Thursday, 27 March 2014

I Cannot Criticize the Abbott

For St Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western monasticism, obeying the abbot was pretty important. The monks who chose to live under St Benedict's rule were bound to obey the abbot in his ordinances, at the same time as the abbot was required to care for his monks and serve them in their needs.

I am not a monk, but I do have an Abbott I have to obey, when he gives ordinances relevant to his role as Prime Minister. The reason for the required obedience is simple: as I live in a democratic system under a social contract, by virtue of living on Australia, I am bound to whoever the leader of the country is, in the constitutionally appointed ways. I may not have voted for him (most people did not, since only those in his electoral division even have the opportunity to do so), or the Coalition parties, but because of how our representative democracy works, he is rightfully the leader of Australia.

Whilst the social contract of this representative democracy requires me to recognize him as Prime Minister, and all which that entails in terms of leadership, I do not have to like him, only obey. I would be permitted to criticize him, I would be permitted to tell anyone how horrible I think he might be - but I cannot.

It is not from some sort of patriotism, since we are both English, or love of Oxford University, since he was a Rhodes Scholar. If what I am told about some of his policies is true, particularly the environmental, laboral and asylum seeker ones, then it is far from being because I agree with him. It is both simpler and more complex: I cannot go around criticizing him casually, because he is my brother.

"Your surname is not Abbott!" That is true. We do not share biological parents. He is instead my brother in a way that is at least as real: he and I are both Catholic. As I outlined elsewhere, an important practical consequence of sharing that crucial element in common is that we are brothers, and I must put up with him as a brother.

It could be objected at this point that I am not acting in line with other important Catholics, such as bishops, laypeople and even one of Pope Francis' inner-circle, the highest ranking Catholic in the country (up until very recently), George Cardinal Pell. They have all criticised Tony Abbott for this, that or the other (see here and here, just as examples). Without presuming to judge them for their actions, I still find I cannot go out in public and proclaim distaste. There is nothing in Church teaching that forbids speaking out against a brother in public (indeed, within the confines of the Christian community, it is mandated, after due private rebukes), and yet, I still find that it is not my place.

Jesus is said to be both lion and lamb, and as good rule of thumb for when to imitate him in lion-ness or lamb-ness is whether one is confronting a harmful idea, action or policy (in which case, lion), or a fellow sinner, to which one is like the Agnus Dei (qui tollis peccata mundi - misere nobis). One could quite reasonably say that I should, in fact, speak out against some of his godless policies, the ones that the Church has spoken out against.[1] Part of why I do not is general ignorance: I do not understand the complex political issues of today well enough to deem myself having rid my own eye of the plank, before rebuking my brother's splinter, or as Jesus says:

"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye." (Mt. 7)

Ignorance aside, and noting the importance of fighting the inward battle before the outward one, there is another important reason why I find it tough on my conscience to criticize my brother, and here I think much on the political left is to blame. I am generally quite capable of disagreeing with someone's views without attacking them as a person, but the left has confused policy with politician, meaning an attack on one is an attack on the other. I will not attack my brother in public, so I find it difficult to attack any erroneous policies he might have.

So, whenever I complain about Tony Abbott's statement on this or that, and I have done so occasionally, I try and do so to my other brothers and sisters, not in public accusations, and I do so minimally. It is not, at this point in time, my place to criticize the Abbott.

[1] For an overview of the Church's position on social issues from an Australian perspective, see "Lazarus at Our Gates", from the ACBC. The statement can be found here.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Time Management

When I write something on this blog, it tends to be an answer to some question that gets repeatedly asked of me – either because I demand I answer it, or because others question me. Of the non-trivial questions I get asked, probably one of the most common ones I get is “how do you manage to do all of it?” or “how do you sleep?” The answer to the latter question is quite simple, really: I sleep quite well.

I seemed to have gotten at least a bit of a reputation for doing super-human amounts of work.

Blackboard says I do six subjects this semester, which is double the minimum for a student at the University of Queensland requires to be considered full time, and 150% of what most students actually take. In fact, I unofficially do a bit more than that, because there are a couple more maths courses I go to because the mathematics is directly related to a research project I am doing – one is a third year course, which takes some effort to understand because I am unfamiliar with the prerequisite course, and another is from a totally different branch of mathematics to the one I am used to. Now, that research project is essentially what one of those courses is, but it seems to me to be substantially more time consuming than the other courses. I find that deriving some results (which, at this point, are already known) to be quite exciting, actually, and so I am happy to put in the time and effort.

I am involved in several ministries. I attend the majority of Frassati Australia events, of Marist Youth events and make attempts to go to others, whenever possible (I went to Ignite Live, for instance, every time except the first that it was on, last year, but now that it's major event is up in Banyo, it is just too far). I am involved with the St Stephen's Young Adults Ministry, I am secretary of the J.H. Newman Catholic Society at UQ, and I help out every week at a soup kitchen run by the Missionaries of Charity each Saturday.

I read fair bit. I read almost entirely non-fiction books, ones that average about 350 pages and usually not at a beginner level – and I generally finish about a book a week, sometimes it takes me two if I am being slack. Or, when I have one of the more restful weeks, I will often finish two in a week – during my summer semester earlier this year, when I was still told I was doing far too many subjects, I finished eleven books in a month (although the average book length for January was probably more like 200 pages, maybe even just 150, and they were fairly easy reads). That is all completely independent from the hefty reading amounts required by second year philosophy courses, the non-negligible amount required by my physics courses, and the quite large amount needed for my research project (although thankfully, that stage has mostly past – whilst it took me some gruelling three weeks, I can essentially claim to have taught myself the basics quantum mechanics, including ventures into the more complicated, but beautiful, area of quantum field theory. I am clearly no expert, though.)

I cite these things, not to make myself look good (for a numerous group, being a nerd, even a very social one like myself, is still a bad thing, I suppose), but to try and indicate why it is people think I must have a time-turner, some magical device which allows me to make more time in my day. Evidently I do not, and so, they ask, where does the time come from? How is that possible with only 24 hours a day? Aha! Maybe I am overworked and sleep deprived!

I also sleep and rest a lot. In the past week, I deviated from the standard of 8-9 hours a night a couple of times – there was a six-hour night and a seven-hour night – but I largely kept to it. I also completed Metal Gear Solid 4, completely without rushing, and savouring several of the fun parts of the game more slowly, so I must have played PS3 for a substantial amount of time. I get distracted a lot on the computer, reading this and that, watching a couple of educational-but-not-that-important videos, chatting to people for hours over Facebook chat. Many a night has disappeared with good conversations and great friends online! Part of that is because I have friends in European timezones, but to a large extent, it is friends I see frequently who I chat with.

And with that last point of the triangle – the triangle of social life, study or sleep – I have surely done the impossible, right? Not at all. I am unlikely to have done something impossible without some serious discipline, and I am a very undisciplined person. I suppose I do miss out on two important parts of living, exercising and earning money, but at least the former could be worked into my schedule if I was more disciplined.

I do not need magic or serious discipline to do what I do for a fairly obvious but insightful reason: that's what my life is like. I do not mean to say that, the fact that I do actually live life with those time commitments is conclusive evidence that I somehow manage to do it, that would be circular. I mean to say the much simpler point, that I am capable of living this way because when I live my life that way habitually, or in some sense “naturally.”1

I did not realise this was what I did until Thursday, when a chap recommending a book after a talk I went to said “I know you all have busy lives, but Tim Chester has an answer for you: just work it into your daily lives.” That's exactly it! You don't have time to read? Work it into your daily life. You don't have time to sleep? Work it in to your daily life. You don't have time to go out with friends? Work it into your daily life.

I realise that there is a limit to all of this (else, I would have a job!), but the point is simple: if one tries to do a lot without incorporating it into one's daily structures, one will most likely fail. However, if one uses the existent structure, then time becomes more open: for instance, it is not a very large effort to volunteer at the soup kitchen each Saturday morning. Whilst others might think that getting back home at about 14:00, as I did today, is a horrendous chunk of the day missing, I am not a morning person. Mornings are practically spare time – there is not much I learn in the morning. So I do study later, and I have time in the morning.

Whilst I am on the bus, though, I can read a book. The bus-and-train trip to the Valley is an opportunity to read a dozen or so pages, and if one doubles that for the return trip, then it's almost thirty pages just from otherwise idle time. I know I sound like I am giving time management advice. I hope that is not the message people are receiving – my advice would be, become disciplined! If that fails, do as I do, and do things in otherwise empty spots. It's not tiring, it's refreshing, and just one practical consequence is, I have not been bored for several years!

1I put this in inverted commas because I used to be exceedingly lazy, and could not have imagined being this...”productive.”

Friday, 21 March 2014

Epistemology is Prior to Ethics

I am currently doing a course about writing from a philosophical perspective on social ethics, and it is beginning by the usual, and frankly overdone, introduction to different ethical theories. There is consequentialism (used essentially synonymously with utilitarianism, which has a few brands that are mentioned), deontology (of which nobody but Kant is mentioned), virtue ethics (of which it seems Aristotle is apparently the only expert, despite giants in 20th century ethics being virtue ethicists) and the occasional mention of other theories – sometimes it is pragmatic ethics, this time it was feminist ethics.

Now, when feminist ethics was introduced, I found it bizarre because it was more of a critique, instead of a form of ethics in itself. It seemed essentially an aporia, a negative philosophy, attacking traditional ethical theories and replacing them (when they actually got that far) with a brand of situational ethics that seemed to either subtly re-introduce essentially the same values, or otherwise was so unspecific that it did not give any practical guidance. The feminist ethicists challenge the older theories as being products of patriarchy, enshrining male-dominated values into theories - which is all well and good, but what next? The tutor said that they rejected absolutes, but like most rejection of absolutes, I suspect what that means is that there is some absolute that is meant to trump the others.

Sitting later on in the day in a talk where I was challenged to not view things solely from within the context of my own mix of cultures (it was in the context of missions), I was reminded of that critique. Originally I had discarded it for the most part - sexist as the major thinkers behind these ethical theories might be, their arguments required no assumption of male superiority, for the most part, and in fact, results we consider should have been condemned can largely be ironed out now. Sure, Aristotle tried to argue that slavery could be moral, and yet it has not been missed by later minds reading Aristotle's ethics that the justification for slavery sits uneasy with his philosophy, suggesting that Aristotle was perhaps trying to argue himself out of the position that seemed to be demanded by his system. No doubt Kant would be considered sexist by today's standards, but his arguments concern things related to men and women: freedom, self-determination and autonomy, rationality, etc. And so on with other philosophers in these ethical traditions.

No, it was not the feminist critique itself that was convincing, as a feminist critique, but as a reminder of how our rationality is shaped by culture, and particularly so in the case of ethics. Let me consider utilitarianism, the system I know the best of the three (which is not that well regardless): it makes no sexist assumptions, and in fact, it was the utilitarians that originally alerted the world to another form of unjustified discrimination, that of speciesism (the favouring of one species over another without justification). It seems to require no assumptions which are not common-sensical, no unjustified discrimination...and yet it arose when and where it did for the most obvious of reasons. Britain was the standard of empiricism in the world, and utilitarianism is, at its root, simply the empiricist approach to ethics.

A similar story can be told about Kantian ethics and its backdrop in rationalist Germany. Kant's theory of deontological ethics is a masterpiece in rationalist ethics (even if I do think he makes a mis-step, pointed out by Bernard Williams). The point that becomes increasingly clear is not that culture informs, perhaps even dictates, our values – that point has been made over and over again, and is said better by MacIntyre than by the feminist ethicists – but that our cultural backdrop effectively dictates what one considers a rational approach to ethics. In short, before we worry about cultural subjectivity in virtues, we must be concerned with being objective in the case of epistemology. In short, epistemology is prior to ethics, and epistemology is not any less bound to particular traditions, particular cultures and particular people.

What does it mean for me to say that I think utilitarianism, generalized as I explained elsewhere, provides a coherent theoretical framework for ethical deliberation? Perhaps it means nothing more than that I am a sort of empiricist (generalized, again, as Lonergan has done). It is not in the slightest bit surprising, once I think about it, that my system of ethics depends explicitly and implicitly on foundations given by my epistemology.

The first question that arises is whether or not this is a problem. Certainly, living in a cultural context and studying in an academic context tightly linked to the analytical and empiricist traditions, I have epistemological views that seem foundational to my ethical views – but this is only a problem if there is some invalid step between epistemology and ethics, some sort of know-do gap that I am unaware of. Hence, whilst it is certainly the case that there is links between the two fields, it appears that it only implies that to be correct in epistemology means to be well-guided to pursue ethics.

Maybe this is only an issue for persons like myself, but there is another issue that arises: coherence. Suppose I know that ethical proposition E is true. If my epistemological theory implies an ethical theory that dictates that E is not the case, then I have evidence that my epistemological theory is flawed. For most people, epistemology to ethics is a one way street, but as a Christian reliabilist, I consider myself justified in knowing ethical propositions, in a sense, before elaborating an epistemological theory. Or in other words, whilst most people have no conceivable way of knowing E, and so no way of using E to falsify their theory, I do.

These questions, and various others, lead me to think that I should hold my tongue for the most part on ethical issues until I explore ways of getting around or accounting for the subjectivity inherent in developing an ethical theory as a particular person, in a particular cultural setting, at a particular time and place. Alasdair MacIntyre's work is probably the best place to start.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Church's Hypocrites

The Church will have hypocrites for as long as it is earthly. Hypocrisy flows from the damaged and fallen nature of humankind, and so the only ultimate cure lies in the healing of that broken nature, something that only occurs with finality at the End.

Whilst the Church will always have hypocrites, this does not mean that hypocrites are a good to be treasured qua hypocrites. We all seem to recognize this at least at some level - even those bent on some brand of moral relativism see hypocrisy as immoral. Perhaps this is because hypocrisy is a sin against one of the more treasured of values these days, that of authenticity, of "being yourself." In Jesus' parlance, a hypocrite is someone who acts in such a way publicly that is not reflective of the way they are in reality. Those we now call actors were the hypocrites: they act on stage in the guise of some other person, not acting as themselves. In today's usage, a similar idea is conserved, but the dichotomy is usually presented as between what a person says and what a person does - and normally, there is some clause about being deceptive about it, which I will largely omit discussion of until the end.

Since Jesus' polemics where often against the Pharisees, and since this group is the one Jesus accuses memorably of being hypocrites (cf. Mt. 23), it is the Pharisees we think of most prominently as being hypocrites. And since our Anglophone cultural baggage derives much from the time of the Reformation, our view of the Pharisees is that they were a mean Judean sect, bent on being nasty to everyone and telling them how wonderful they themselves were, they were religious leaders who pestered everyone with their yoke of legalism and works-righteousness. In particular, they completely denied grace as a free gift and were completely unmerciful to anyone.

It seems commonplace, to accuse Church leaders of being hypocrites, or faithful Catholics of being hypocritical, by analogy with the Pharisees: totally mean to everyone, always trying to control the way to heaven by telling people what they can and cannot do, and never being merciful and kind to people (unlike that Jesus chap, the clause is sometimes added). This accusation comes from both the secular world and other groups of Catholics, and to a lesser degree from others.

Now, whether the analogy between the Pharisees as they were in history and particular Catholics nowadays holds is an interesting question. The socio-cultural context of the writing of the New Testament means that an objective view of the Pharisees in not sought - like often happens between religious kin, Christians are quick to differentiate themselves from the Pharisees in the apostolic and sub-apostolic ages. Certain myths do exist, however: for instance, the Pharisees were not religious leaders. Whilst it is common to hear talk of Jesus challenging religious authorities - something he did do, at least to some extent - his discussions and polemics with the Pharisees are not instances of this. The Pharisees were a lay group, a particular sect of Judean-Israelite religion, they were not religious leaders. They did not deny grace, did not preach works-righteousness, and I suspect they were mostly very intent on being kind and merciful (even though they probably also had a thoroughly in-group morality). The dis-analogies and myths that we think of when we hear the term Pharisee are numerous. But this is not my point, regardless.

The idea that the only way to be hypocritical is to be like our caricature of the Pharisees should be challenged, for whilst I freely acknowledge that there are many hypocritical Catholics among the faithful, I suspect that the Church's hypocrites that are hiding in plain sight are not the faithful Catholics, but the so-called "dissident" and "nominal" ones.

To be a hypocrite (in modern speech), it was said before, is for there to be a gulf between one's words and actions. If I tell people that it is always important to wash their hands before eating, but do not do so myself, I am being hypocritical. I put to the reader that when the faithful Catholic confesses, as is the true doctrine of the Church, that they are sinful in need of redemption, wrongdoers in need of forgiveness, and yet that not only they do wrong, but also others, and sometimes the wrongdoings of others are different to those which he or she commits, though all wrongdoings are immoral - they are not being profoundly hypocritical. It is true, when faithful Catholic encounters the mercy of God in the confessional, they are acknowledging hypocrisy, admitting that they have done differently to what they professed to be right. And yet, the nominal and dissident Catholics, whilst they also have this hypocrisy that arises from wrongdoing (or worse, hypocrisy arising from claiming that they commit no wrongdoing), they have a hypocrisy far more insidious, one that is not momentary in the occasion of sin, but endures further.

Quite simply, they claim to be something they are not. The litany of exceptions that flow from the phrase "I am Catholic, but..." amount to a resounding "I profess to be Catholic, yet deny it in my being." This is the essence of hypocrisy. It need not be vocalized so clearly, either: there are those who claim to be faithful and true Catholics, yet testify otherwise by their lives: "I have not been to Mass in a couple of years, but I am still a true Catholic," some might say. Perhaps they are very kind people, but let us not be held in jest: the one who claims to be Catholic yet denies that this involves gathering in communion with the rest of the Church for Mass denied in their lives that they are in fact Catholic.[1]

Or they might profess to be Catholic and deny it by their other words: "I am a true Catholic and am pro-abortion." Perhaps this person genuinely thinks they hold coherent beliefs, but in actual fact, they do not. A vegan who eats pork is either not a vegan or does not actually eat pork: the two cannot be held simultaneously. For exactly the same reason, a Catholic pro-abortionist is an oxymoron.

Now, there is some subtlety introduced when a person says "I am a progressive Catholic." Here, the terms admit reconciliation. Far too often, however, what the sentence really means is "I am a hypocrite, I claim to be Catholic when I am not." Progressive Catholicism, for most who claim to be its adherents, is the same as the Catholic buttery above - by adding Progressive as a qualifier, what is implied is that litany of exceptions to actual Catholicism, this time with some good marketing. After all, who is opposed to progress? Certainly not Catholics. But when some modern cultural fad is declared to be progress, such as the recognition of the right to kill one's child, Catholics do not reject it and hence reject progress, it is rejected for being regress. 

I could label myself "A Catholic for Change for the Better" - and if I started calling myself that, who could be opposed? But what would really be hiding, or at least obscuring, is my vision of what the Better is. I might think it would be better if all male, 19 year old students were stoned. I could say that the institution of this would be progress over the dreadful state of affairs where most of the people in that group are not stoned. Though this example is hyperbolic, the point should be clear: it is not the qualifying label that really matters, the label is chosen for PR, what matters is whether the qualifier actually negates the noun, whether claiming to be "progressive" actually constitutes a denial of being Catholic. If it does, then it is hypocrisy.

It is added by some that there are a diversity of views within the Catholic Church. This is absolutely true, there are a diverse set of views - theology would be over if there were not! One such plurality is over some soteriological questions, such as Molinism and Thomism in how to combine free will and predestination. Whilst both views cannot be correct, the Church contains people advocating both (a split which has traditionally been Jesuit-Dominican respectively). What those people tend to mean is that the Church contains views contrary to its teachings, and this is not the case. One can claim to hold to some dissident or heretical view only by deceiving either oneself or those around one, claiming to be something one is not, or in short, hypocrisy.

Let me return briefly to the clause I ignored that is often added to the definition of hypocrisy, ie, that the hypocrite not only acts contrary to their profession of belief, but also that their action is concealed, that there is deceit involved that amounts to a position of moral superiority being wrongly attributed to the hypocrite. If that qualifier is added, then the case of sin-is-hypocrisy mentioned at the beginning is not hypocrisy. However, the nominal and dissident "Catholics" still fall into the bounds of the definition, since they claim to be Catholic only deceitfully.

Perhaps the preceding has seemed overly harsh. I do not think so, I think it is important to flag hypocrisy and deceit in the Church - how can the Church reform if it does not identify the negative elements? Or perhaps it has seemed instead overly arrogant, as if I could say what is and is not Catholic. It has been my intention to keep the examples of ways in which one's Catholicism is denied to the minimum to avoid creating criteria for in-and-out, for precisely that reason. However, it is not arrogant to point out that, in actual fact, the word "Catholic" really means something. It is a word with content. As such, some combinations of the word with other terms produce logical contradictions, just like "vegan meat-eater" or, to use the canonical example, "married bachelor." Such an entity does not exist, and when someone points out that when a married man to claims to be a bachelor he is in fact mistaken or lying, it is not arrogant, it is simply applying the meaning of the words correctly.

Whilst I doubtless hope in vain, it is my hope that hypocrisy will begin not only be identified among those who do wrong, but also among those who claim the identity "Catholic" that they act contrary to.

[1] Some extreme cases could be given where somebody really is a faithful Catholic and has not been to Mass - perhaps they are imprisoned, perhaps there is absolutely no-where Mass is offered, etc. However, this is not a particularly large group, and certainly not the subject of my point here.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Reason, Experience, and Christianity

Richard Feynman
I sometimes get asked the question directly, and often find the question posed to me indirectly, as to how I can be a Catholic, given my fields of interest and study seem to suggest I should not be: epistemology, philosophy more generally, physics and mathematics. These are all areas where the standards of knowledge are quite high, and the questioners seem to imply that I should hence re-consider whether I am justified in being Catholic. To be Catholic brings, after all, a relatively large set of new and difficult (if even possible) to prove or verify beliefs. That, even within these fields, I am particularly fond of René Descartes, Richard Feynman and Paul Dirac, only makes the problem more acute.

I wish to explain my position here in brief. It is not quite a full picture, and like most things outside of logic and mathematics, it is difficult to see how it can be made objectively normative. Furthermore, it completely omits the sorts of arguments and pathways that led me to some of the premises in this framework originally - a path that involved the methodological scepticism of Descartes, some study of philosophy, history and science. That story would be my best attempt at a foundationalist approach to Christianity - and I think it gets one relatively far, certainly to the point of being some sort of Christian. But it does not truly ever arrive at Christianity. I have instead found the position I hold now to be far more compelling and satisfying, even if it will alienate certain conversation partners.

To begin, I must quickly introduce what epistemologists mean by knowledge. Precise definitions vary because of some rough edges, but the classical definition still holds relatively firmly: knowledge is true and justified belief. That is to say, that some proposition constitutes knowledge in the case that the knower believes the proposition (one cannot know what one does not even believe), the proposition is in fact true (one cannot know a falsehood) and finally, one is justified in believing the proposition. What separates knowledge from belief is that the belief is true, but perhaps more importantly, that the knower actually has sufficient reason, or justification, to believe the proposition. Not surprisingly, some of the fiercest debates in epistemology seem to be around theories of what constitutes justification.

Very simply, I will term my position Christian reliabilism. Reliabilism, in the sense in which I will use it, refers to an epistemological theory of justification which says, in a somewhat crude form, that a belief is justified if it arises from generally truth-giving (or "reliable") faculties or sources, in the absence of evidence to the contrary. For example, I am justified in believing that I am sitting on a chair because I sense that this is the case with my sense of touch and sight. If there were evidence that I was dreaming, then I would no longer be justified in believing I am sitting on a chair.

Reliabilism is a broad family of theories of justification, and can actually be used in a broader sense than just justification. One reason it is powerful is that it is probably the only practical theory: the two other major families of competing theories are foundationalism and coherentism, both of which are excellent, but neither of them can really be thought of as "day-to-day" theories of justification. Foundationalism is very intuitive for people like myself who study mathematics, since it consists of the view that knowledge is built out of self-justified, basic beliefs. These could be said to correspond to what mathematicians call axioms. Descartes is surely the most famous and clearest foundationalist. Coherentism is a less ancient theory, but it is one which tends to appeal to scientists (as well as others) because it holds to a view that is somewhat similar to the approach taken in the natural sciences: coherentism is about finding justification in a coherent set of beliefs. A belief is justified if and only if it forms part of a coherent set of beliefs. Although the natural sciences involve other principles, such as Occam's razor, that a theory be coherent with all the data (both the data that has already been obtained, and the results that the theory predicts) is what defines a good scientific theory.

I struggle to see how truly self-justifying propositions can form a proper basis for knowledge without an impractical degree of scepticism. I doubt that even such basic things as the existence of the external worlds, or other minds, or perhaps even of the self, could be proven from self-justified propositions. So whilst I am drawn to foundationalism by my mathematical training, I cannot support it as a practical theory of justification. Coherentism is a theory I would be biased towards accepting, since its internalist structure makes it fairly straightforward to be a Catholic. But alas, I cannot see how it can be ultimately defended; it has elegance, but I see no way of bridging the gap between what reality seems to be in itself, and a coherent set of propositions. Elements of coherentism feature to some extent in many forms of reliabilism, however, and so coherentist theory may appear implicitly in what follows (in particular, note that the clause "without evidence to the contrary" given above in regards to reliabilism is essentially a statement about coherence).

Now, what constitutes a reliable faculty or source of truth is the area where Christian reliabilism is set apart from non-Christian reliabilists. It considers there to be three broad sources of truth: reason, experience, and Christianity. Reason is reliable as a source of truths, for instance, in mathematics or logic. Experience, by which I mean sensorial experience or experience of the empirical, is a reliable source of truths, for instance, in the natural sciences. God is a reliable source of truths in all areas, though I do not know of anyone who argues that God is a source of truths in actuality, since God is generally said to have revealed things of a particular kind, if any.

Probably the first objection one might have to adding divine revelation to the old empirical-rational duo of reliable sources is that divine revelation (sometimes called special revelation, or hereafter, just revelation) does not build off the others. However, whilst that line of critique would be fruitful if I were advocating foundationalism, it is somewhat irrelevant to a reliabilist. This can be seen from mere consideration of the other two: someone who denies the existence of the external world could just as well argue that experience is not a reliable source of truth, because it is not giving truths about anything that actually exists. Arguing that reason is a reliable source of truth is more difficult, because all arguments make inferences that are deemed valid by reason, but somebody stuck with a Cartesian demon would, nonetheless, doubt their own capacity for rationality. At bottom, both reason and experience must be deemed to be properly basic by the reliabilist - the foundationalist may mutter in despair, but they can do no better.

The Christian reliabilist, then, adds God to the list of properly basic reliable sources, and specifically, God as revealed in Christianity. Supposing God to exist, it seems obvious that God is a reliable source of information. Furthermore, there exists an parallel between the existence of the external world and the existence of God: whilst I think the existence of God can be proven, many dispute that arguments I find sound truly are sound, just like how philosophers such as G.E. Moore believed they could prove the existence of the external world, and yet, many dispute the arguments he offered (including myself). It could be said that, like the existence of the external world, the existence of God must be assumed. Whilst I have some discomfort at holding that position, particularly since I think the existence of God can be proven,* it can nonetheless be held with intellectual rigour, so long as it is granted that one is justified in believing in the existence of the external world without a priori proof.

The second objection is far more substantial, in my estimation: I have used God-as-reliable-source and Christianity-as-reliable-source somewhat interchangeably. But they are not the same, as a Muslim or Jew (et cetera) would inform. The same point made above could be a fruitful venture, that is to say, that one must assume Christianity to be properly basic, and yet, that route is supremely unsatisfying. The most obvious reason why that is the case is that the truth of Christianity is not like the truth of the existence of the external world, or God, but of a choice between multiple different competing sources for the title of divine revelation.

The difficulty could be resolved by trying to dip into the other theories of justification: I could attempt the foundationalist route, as I did when I became Christian, and argue from historical Jesus studies, in particular, any evidence for the resurrection. A similar approach could be taken for some other path from reason and experience to Christianity in terms of foundationalism, although I cannot think of any that are uniquely Christian and sufficiently powerful.

Or via the coherentist one, I could assume that God has "spoken" through some religion, and test them all to see which presents itself as most coherent. That the union of secular fields of knowledge and Christianity yields a powerfully coherent set of propositions, including with historical Jesus studies, keeps my mind at rest whenever I have major doubts about things, and yet, as I said, coherentism leaves me unsatisfied in general as an epistemic justification theory.

This second objection is not, in any case, unsurpassable since one could in principle assume Christianity is properly basic. Objections such as "given Christianity is true, what follows?" - in the same vein as the satirical xkcd comic strip on string theory below - are also important.

As one person noted to me, there is an important problem of interpretation: creedal statements like "Jesus is the Son of God" can be variously understood. What does it mean to be the Son of God? (One would naturally jump to some sort of sexual reproduction, which at least to some extent, would be completely mistaken) What does that imply about Jesus, other than origin? (The Arians, for instance, generally did not deny Jesus' sonship, but they did deny his divinity). If there is a difficulty in interpretation, there is a difficulty in understanding what is said to actually follow from the view that Christianity is a reliable source of truth. To a large extent, but not fully, this objection is met by Catholics in reminding the protester that the Church is herself a "living voice" - Christianity, in the view of Catholics, is not a religion of the book. As the Catechism quotes St Bernard saying: Christianity is the religion of the "Word" of God, "not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living". (CCC 108) And yet, that does not always yield perfect interpretation.

So Christian reliabilism has some issues that remain outstanding. Still, I contend that they are largely rough edges which can be fixed. One issue, however, remains crucially outstanding: Christian reliabilism is not objectively normative. By that I mean, whilst I can hold to it with intellectual rigour, I see no reasons within the system that would convince someone who did not hold to it. Whilst the same could be said, once again, about those who deny the existence of the external world, and to a large extent, absolute objective normativity is generally not thought to be possible, this is a theory which involves a much more ambiguous series of entry points. To this issue, I will return at a later date.

* It is actually a de fide teaching, I am told, of the First Vatican Council. Strictly speaking, though, since God is beyond what the usual arguments show (except, were it sound, the ontological argument), I do not believe the existence of God can be proven, only the existence of a being which is remarkably like God.