Onward, Christian Soldiers!

July 15, 2012    By: Jeff G @ 4:50 pm   Category: Life,Truth

There once was an army of soldiers who considered themselves to be fighting a war which must be won at all costs.  What this war was over or who the enemy was are both questions that need not concern us here.   What matters for now is that any other objectives which these soldiers might have also valued in life paled in comparison to the primary objective of victory.  Accordingly, the goodness or desirability of these other goals or ends was essentially measured in terms of the degree to which they tended toward victory in this war rather than defeat.

For example, it was of the utmost importance that the soldiers trusted each other.   As such, the virtues of honesty, accuracy and consistency were strongly endorsed as well as enforced within this army.  Of even greater importance was that the soldiers obeyed and did not question their commanding officers.  These virtues were emphasized in addition to those of honesty, accuracy and consistency for at least two reasons.  First, the effectiveness of the army clearly and directly depended upon the officers’ ability to direct their troops without any equivocation or hesitation in the latter.  Second, it was by no means obvious that full honesty, accuracy and consistency on the part of the officers was the policy that most tended towards victory.  Since victory was what counted most, there were no small amount of exaggerations, half-truths and out-right fabrications in the “intelligence” which commanding officers shared with their troops.  Of course every soldier acknowledged this tension to be possible in general, but they were never allowed to question any particular order or information they were given.

Although the average soldier was obviously not briefed in full regarding all details of the war at large or even of his particular part in it, this army did in fact have an “intelligence” division in which many soldiers were specifically charged with knowing as much as they possibly could.  This division had at least three important responsibilities.  First, these soldiers were to gather as much accurate and consistent information about the world around them as was possible.  Second, they were to prioritize moves, battles and other such strategies in the war in terms of their relative importance to victory.  Third, they were in charge of recognizing if and when any such strategy was a hopeless waste of time or simply not possible at all.

While this army could only become more efficient and more effective by devoting some time and resources to the analysis of the proximate means to victory, it was only a matter of time before some within the intelligence division began to apply their intellectual tools to the war itself, the final end.  They thus came to ask whether the war itself was really the most important objective after all or whether victory might actually be a hopeless pipedream.  Once these questions had been seriously raised such that they commanded the respect and attention of a great many within the intelligence division, these soldiers are already well on their way to an inversion of values.  There was simply no way that asking “Can this war actually be won and, if so, is it really worth it?” was an activity which tended toward ultimate victory in the war.  In other words, once the intellectual took these questions seriously, the importance of victory had already taken second seat to the importance of answers.

As these questions came to be asked and taken seriously by more and more soldiers, a tension emerged within the army between those who judged and valued victory in terms of their quest for answers and those judged and valued answers in terms of their quest for victory.  The latter, more conservative side saw those questions raised by their answer-oriented colleagues as being not only a pointless squandering of precious time and resources, but positively harmful and potentially dangerous threats from within.  The former, more progressive side, in contrast, saw their victory-oriented colleagues as being obtuse fanatics which were in the grips of a baseless illusion.  Of course the actual truth was that these two depictions merely represented two extremes between which most of the soldiers situated themselves.  The soldiers for victory did not truly despise, but in fact valued all of the intelligence which did not tend toward defeat.  The soldiers for answers did not truly despise, but in fact valued all of the moves, battles and strategies which did not contradict their intelligence.  It is, however, an unfortunate fact that neither victory nor answers were to be attained by the commitment of time or resources to areas which were not really in dispute.

As time went on, the intelligence community steadily increased in popularity, influence and power.  Indeed, they eventually grew so bold as to openly mock those who blindly clung to their faith in victory in the face of well-established answers.  But it was at this point that a minority within the intelligence community emerged which took the same tools of analysis around which their movement had been built and then applied these tools to the movement itself.  They thus began to wonder, what made the quest for answers any more possible or worthwhile than the quest for victory?  How was a faith in answers any less blind than a faith in victory?  Were not the scientific pigs simply walking just as the religious farmers had done before them?  What reason could the intellectual possibly give for ignoring the battle cry “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” while heeding that of “Hold up, Christian Soldiers, while we try to answer a few questions!”?


  1. I once again reject your R vs S distinction on the grounds that it represents a simple category error, no matter how clever the metaphor devised to present it.

    What your intelligence community is actually doing is coming up with answers that are not simply consistent with the world around them, but are actually consistent with a few unexamined philosophical positions which are contradictory with victory – such as, say, uniformitarianism and naturalism.

    Comment by log — July 15, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  2. And I once again have no clue what this category error is that you speak of. If one group makes a category error that the other doesn’t, is not this just the R/S distinction by another name? And from what perspective are we able to make such judgements regarding category errors?

    Comment by Jeff G — July 15, 2012 @ 6:56 pm

  3. I don’t know. I feel like most of the contention I see is not of this sort. It is more that the intelligence community has split into factions. It feels more like there is one community saying “the enemy is X” another “the enemy is Y” and another saying “there is no enemy”. All three (fifty three?) groups seem determined they have all the answers, and even as I throw my hands up and say “I don’t know which is right, the right answer is unknowable” I find myself having taken a fourth (fifty fourth?) position that only further divides.

    Comment by Matt W. — July 17, 2012 @ 5:54 pm

  4. Matt,

    No doubt those within the intelligence division sometimes provide different answers to the same questions, but this should not distract us from the fact that they all seek the exact same thing: answers. The fundamental tension between science and religion according to this metaphor is that the latter seeks actions which achieve victory in the long run while the former seeks explanations and answers to question regarding victory. One side would rather win without having any idea as to how or why while the other would tolerate losing if that’s what it takes to get answers and understand why they lost.

    Both sides value honesty, but for different reasons. Religion values honesty because that’s what leads us to victory over the forces of evil. Science values honesty because that’s what leads us to victory over lies, ignorance and superstition. The problem is that sometimes lies, ignorance and superstition are better at winning the war than honesty is.

    It with this in mind that we realize how important metaphors are in the science/religion debates. Religion sometimes sees itself soldiers at war and as such sees no problem with some amount of half-truths and the like. Once we drop the war metaphor, these half-truths look anything but justified.

    This provides a decent context to articulate my own position. We are, all of us, at war against the law of entropy. Cooperation and honesty are not defaults which can be assumed, but are accomplishments which we must work in order to maintain. Unfortunately, sometimes half-truths and the like are better at getting this work done than complete and consistent truths are.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 18, 2012 @ 11:10 am

  5. An interesting way to put a dichotomy, which IMO only exists in the minds of those, who can’t stand inner conflict.

    To remain within your metaphor, what if both “victory” and “answers” were different dimensions or of the same thing? We as humans are often in conflict with ourselves, and the most important battles are fought within us.

    After all: as well as it is impossible for mere humans to obtain ultimate “victory”, it is impossible for mere humans to find absolute answers, or the ultimate Truth.

    Human mind being what it is, I have to be endlessly checking my answers against what I know to be better-informed sources, e.g. about certain programming languages, or mathematical formulae, whatever.

    And yet I find that I am amazed often enough by how much there remains of what I’ve learned. It just often comes uninvited, not when I need it.

    I notice that with time eating away my memory, I am being inexorably (yes, I think that is the word I want) pushed towards blissful oblivion. But I’m carrying with me some experiences that will not die with me. This I have good and logically sound reasons to conclude.

    Philosophically speaking, that is.

    Comment by velska — July 18, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  6. To remain within your metaphor, what if both “victory” and “answers” were different dimensions or of the same thing?

    But the whole point of the metaphor is that they are not the same thing. Of course there is some overlap between the two, but when push comes to shove, at least one must be compromised for the sake of the other.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 19, 2012 @ 2:45 pm

  7. Jeff, I have been failing to participate in any meaningful way, but just wanted you to know I am reading along and have enjoyed the way you are exploring a central point through several different metaphors.

    And for the record, when I read NDBF Gary’s most recent post your recent commentary was ringing in my ears through the whole thing.

    Comment by Jacob J — July 25, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

  8. Thanks, Jacob. That’s really nice to hear. As far as beliefs in the bloggernacle go, Gary and I are about as polar opposite as they come. I figure that if I can post comments that get him to pause and reconsider some things, then anybody can; you just gotta learn how his game is being played. That’s really all I’m trying to accomplish in my posts, not to convert you to Gary but to better your conversations with him.

    Comment by Jeff G — July 26, 2012 @ 2:10 pm