Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Multiordinal rather than Complementary
John C. Richards 

53 Atherton Avenue
Atherton, California 94025

From: JASA 29 (March 1977): 43

I found the dialogue between Cramer and MacKay about The Clockwork Image fascinating. While I believe I understand, and agree with MacKay's arguments, 1 too stumbled over his use of the term "complementary."

May I suggest a substitute term which clarified his presentation for me and which hopefully will resolve a major point of difference in their respective positions. It is the term "multiordinal," a word of mathematical origin which is used extensively in general semantics. In fact, Alfred Korzybski, the founder of general semantics uses it so frequently in his book Science and Sanity that he abbreviates it throughout as "m.o. "

Multiordinality describes our capacity, indeed our need, to make statements about our knowledge which have validity at several levels simultaneously. Each lower order statement is subsumed under the one above it and each has a validity of its own. Frequently the lower order statements give no clue to the levels above them and when we move to higher order the added dimensions dramatically change the appearance of what we describe, so much so that if we are not aware of the m.o. of our language we fail to see any relationship between the levels.
In fact, the man-made dichotomy between religion and science can be traced to this very failure. Let me use a beautifully mo. verse as an example. "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life," At the theological level it refers to spirit; at the social level (including moral) it refers to person; at the scientific level it refers to process. (The Way answers How? not Who? and life is also a process, of course.)

To clarify why these are identified as different levels of abstraction, let us start at the bottom of the abstraction ladder with events in the physical world. The physical scientist searches for order in these events. At the next level the social scientist, and those concerned with morals and ethics, select as their field of study only that class of events which represent the highest order we know on earth, the human being. They in turn search for order between persons. At a higher level, the theologian abstracts further and is concerned with those higher order attributes of humans which have to do with communion with God. This uniquely human ability to abstract to indefinitely high levels places us above other creatures which cannot do it and below God who functions at all levels simultaneously and without the human limitation of abstraction. This total order at all levels simultaneously and without abstraction is the logos of John 1.

While we cannot comprehend all of it in its entirety in this life, we can enhance our ability to understand if we recognize this multi-ordinality. Each level is a legitimate field of study. However, if we eliminate any of these levels from our consideration we limit our search for the Truth which sets us free. This applies both to the Christian who ignores process and to the physical scientist who divorces spirit and person from his consideration.