Dogmatism (part II) - Inflexibility

by Brian 5. September 2009 18:37

The dogmatist is often charged with holding belief stubbornly, even in light of undercutting evidence. The term dogmatic seems to imply inflexibility these days. But why should this be a problem or even surprising? There is a disingenuous notion inflexibility is a particularly Christian trait when it is in fact a normal human condition, and in many cases desirable. Consider what I refer to as substantive-worldview: This is an ingrained, comprehensive, momentous and cohesive framework of belief defining one’s overall view of the world and the basis of many of our actions. Substantive-worldview deals with life’s most important subjects including origin, purpose, destiny and morality. It has been my experience many so-called freethinkers demonstrate substantive-worldview as well as numerous people of faith.


Of course as a Christian I expect our cognitive faculties are designed properly for the purpose of obtaining true belief. After all, we are created in God’s image and God is rational. [Genesis 1, Isaiah 1:18.] But Christian perspective temporarily aside; can you honestly imagine a well-functioning cognitive system where foundational belief supporting other well-established belief are casually discarded? What about a cognitive system where new ideas contradicting other well-accepted ideas are casually adopted? We all know from experience the more foundational and momentous a belief is, the more impact it would have on our worldview if suddenly found false. Likewise, integrating a new idea contradicting core belief may not be possible without dismantling worldview. I know this from personal experience having gone through an extreme worldview makeover from nontheism to Christianity.


If the resurrection of Jesus is a cornerstone belief in my Christian worldview, other beliefs will follow, some of which inflexibly: Jesus’ authority was confirmed by God’s action; God has the power to overcome death; God acts in the physical world, etc. It is unreasonable to think I should suddenly become flexible on the precepts of philosophical naturalism. To reject the view supernatural cause exists in the physical world would be to turn my Christian worldview on its head. Likewise, if philosophical naturalism is a cornerstone view in the freethinker’s foundation, she will also hold other related beliefs inflexibly: such as, God does not act in the physical world or He does not exist; Jesus was only a man if he existed at all, etc. How could one in this case suddenly accept the Resurrection without a complete rework of their foundation? Is there really any wonder why those with substantive-worldview are inflexible?


Here the freethinker is likely to claim they are more apt to modify their view based on evidence and this flexibility is what differentiates them from the Christian dogmatist. But where does the evidence really lead? The worldview of the freethinking nontheist (freeNT) does not appear to shift as new evidence is uncovered. Does the evidence always point in their direction? As the static universe theory died in the mid-twentieth century and science moved to a model astonishingly similar to the Creation account, did the freeNT budge? Is the freeNT open to new ideas such as those offered by Intelligent Design (ID) or do they excommunicate scientists with contrary perspectives? is a popular hangout for freeNT Darwinists and I’ve yet to see any interest whatsoever in what ID has to say on their website. They seem inflexible and dogmatic to me at least. A large number of freeNT speculators would rather turn to cosmic ancestry and the panspermia theory rather than consider a divine biogenesis theory. I still recall their false-hope and zeal for what might be found in the scrapings of space dust from the NASA Genesis probe [1]. Theirs is clearly a faith looking for the facts to support it. The bottom line; the freeNT is flexible as long as it harmonizes with their worldview. But that is just the same sort of flexibility we seen in the Christian.

Several years ago I engaged a colleague and professed agnostic on a flight back from business. This was the first time I had a chance to discuss core worldview issues with him. We talked about our beliefs and his skepticism was apparent. We discussed origins, neo-Darwinian evolution, cosmology, etc. Our conversation was very amiable and pleasant. My co-worker clearly had a good grasp of the subjects we discussed and he demonstrated substantive-worldview from my observation. Although skeptical, he expressed views on origin, purpose and death. He even conceded evidence such as the Cambrian Explosion [2] did not support the contemporary neo-Darwinian view. But it was what he told me at the end of our discussion that was astonishing. He said: “I am comfortable with my agnosticism” and “suddenly ceasing to exist [at death] is actually appealing to me.” These two statements go the core of his worldview and I should not expect much flexibility in his position on God, even given good supporting arguments and evidence. As I conclude, consider the words of G. K. Chesterton who sums it up so well: “There are two kinds of people in the world: the conscious and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.” [3]

[1] The NASA Genesis mission returned (crashed) on Sept 8, 2004 with the hope of learning more about how our solar system was formed. Although NASA officially (on their website) states there are no life-origin motives involved in the project, others disagree. "Our mission is to gain a greater understanding of the origin and evolution of organic material on Earth," said Michael Mumma, a comet expert and director of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, NASA Astrobiology Institute, who is leading the research. "The key question is: Were water and organic molecules delivered to Earth by cometary impact and does [that process] extend to planets elsewhere?" In other words, panspermia.

[2] The Cambrian Explosion is the radiation of animal phyla that started about 570 million years ago. The famous paleontologist Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), referred to this as the reverse cone of diversity. Evolutionary theory implies life gets more and more complex and diverse from one origin. But the whole thing turns out to be reversed based on the fossil record.

[3] Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), Generally Speaking, 1928

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I am a Christian, husband, father of two daughters, an owner of ISC, lead architect of MapDotNet, armchair apologist and philosopher, writer of hand-crafted electronic music, and a kid around anything that flies (rockets, planes, copters, boomerangs, hot air baloons, lawn furniture)

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