Three Levels of Order
by Francois Tremblay
Magnanimous atheists like to say that belief is not a question of intelligence, but rather of circumstances of life or simple lack of exposure to science and atheistic literature. I think that is a gross oversimplification. For one thing, there is a clear inverse relation between IQ and religiosity. While IQ is not a precise measure of intelligence, and only measures intelligence, it is still a good indicator. It is also widely noted that most top scientists are atheists. This appeal to authority is relevant since, ultimately, it is the scientific worldview that we are asked to test.
The fact is that Christians are utterly unable to understand materialism or scientific laws. I have observed this again and again and again when discussing or debating Christians, even theologians, who ask such inane questions as “did it come by design or chance ?” (as if there was such a causal agent as chance). There is a fundamental disconnect between religious thinking and rational thinking. I think the direct problem is that their mind cannot assimilate as many levels of order – rather like some people, when not taught in childhood, are utterly unable to understand algebra and variable-based thinking.
The first level of order is collectivism – the primitive idea of one powerful transcendent being or system at the top, which imposes order from on high (outside-in). Christian thought relies almost exclusively on collectivism, which is why I tend to call first-level thinking Christian. Some examples :
- Creationism (God imposing orders of existence, life and adaptation from the outside)
- Divine Command Theory (God imposing morality, pseudo-values and anti-values from the outside)
- Political authority (Government imposing social and economic order from the outside)
- Interventionism and imperialism (Government imposing order on other countries as a destructive Other)
- The concept of God in general, which the presuppositionalist sees as the transcendent source of all that is material. God is the ultimate collectivist.
- Belief in souls and spirits (spark of thought imposing cognition from the outside)
I describe this type of primitive thinking in my article ‘Collectivism is the single model for all Belief Systems’. It applies to religion, politics, pseudo-science, cults, and most belief systems. This simple “God did it” mentality is what you could call a first-level understanding of order. It is the mentality of the brute, the dictator.
Conspiracy theories are a milder example of this thinking, as it tries to reduce apparently chaotic system to some shadowy central rule. As an explanatory device for evil in society, it is decidedly first-level.
The second level is chaos – the belief that there is no “inherent meaning”, all is undifferentiated existence, and that within this chaos the individual must find his own meaning, imposing order by himself and for himself only (inside-in). This is the mentality of the Existentialist, the subjectivist and the anarchist. They will especially deny that objective values and knowledge exist, even though they routinely use both.
It is also the logical consequence of presuppositionalism, in that the assumption that God is necessary entails that all material facts are subjective to God’s will. As I wrote in “Introduction to Materialist Apologetics”, ”[a] theistic universe is not only not self-contained and non-deterministic, but completely subjective (to God’s will). Knowledge, including knowledge that “a god exists”, becomes complete fiction”.
With the previous points, we get :
- Denial of science’s efficacy, support of “personalized ways of knowing” (post-modernism)
- Denial of political efficacy, support of democratic, community-based or family-based “ways of life” (anarchy, tribalism)
- Denial of any objective ontology whatsoever, knowledge is a “beautiful fiction”, universe is more or less random (subjectivism, nihilism, Existentialism)
The third and last level is emergentism – the scientific and rational conclusion that order arises and evolves from the free causal interaction of parts, imposing order by emergence (from the inside-out). In counterpart to the above points, we get :
- Evolution (units of heredity interact with their environment and each other, bringing about adaptation and diversity of life)
- Moral objectivity (individuals grasping the laws of causality and how they apply to their own lives, bringing about moral principles)
- Libertarianism and capitalism (individuals interacting peacefully with each other to fulfill their self-interest and bring about social and economic progress)
- Free trade (individuals within various countries trading peacefully with each other, raising the global standard of life)
- Material entities and natural laws acting on each other, and the human mind that perceives them (always within the materialist context), bringing about material and cognitive facts. This is what we find through science and reason.
- Mind-brain dependence, material cognition (neurons and brain modules interacting with each other, bringing about cognition)
To a first-level Christian, second-level thinking is “pointless” and third-level thinking is “random”. To a second-level subjectivist, everyone else is an extremist and a believer of false idols.
Most people think they can hold knowledge and meaning, regardless of the level of order they can understand. To the first-level person, they are given from doctrinal authority or dictate from on high (and are absolute), to the second-level person, they are fabricated by the individual (and are subjective), and to the third-level person, they are the result of a scientific examination of reality (and are relative). And each person can’t figure out why the two others are so stupid.
How can we advance people from first-level and second-level thinking to third-level thinking ? I don’t know. The truth of materialism, natural law and causality is so obvious and necessary to live that I think the problem is far deeper than simple ignorance. I don’t really have an explanation of the causes or solutions of this incapacity to comprehend more sophisticated levels of order. All I know is that it’s probably the most important epistemic problem we have to solve, because it encompasses virtually all forms of error and belief.
One answer that may appear obvious is that we could express scientific facts in a first-level metaphorical language – such as we do when we say things like “DNA seeks to survive and reproduce”. But then the Christian would simply ask “where did that intentionality comes from ?”. All this would do is push the incomprehension further.
January 1, 2005