Monday, July 24, 2006

The Fortean Bayesian Christian...

Ever since I found out about the writings of Charles Fort (circa 1992), I've considered myself, in many respects, to be a Fortean. Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) documented many weird things that happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s, mostly things that apparently happened, but were contrary to the scientific theories of the day (and many of which are still inexplicable). He generally viewed the world in a sceptical (or skeptical) manner, especially any scientific theory presented as fact. He observed that there is often evidence contrary to the established theory which has often been conveniently 'brushed under the carpet' so as not to question the validity of the established theory.

One of Fort's qoutes that took me a long time to fully understand is "One measures a circle, beginning anywhere". I now understand this to mean that when you're trying to make sense of something, be it the world, or science, or religious thought, or whatever, the best place to start 'measuring' it from is where you are - don't try and find the beginnning, don't start with somone else's theory, start where you are.

In 1998 I discovered Bayes' Theorem as part of my work. Thomas Bayes (1702 -1761) was a Christian preacher, mathematician and philosopher. His greatest work (which spanned all three aspects of his life) was published by his friend Richard Price two years after his death. This is Bayes' Theorem. (Technically it should be "Bayes's" but nobody seems to write it that way.) Put simply, Bayes' Theorem is a scientific methodology for updating your beliefs on the basis of new evidence. In other words, if you think a certain hypothesis might be true, and things keep happening which support that hypothesis, your confidence (or 'degree of belief') in that hypothesis is increased with each and every evidence. Conversely, it things keep happening that are contrary to the hypothesis, your confidence in it diminshes. Of course, most of us work that way anyway, but Bayes' Theorem formalises the process in terms of maths and probability. If you view the world in a Bayesian manner, you are continually re-evaluing your beliefs on the basis of what happens to you.

So, as a Fortean I assess the truth of something starting from where I am, and as a Bayesian I re-evaluate my beliefs based on my experiences.

But I am a Christian also. I can't not apply the same processes of thought to my Christian beliefs as to any other beliefs.

Last night I was in church (i.e. it was the 'where I am') and I experienced the Holy Spirit, not merely being in the room but also being in me. As a Bayesian, my confidence in God was increased through that experience. And as a Fortean, that is where I measure my understanding of God. Sure, I have issues with things claimed in parts of the bible. Sure, I have questions about exactly who God is. But I am sure that God is.

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