and attempted to keep such knowledge a secret. Legend has it that Hippasus of Metapontum, a disciple of Pythagoras, was at sea when he discovered that the square root of 2 is irrational. His fellow Pythagoreans, outraged by the finding, threw him overboard.

Today, of course, we are more enlightened and rarely drown mathematicians who disagree with a theory (instead we’d just deny him tenure). But while disagreements over theories may not spark a murderous rage, they are as religiously motivated and reductionist as they were in Hippasus day. Yet for the most part, such presuppositional beliefs remain unexamined even among Christians. Although we should know better, we too often fail to understand the guiding role that religious beliefs and other presuppositions have on theory-making.

However, even when the importance of Christian-based theory-making is acknowledged it is generally for the wrong reasons. While we may not use such language to describe our intentions, we tend to take a postmodern view in which we are offering an alternative meta-narrative to compete among a pluralism of other viewpoints. What we fail to comprehend is that the reason it is imperative for Christians to think Christianly about theory-making is that is essential for creating adequate scholarship, robust public policy, and “reality-based” thinking.
This is not to say that the only worthy theories are those produced by Christians. In his infinite wisdom, God saw fit to spread the gifts of logic, reason, and science among all of mankind. Because he knew we Christians would be spending much of our intellectual capital debating such issues as infant baptism and church structure, he enlisted non-believers to help carry the load on such areas as physics, economics, and medicine.

As generally useful as it might be, though, common grace can only carry us so far. Whereas the orthodox Christian (and generally speaking, other members of the Abrahamic faiths) believes that all aspects of reality (physical, social, biological, spatial, physical, etc.) are dependent upon God’s sustaining power and can therefore be interdependent, the non-believing thinker will almost always eventually determine that one aspect is identical with, or depends, on another.

In the previous post we saw how this worked out in the field of mathematics. Leibnitz related all aspects of reality to the mathematical. Mill reduced not only the mathematical aspect but all pretheoretical experience to the sensory aspect. In a similar manner, Russell folded the mathematical aspect into the aspect of logic while Dewey reduced it to the biological. These examples are typical of the way that presuppositions about the way that aspects of reality relate to one another control the theory-making process.

Examine any theory from the social or natural sciences that were later discredited and you will find a common thread: they all reduce at least one aspect of reality to another and treat one aspect as primary. The problem with this—to quote philosopher Roy Clouser yet again—is that it assigns some part of creation the role of lawgiver to creation. Because the non-theist denies a role for a self-existent creator and sustainer, they must invoke some aspect of creation to perform those essential functions.

Naturally, such attempts to treat an aspect of creation as divine will prove futile. But the non-theist has no other choice. Forced to explain one aspect as a reduction of another (i.e., the mind reducible solely to the physical brain) they must necessarily embrace either absurdity (e.g., eliminative materialism ) or logical incoherence (e.g., how does a physical object know another physical object?).

But Christians—who should be members of the true reality-based community—have the ability to set the theories aright. Unlike the reductionists, we do not deify nature and so are not forced to deny some essential aspect of the natural world. We have the freedom to produce robust and coherent theories about the natural realm because we are not forced to square circles.

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