Sunday, April 13, 2008

Where Is The Archimedean Point?

I've been a bit troubled with thoughts of Descartes and his "cogito ergo sum" and trying to figure out exactly what it is that's bothering me.

Tonight, listening to The White Horse Inn I heard the term Archimedean Point. The immediate context was not Cartesian solipsism, but a sort of gnostic quietism. They were talking about "Barnes & Nobel Christianity" and all the self-help gospel types who provide spiritual "secrets" of looking inward in a sort of post-verbal, certainly post-rational, way.

The White Horse guys are masters of snark. And they laid into these people they termed gnostics with delicious sarcasm. Of course, they were unfair in their criticism, but they have a valid point and they miss a valid point that they oughtn't.

First, let me agree with the White Horse guys. It is wrong to tell people to "look inside yourself" for the divine. Luther was right when he said, "simul justus et peccator." If you tell a sinner to look within, you should also warn that person to expect to see sin when he does so. This is where the White Horse guys hit it out of the park. Calvin called the human heart "an idol factory." The Bible calls the human heart "desperately wicked" and "deceitful." Its greatest deceit is excusing and rationalizing away sin. Shame on any putative Christian preacher who blows off this point.

Second, let me disagree with the White Horse guys. My Bible tells me that as a believer in Christ, I have an indwelling Holy Spirit. And my bible also states that, despite the fall, I'm made in the image of God. Thus, when I "look within" I shouldn't be surprised to find God indwelling and God imaged in the architecture of my psyche. The White Horse guys need to be a little more charitable.

Putting these together, what do we get? If you look into my psyche, you'll find a mix of the sinful and the divine. Alexander Solzenitzen says the battle line between good and evil runs through the center of every man's heart. Thus, I'll have to test what I find within myself to see if it really is the divine or whether it is sinful self-deception.

How am I going to do that? That's where I heard Archimedean Point and thought it important. Archimedes said, "give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the world." Upon what does Descartes stand when he says, "cogito ergo sum?" Nothing outside himself. As the guy on Mythbusters says, "there's your problem."

If you fail to establish an Archimedean Point outside yourself, that relativizes yourself and everything in your world, you've nothing to push against. You're like the astronaut in zero-gee pushing on a lever and flying backwards in reaction.

This is where God comes in. Three decades ago I gave my presentation in Epistemology class and the critique I heard was that it wasn't Cristocentric enough. You need a Christocentric Archimedean point.

Now, let's suppose you believe in orthodox protestant Christianity. Then you understand that God has disclosed himself in verbal propositional terms in Scripture. Thus, when you "seek God within yourself" you should not be surprised when a lot of Bible verses come to mind. Those are Bible verses that are made out of WORDS and those words hang together RATIONALLY. At least, that's how it is with me. When God speaks to me, when he delivers a "word of knowledge" it is through a Bible verse popping into my head unbidden.

That's what you do. If your heart says something ridiculous about having an adulterous affair, take a delivery from the clue train Exodus 20:14, you're hearing the deceitful part. If your heart says you're doing something wrong and it can provide chapter-and-verse, you're hearing the divine.

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