Chronological Snobbery and The Flying Spaghetti MonsterJuly 25, 2008
C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield coined the term “chronological snobbery”. What is it? It is a logical fallacy. You know, like a straw man argument which falsely represents your opponents viewpoint, or an ad-hominem argument which attacks your opponent while you ignore their argument all together. Chronological snobbery is also a logical fallacy.
However, this fallacy implies that just because we now know the world is round, have identified a few laws of physics, and have microwaves and refrigerators, doesn’t mean we are more intellectually advanced than those before our time!
The chronological snobbery fallacy is expressed in the form:
1. You argue that A implies B.
2. A implies B is an old argument, dating back to the times when people also believed C.
3. C is clearly false.
4. Therefore, A does not imply B.
Many people today say the Bible is outdated. Surely it must be an unreliable source because Christians have used it in the past to prove that the world is flat, endorse slavery of blacks, and ban inter-racial marriages. Science has saved us right? Today we have scientifically proved that the world is round, while Christians now abhor slavery, and embrace inter-racial marriages.
Yet, as Doug Wilson says, “that is a perfect argument that there is a problem with people, not Scripture.” I know what you’re thinking, “even so… who cares.” Well this is why I care, and care a lot. I care because of the flying spaghetti monster. That’s right. What is that? Well, it’s the Christian apologists worst nightmare when debating an atheist. I assure you, I really struggled with my faith when this argument was presented to me. In fact, my hands shook so bad as I was inches away from replacing my car fish with this hideous, intellectually tormenting SOB!
Sarcasm aside, atheists charge that if we can’t prove God’s existence with forensic proof then we might as well except other things we can’t prove, such as the flying spaghetti monster. This is a good point, especially since atheists are so consistent and only believe what is observable, ie. universal meanings and moral standards by which they use universal meanings to say they lack belief in God and that it is morally wrong for God to judge people in Hell.
Sarcasm aside again, a flying spaghetti monster, an “invisible friend”, or a flying tea pot, can’t account for what Scripture reveals to be the only precondition for science to even be possible! With all the clamor about how Scripture is “in the way of science”, I would like to point out how fundamental Scripture is to science. Science requires observers who observe the observable. Yet, observers and the observable are best accounted for with the Triune God of Scripture in mind. You can’t have science unless you have observation, and you can’t have observation with out the laws of logic, and you can’t have the laws of logic without the Triune God of Scripture, or at least a supernatural realm that is personal. I delve into this more concisely here.
Now, if belief in God is as superstitious as the “flying spaghetti monster”, the “invisible friend”, and Richard Dawkin’s “the flying teapot”, then it must also be said that these can sufficiently account for the non-physical realities of the laws of logic, thus the ability to think, thus the ability to observe, thus the ability to do science. God, however, is an eternal personal being, thus is a self-sufficient bases for all these. I have never heard atheists argue that the above are eternal personal beings.
So basically, while some over-emphasize supposed problems with the Bible (in the name of bettering science), they all along assume aspects of the Bible’s truths. Namely, aspects of God’s nature which is the prerequisite to even do science!
Now, with all this is on the tip of your mind, please come back with me to the chronological snobbery fallacy. So what am I saying? What I am ultimately saying is that in this day and age we all have embedded assumptions. We conveniently and foolishly overlook these assumptions only to our own demise, and therefore, one day people in the distant future will look back on us today and see how primitive and foolish we were.
Barfield put it this way:
“I was attending a lecture with a varied but exclusively university-oriented audience of some five hundred when the lecturer, a Ph.D. in physics, said, almost in passing, “Remember that only three hundred years ago men actually believed the world was flat!” Considerable knowing laughter greeted this astonishing misrepresentation (or, should I say, falsehood?), and the assembled all murmured a kind of self-congratulatory hum of satisfaction with their own superior knowledge. At another point the lecturer dropped a reference to the onetime belief that the sun revolved around the earth. More laughter. The physicist, it was apparent, was merely offering burnt incense at the altar of some of our twentieth-century idols.”
Let us not foolishly assume things and then run from everything that will challenge our preconceived notions. Take the laws of physics or the laws of nature if you will. Out of the Medieval Ages and into the The Age of Reason, The Enlightenment, and The Age of Empiricism, Theism faded away and became replaced with Deism. Our ideas of ourselves and our potential got bigger while our ideas of God grew more distant. Then we went from Modernism to Post-Modernism (in the arts at least), and Deism has now been replaced with Atheism and Naturalism.
Throughout all of these changes, one major contributor was the claim that “the universe is governed by natural laws”. In other words, we no longer need this “medieval” and “primitive” belief in God because we now have sufficient explanations as to how the world operates. All by ourselves we have discovered intellectually satisfying reasons for not believing in the super-natural. We have “laws” which govern the universe… who needs God?
And it is here that we see chronological snobbery at its very best! Or should I say worst? We see it following Newton’s day all the way into the present. Here’s what many Deists, Atheists, Agnostics, and Naturalists, riding on this bandwagon, were never challenged with. A natural law does not govern anything, but only explains how something is governed! It only explains what IS happening in nature, not what should happen!
We can say like Newton, “a net force = mass x acceleration”. Note, we cannot conclude that this is how a net force “should” function, but only that it does function this way as opposed to another way (such as F=1/2m x a). So we cannot say a law of nature is governing nature anymore then we can say 1+1=2 is governing the two oranges in my hands. This mathematical truth is only describing something, not governing it. Natural laws do not guarantee that the world will behave a certain way, they only “describe” how the world is currently behaving. To say how the world “should” behave is a meta-physical claim. Ooops. So it isn’t enough to say that laws are holding the universe together. It must be said that something is causing the universe to act uniform; and for this reason we can then derive laws. Therefore, the discovery of natural laws has NO basis to try and kick God out of His universe! They only reinforce the notion.
Even though Newton’s discoveries un-intentionally sparked the fires of Atheistic and Naturalistic attempts to throw God out of His universe, he himself did not entirely do so. Newton stated, “gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done.”
And so I leave you with C.S. Lewis’ remarks on chronological snobbery in closing:
“chronological snobbery,” [is] the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them.”
“The free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought.” ~ Leon Blum
Are you willing to let your assumptions about the supernatural and the natural be challenged? Even if it raises your blood pressure?