Wearing Religious Genes

Let’s imagine for a moment that there are four theories of the nature of truth. The correspondence theory, the coherence theory, the pragmatic theory and the Nietschean theory. Very briefly:

The Correspondence theory says that a statement/idea is true if it corresponds to reality.

The Coherence theory says that a statement/idea is true if it fits with other true statements/ideas.

The Pragmatic theory says that a statement/idea is true if it works.

The Nietzschean theory says that claims to truth are really expressions of the wil to control others.

Which of these theories works best for Christians?

The correspondence theory seems to be the most commonly held theory among many Christians. It does seem natural to believe that the truths of the faith are about something other than ideas. When we say, “Jesus rose from the dead” we’re trying to say something about Jesus and about his post mortem status.

The coherence theory also seems useful. It seems natural for Christians to see the notional elements of their faith holding together – fitting coherently. The statements, “Jesus rose from the dead” and “Jesus simply died and rotted, just like everyone else” appear at first glance to not be coherent – they don’t fit together. Of course, one might redefine what is meant by any of the individual words, or particular parts, of the first sentence. We might call it “taking it metaphorically.” Most folks wouldn’t think of taking the second sentence metaphorically – it just seems to literally obvious.

The Pragmatic theory looks like at least a partial keeper. More on that in a moment.

Finally, the Nietzschean theory. While there has certainly been a rage for Nietzsche and his heirs in the past century or so, I don’t think most Christians would be happy saying all truth claims are mere assertions of power. That some truth claims are mere assertions of power, seems a useful thing to learn from Mr. Nietzsche. In fact, it seems downright Christian (or at least coherent with Christian teaching) to refuse to exempt apparently neutral and detached truth telling from the effects of sin. We know that many people value objectivity (it makes a good tool, anyway). Knowing that, we are sometimes quick to claim objectivity and the truth that accompanies it, to get peopel ao acquiese to our will.

I want to think a little more about the pragmatic theory. We call things “true” because they work for us. And yet, living in a world we (usually) recognize as more than just our own creation (I’m thinking of the natural and social worlds we inhabit), we may be uncomfortable actually admitting that in particular cases we believe something true simply because of its effects. So we say we believe what we believe on some other grounds, correspondence or coherense, for example. But our theory of truth, when considered in the abstract, is that we actually call things true if they work. Some have called this the pragmatic paradox (although it is not the only phenomenon that goes by that name).

With that in mind, I want to consider a post by John Derbyshire at The Corner:

consider the following:

—-The inclination to be religious is, like most other aspects of human personality, heritable in part.

—-Religious people, a few oddities like the Shakers aside, are more philoprogenitive than irreligious people.

Now, weave in our recent thread about consumer eugenics and designer babies. If consumer eugenics becomes cheap and ubiquitous, as I suspect it will, won’t religious people want their offsprings’ genes tweaked to make them religious, too? With the result, if those differential birthrates hold up, that the world will become more religious generation by generation?

And if these things come to pass, won’t churches and religious groups, from sheer self-interest, be lobbying for more choice in baby-design via genetic tweaking? While the legions of the godless clamor for restrictions on these techniques in fear of an advancing theocracy?

Just a thought. I am enjoying a quiet smile, anyway, at the prospect of an octogenarian Ramesh railing angrily on National Review Inbrain (“beamed direct to your cerebral cortex!”) against those who seek to restrict parental choice in determining the religiosity of their offspring…

Derbyshire correctly avoids reductionism here. A reductionistic argument would say something like, “Being religious is wholly due to having particular genes. While religious people might give other reasons for it, perhaps something to do with God & truth, etc., we really know better. It’s just chemicals in the brain.” While avoiding this reductionism, however, I’m afraid he attributes a simple pragmatism to Christians.

Let’s suppose the future he mentions comes about. Eugenics advances – in both quality and acceptability – to the point where parents choose the genes of their children. If genes help religion, then religious parents, who will naturally want their children to be religious, will seek to have the right genes included when they make their children. I’m not sure it would work this way. I see two impediments.

The first impediment, the minor one, is that many Christians will have ethical problems with engineering their children. They’ll think of it as tinkering with God’s will. But this is a minor reason, since Christians – at least Christians in America – have been ready to justify most technologies that get them what they want.

The second problem, and this also may not be a problem for many, is that Christians don’t tend to see themselves as becoming Christians simply because their genes made them do it. In fact, such a naturalitic explanation seems antithetical to the Christian faith.  Again, however, I think too many Christians wouldn’t make the connection between buying into a “therapy” based on naturalism, a naturalism that challenges their faith, and their belief that it is the work of God, rather than the power of chemicals in the brain, that produces faith.

Anyone else have thoughts on this?

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