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.

1 comment:

David C. Taplin said...

Agreed. If information should be left out of school books because is it 'religion-based', then both systems of thought should be left out. I would also argue that from ages ang ages ago, the story of creation was taught to young children. Why didn't those people teach evolution or some other theory? Similarly, Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed in 1865. Later that day, it would be more likely that someone would argue (even if they hadn't seen it) that he was shot and killed while at the theatre. For someone that day to say that he wasn't shot, and had a heart attack while at the theatre, people would have immediately argued against him. In 2011, how do we really know which story is true? In contract, jump to 2011. If I argue that Lincoln died of a heart attack, it seems more likely that I could convince some that this is true even though there is much evidence to the contrary. You might argue that he was assasinated. The more a society is removed from an event, the more possibility there is of a lie, untruth, misqote, lack of evidence to creep in and muddy the waters. It would be hard to prove either, and so most people go with what they recently heard or what someone told them. Thus- presuppositions about creations and evolution. Because creation has been taught for so much longer, even the Bible aside, I would logically side with a system of thought that has been taught for a long time, argued for a long time, written for a long time, debated for a long time, and still stands in our modern day.