Sunday, July 15, 2007

Reason and Revelation: Range (Part 1)

While our ethos is our starting point, our range is where we hope to end up; it encompasses what we hope and expect to learn. The term "range", as I am using it, is a mathematical term. In mathematics, a function takes a set of numbers, known as the "domain", and transforms them into a new set of numbers, know as the "range". While a typical function can transform numbers from the set of "real" numbers into the set of "real" numbers (also known as the codomain), the actual set of possible values for a specific function can be quite more restrictive. For example, the function that takes a real number and squares it can only return the set of positive real numbers. In this case the set of positive real numbers would be the range for the square function. If we input a number into the square function and get a negative number, we would not conclude that we learned something new about the square function, rather we would assume that there was something wrong with how we calculated the square. We would reject the negative number as a bad result simply because we know that it lies outside of the range of possible values for the square function.

The idea of a range can apply to more than just mathematics. For example, consider this picture. While this picture clearly seems to demonstrate water flowing uphill, few of us would take this picture as evidence that water can violate the immutable laws of gravity. Most of us would dismiss that idea out-of-hand and assume that the picture is some sort of trickery or optical illusion. We assume this because we know that "water flowing uphill" is outside the range of the law of gravity. No matter how many pictures we are shown that seem to depict water flowing uphill, few of us would ever be persuaded to even consider the idea that, even in some cases, water cannot defy the laws of gravity.

When applied to learning, we all have a range of information that we expect to learn. When faced with information that falls outside of that range, we either must adjust our expectations or the things we are willing to consider to be true, or we must reject the new information as simply being in error. This idea of a range can easily seen in the debate between creation and evolution. If an evolutionist receives new information that could indicated an intelligent creator, rather than accepting the idea of a creator, the evolutionist sets out to rethink the new information and to find new ways of relating it back to their evolutionist understanding. The same is true for those who are creationist. When faced with new information that lies outside of their range of acceptable knowledge, they either reject the new knowledge as being in error, or construct new theories and/or reasoning to draw that new knowledge back into their acceptable range of understanding.

The Benefit

We all have our ranges of what we are willing to accept as true. When applied to our search to know and understand God, our range can help us and keep us from ending up "in the weeds." It can keep us from chasing every "bunny trail" and from being easily distracted away from the things that matter the most. For an example, consider when Jesus said:
"Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance. So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them. For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matthew 24:23-27)
If others come and claim to be the Christ, we don't need to worry or even give consideration to such claims. We know that such claims fall outside of the range of possibilities that Jesus has set down for us. We don't need to think about it or investigate their claims. Such claims are outside the range that Jesus taught us and can be summarily dismissed. Consider also what Paul taught,
"I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" (Galatians 1:6-9)
If someone claims to have received some revelation and brings forth a teaching that is contrary to the Gospel we have received, we need to pay them any attention. Any teaching or revelation that contradicts the Gospel has to be false because it lies outside of the range of knowledge set forth by the original gospel writers, in this case, Paul. We don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about it or worrying about what it might mean if such a new gospel is true, instead we can simply discount such a teaching as false and move on. While some might count this as being closed minded, it is also safe and enables us to move through life without being "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." (Ephesians 4:14 NKJV)

More to come... David Robison