Thursday, May 12, 2011

True? False? or Who Cares? - Part 4

In the last article in this series we looked at the concept of “presuppositions”. Presuppositions are ideas we believe or accept without proof. Everyone has them. Even in mathematics we have things called postulates which are statements that are accepted as true without proof. I remember a math class I had once where we assumed that the number 1 existed. We also assumed that the next number in a counting series could be found by adding the number 1 to the previous number. Every other “truth” that we used in the course had to be proved from these two postulates or assumptions or presuppositions.

So what does this have to do with our discussion of truth and how we know it? Let’s take the Creation vs Evolution debate for example. I worked in the public schools for 42 years and have seen the nuances that this debate has taken. When everything is sorted out through the legal system it usually comes down to this: Creation is a religious, faith-based idea and therefore has no place within the science curriculum. Evolution however is a scientific truth and therefore can and should be taught within the science curriculum.

I realize that I am probably not going to change many minds in this short article, but this is how I see it in light of our discussion about truth and how we know it. Scientific knowledge and truth comes from proposing an hypothesis and then designing a controlled experiment to test that hypothesis to see if it is true. In the case of the origin of life, it seems obvious to me that there can be no experiment designed that will duplicate the conditions, time span and forces needed to create and evolve life by random processes. Every attempt so far has involved a high level of human thinking and planning involved to set up conditions favorable for the creation of life. The true condition of randomness and chance events were not duplicated. Even so, life has not been created by those experiments.

On the creation side, there is no one alive today who saw God create anything. All we have is ancient documents within various religious traditions describing how God did it.

My point is that those who claim evolution is true are actually proposing something just as faith-based as a creationist is.

But the evolutionist says, “No, that’s not true. You creationists are bringing God into the mix. We are providing a natural and scientific explanation of how life began and evolved.”

The problem here is with the assumptions or presuppositions that underlie what we believe. In order to fit the definition of science, God must be left out of the equation. That is an assumption. All of the study and investigation that takes place looks for explanations that leave God out. It is assumed that God either does not exist or does not play any role in any way in the natural world. But suppose God actually exists. If God actually exists, isn’t it madness to try to get at the explanation for why things are the way they are without including him in the mix?

“But”, they say, “we don’t know if God exists or not and therefore we choose to leave him out of our assumptions regarding science and simply look for the natural causes of things.”

OK. That’s fine. But don’t call your explanation of origins totally scientific because you are basing your “science” on the belief that certain things are true. There are a set of beliefs or assumptions upon which the entire system is built. That makes it a faith based philosophy.

A scientist who includes the belief in a god or supreme being in his foundational assumptions will also build a faith-based science. But he, when he looks at the order and apparent “design” in the universe will come to the conclusion that there is a designer behind it.

It’s interesting that in normal life we do this all the time. If you’re walking through the woods and you come upon a group of similar sized stones lying in the dirt forming the shape of a circle, you assume someone of intelligence placed them that way. You don’t assume that they just fell there randomly. And yet when some scientists look at the brain or the eye, they don’t see a designer at all but millions of years of random circumstances producing it. So we attribute a simple circle of stones to an intelligent designer, i.e. a human being, behind it, but something as complex as an eye evolved with no intelligent activity involved in it at all.

When trying to determine the truth, everyone begins their investigative reasoning with presuppositions or assumptions. Mathematicians do it and scientists do it. We all do it. We need to be careful that first of all we recognize that we are doing it. When you make statements of truth or believe what someone else says is true, look for the presuppositions that underlie those statements. Second, make sure that when you are discussing what you believe to be the truth, acknowledge your presuppositions. Don’t hide them. Finally make sure your presuppositions are logical and consistent. Only in so doing will you be able to get at the truth whether it is in the field of science, politics or religion.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

True? False? or Who Cares? - Part 3

In the first article in this series we talked about the fact that in normal daily life we come at truth in very informal ways and yet in ways that work at the practical level. When we build our homes, we conform them to certain truths about how the construction needs to take place so they are safe and function well. We learn these truths by applying what we receive on good authority. This approach seems to be thrown out the window when it comes to discerning, believing and proclaiming religious truth.

In the second article we expanded more on the methods we use to discern what truth is. Here again we discussed the fact that most of us haven’t come in contact with the truth first hand in most areas of knowledge. In other words we weren’t there when historical events took place and we aren’t privy to the information that forms the basis for political decisions. Most of us are not involved in the working out of mathematical equations or scientific principles. We learn these things and base our decisions on them based on good authority. But it’s interesting to recognize that different people accept different authorities. Why is this so? Why, when the President, any President, announces a decision, do some people assume it is a wise and truthful decision whereas others claim the decision is faulty and dishonest? Why do we gravitate to one news source over another or one religious leader over another? Most of these propensities to lean in one direction or another are not driven by facts that we know first hand.

There are usually unproved and sometimes improvable assumptions called presuppositions that move us in one direction or another when in the search for truth. The point I would like us to think very seriously about is that there is no guarantee that these presuppositions are directing us toward the truth. Our feelings tell us our sources are true and we believe they are, but there is no guarantee. I may listen to a particular news source because I feel that it is a truthful source of information. But what makes me think that? And just because I think that, does that make it true? I watch with fascination as CNN fans put down Fox News for presenting a slanted view of the facts. At the same time I hear Fox News followers cut down CNN for painting a false picture of causes and events. Since CNN and Fox present rather different perspectives on events, they can’t both be giving the true picture. One or the other or both are presenting shaded views of the truth. Our presuppositions drive us to listen to and believe one over the other.

The same thing occurs in religious discussion. Some people do not believe that the Bible can be historically accurate and truthful in the narratives about Jesus Christ because it describes events which people have never seen with their own eyes. These miracles are described as though they are facts, but some people dismiss them out of hand because of the presupposition that such things cannot and therefore did not take place. Think of the implications if the resurrection of Jesus actually did take place. In other words if we take it out of the realm of a religious teaching and put it into the same realm as the assassination of Julius Caesar or any other historical event, what would that mean? Think about it. If this man really died, his heart stopped beating and his brain stopped functioning, someone put him into a cold cave and then three days later he was alive again, wouldn’t such an event warrant a place in the history books? But somehow it has been relegated to a religious teaching and the thought of it actually having happened has pretty much disappeared. Has this happened because the history of it has been shown to be faulty or because of presuppositions coming into play?

Our presuppositions tend to move us toward some information sources and away from others. We believe some people who purport to be authorities and we reject others. In most cases we haven’t and usually can’t do the research required to independently verify these authorities. This situation shouldn’t drive us to the conclusion that the truth doesn’t exist or that it can’t be known. We don’t do that in normal daily life and we shouldn’t do it in philosophical, political or religious areas of life. However, we do need to recognize that our presuppositions may not be pointing us to the truth. If we really want to know what the truth is, we need to sometimes work against our natural presuppositions and give other sources a fair and reasoned hearing because it may be that the truth lies in that direction.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Memorization Monday - Expected Fruit: Love

John 13:34, 35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hymn of the Week -- Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken, Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition, all I’ve sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition! God and Heaven are still mine own.

Let the world despise and leave me, they have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me; Thou art not, like them, untrue.
And while Thou shalt smile upon me, God of wisdom, love and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me, show Thy face and all is bright.

Go, then, earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn and pain!
In Thy service, pain is pleasure; with Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called Thee, “Abba, Father”; I have set my heart on Thee:
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather, all must work for good to me.

This week for the hymn of the week, I go to an old poem by Henry F. Lyte in 1824

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken

Man may trouble and distress me, ’twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me; heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, ’tis not in grief to harm me while Thy love is left to me;
Oh, ’twere not in joy to charm me, were that joy unmixed with Thee.

Take, my soul, thy full salvation; rise o’er sin, and fear, and care;
Joy to find in every station something still to do or bear:
Think what Spirit dwells within thee; what a Father’s smile is thine;
What a Savior died to win thee, child of heaven, shouldst thou repine?

Haste then on from grace to glory, armed by faith, and winged by prayer,
Heaven’s eternal day’s before thee, God’s own hand shall guide thee there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission, swift shall pass thy pilgrim days;
Hope soon change to glad fruition, faith to sight, and prayer to praise.