Category Archives: science

Abandoning Friends

It is with great regret that I have had to abandon some of my Christian friends. I have been a believer for most of my life, and have striven to make my faith in Christ and God central to my living even as many forces in our environment and in my own self have plotted and schemed against that. One tool I have found compellingly necessary is learning to decide what is reality and what is not. I call it discernment, but you may call it something else. All it implies is that when I have to make a choice between two seemingly equal propositions, the one that adheres to the real world is the one I choose. I choose it even though my softer self often struggles to follow along. Weakness both mentally and physically constantly pressure against the facts to force ignorance and non-compliance. Habits, both good and bad distract me from following what I know to be true. I am thoroughly embedded in the world I seek to clarify, that I may see the real world, myself, and others in it.

What that means in most of my experience is very little. Even the most tainted and broken minds can drive between the lines painted on the street. I can get along with most people on the road because my interactions with them are based simply on physics and the real world which we are all viscerally attached to. If I’m going too fast, I feel it in my guts even as my neighbors do. If I took that turn too fast, I slow down the next time. Experience and practice are usually enough to make my way on the road. But when it comes to finer judgments, like whether the world is flat or not, or whether some ancient cosmology is true or not, there is more mental work that needs to be done.

Many of my old friends are not capable of the flexibility to choose which belief is of greatest value, which belief must be true, which belief must be adhered to. In the case of a cosmology, the factors that help make a decision are at a much higher level of abstraction than some people are capable of. Some people don’t have the resources (I’m being generous here) to evaluate the propositions laid out before them. And when it comes to independent thinking, they struggle to be responsible about abandoning beliefs and values that have long ago become moribund. On some account this is a struggle between loyalty and reality.

Reality is harsh and unforgiving, incapable of sympathy, requiring nothing so soft as belief but impinging on beliefs where they are incorrect, breaking values where they are mistaken, slicing through loyalties when they are misplaced. Loyalties, on the other hand, offer a comforting solidarity, a connection with like-minded persons, surcease in the face of a turbulent society. But there is no guarantee the views held in solidarity are true or real. And at threat, tests for truth and reality are shunned in a worldview that depends on solidarity.

Though the tests for truth and reality are not entirely friendly to my continuity and comfort, I am not ready to abandon them. I am assured that when the test and the resolution to my queries are fully undertaken, I will be vindicated, even though I may also be exhausted. The project of changing oneself is full of effort and sometimes incomplete. Like gravity, habit seeks to keep us on the same path we have always taken, but habit cares nothing for truth or reality. Making good habits, at best, means that we can escape the worst effects of our ignorance and carelessness.

So, why have I abandoned my friends? Why have I cut ties with people I was perfectly happy to associate with before. From within the turmoil I call my brain, I have to say that retaining truth is more important to me than retaining friends. I am happier to leave friends than I am to leave the truths they would denigrate by association. Their dismissal of the importance of facts means that they neither care for me as I am or the truths that make up my best self. Their adoption of “alternative facts” is a miserable ploy to undermine the very reality on which I live, on which I depend. I even wonder whether their inability to live in the real world extends to their faith in the very real God I hold to. I can little countenance that disruption to my faith.

Could these people for whom reality is a nuisance countenance the living God whom I worship? I’m not sure. I am glad I am not the one who will judge people in the final day. I hope always that their inability to discern their environment and their mistaken loyalties as such, will not exclude them in the final judgment from the very salvation they assure themselves about. I am in no position to judge them, but when I judge my capacity to live with the mental distortions they advance I have to leave their company. It is weakness, not strength that makes this decision for me. I just can’t live with them. I can’t pretend they are on my side. I can’t whitewash their foibles because I can’t see any innocence in them even as I can’t see innocence in myself. I see what they have done and are doing as a purposive and momentous decision, not entirely the result of an accident of birth, position, or habitual trajectory. I give up my friends because I can’t merge with their solidarities, their loyalties, their unfounded beliefs, even though they may in appearance look like mine.

That is not to say that I have not gained a wide variety of new acquaintances and friends with whom I am in solidarity with, but the scientific proposal in this cabal, that every thesis is testable, and new evidence should adjust old beliefs is alive and well. This is fresh air, not constrained by old ignorance, religious or not. Also, the effort, tempting though it might be for some, to toss out the old signposts (true by their endurance in humanity like the Golden Rule) is without interest. My people now wish for and hope for the endurance of all true value, the values of Jesus, and Socrates alike, Aristotle and Heraclitus, St. John and Voltaire*, St Paul and Francis Collins. (*Lois made a fair criticism, that Voltaire wrote anti-Semitic things, and so he should not be included. I am not here justifying all of the things my small sample of actors have said or done, but the breadth of possibly useful information and argument these actors have made. To refine my examples to faultless persons would only allow Jesus. Antisemitism, whether in Henry Ford, Luther, or Voltaire is a breach of truth and good value on par with the worst behavior of humans whether their disvalue is in service to capitalism, Christianity, or freethinking.)

This calls into question the value of the Bible. Let me state without much elaboration what the Bible is to me to avoid endless wranglings and disputes. It is not the direct dictated words of God. We do not have the original texts, so let’s not be so obtuse as to say that it’s infallible. It is not a scientific text. It is data on the reports of interaction of ancient people with God and other people. My argument is not with the Bible, but with the skewed and mistaken interpretations of it that neither square with the Bible itself (in literalism) or the real world as exposed by science. Nobody believes precisely what has been written. We all believe an interpretation of what was written. So I argue for a broader base of interpretation of the data than merely the text itself. Every science should have its say. Every theology should have its say. Every political theory should have its say. And when everybody has had their say, evaluate to discover the ones that must or might be true. Continue the query, even when it is unlikely that we should come to the end of it. Reject out of hand those views that contradict what we already know (the earth is ancient, not flat, not the center of the universe, etc). There is not a minute to waste on failed theories or interpretations. Those opinions are of no value in forwarding knowledge or the truth because they rely on ideas that have long been abandoned because they are false.

I am asking not for a new dogma but a new human and humane rationality to guide our interpretation of any and all the texts we have produced. I am sorry if some people miss me as a companion, I can’t survive their worldview, either what it implies or the travesty they wish to impose on the rest of us.

Do We Need the Scientific Method?

I wrote this response to Sophie Congreso’s Quora question: “Explain the need for a scientific method. What would happen if scientists do not follow an organized process?

Outside of the ideals of science that have widespread acceptance, that is coming from a realist’s worldview, the methods of science are a standard mode of behavior that mix observations with skeptical evaluation of the results of that observation. That is the empirical side of things. The rational side of things is that the result of observation is data embedded in a wider framework whose placement comes from the logical, and mathematical necessity of the laws of nature. Those laws of course, are not the actual laws on which nature operates, but our best estimate of how nature must operate given our limited observations. If that seems circular, your perception is correct. But the circularity is not pernicious. Observations allow us to adjust the formulation of our laws to fit the reality which is there, not a fantasy we might hope for or expect from historical perception.

The process of science is not tidy in this respect. What we call the scientific method is a heuristic method capable of changing when it seems warranted to suit the object under observation. That is, it is not a logically locked down set of steps, but a set of guidelines that permits a wide latitude in how an observation might be carried out. Michael Shermer in Teach Your Child Science: Making Science Fun For the Both of You reminds us that “A technical definition of the scientific method that is satisfactory to all scholars and scientists is almost impossible to devise.” (37)

What I have given you is a reason to think that the scientific method is required for a sound realism. That is, a realism that has the ability to hold to good and useful results and reject poor ones. The scientific method must, if it is to be retained, have a self-adjusting role in science. Often because of human impatience we grow weary with checking our results and fixing our mistakes. This is natural. The scientific method gives us a mode of patience that provides better surety of success. Every successful scientist is an amalgam of lucky intuition and dogged, detailed, work. Both are required, but not everybody has the patience to carry out the labor that their intuition requires. In addition, the old adage that “The harder I work, the luckier I get” applies here. And even a continuous stream of failures in following the scientific method is instructive. For example, a large part of Albert Einstein’s later work was devoted to finding a Theory Of Everything, because quantum physics and cosmic physics failed every compatibility requirement, except of course our belief that it works together in reality so there must be a theory of how it does so. He explored every avenue his magnificent intuition could take him. And he always had his ear open to the suggestions of others. He didn’t always take their advice but he listened nonetheless. Yet for all his labors, he managed only to eliminate a variety of avenues for finding that TOE. We are closer today to a theory of Quantum Gravity, but we are not there yet.

Shermer outlines four steps in the scientific method: Observation, Generalization, Prediction, Experimentation. But we must add to that assiduous record-keeping. Keeping records permits the scientist, their contemporaries, and successors to explore the object and the method to look, not only for flaws, but insights. It has been said that quantum mechanics is counterintuitive, but that insight is perhaps passé. Today students grow up into a worldview that was deeply non-intuitive, but they absorb it as natural, and so can think clearly in those terms. Quantum mechanics is no longer the bugaboo it once was. There is nothing to be terrified of any more. We have begun to use its insights in ordinary technology, and so, it’s weirdness has become normalized.

This is part of what we call the sociology of science, the transformation of the social sphere of the scientific method into something that more closely models reality. But it has taken a couple generations of scientists to get from quantum weirdness to quantum normality. Reality didn’t change, but we did. So the scientific method is a mode of transforming realist society into something that more closely models reality. Natural laws are adjusted to conform to the truth of reality instead of some failed proposition. The puzzles, however, seem to multiply as our universe is sorted out in this way. But this is a good kind of problem.

This state of affairs is deeply troubling to some people. They look nostalgically to past certainties and universal truths, even though the world in its constant ferment has moved on. But as Michael Shermer said quoting James Burke, “Certainty is a kind of prison. When you are absolutely certain, you are also possibly absolutely blind.” (46) The need for the scientific method is modeled in the need to suffer uncertainty and ambiguity. Uncomfortable as those states of being might be, they are necessary in order to find the truth, and not be settled with something less. Think of using the scientific method as baking a cake. To get the optimum wonderfulness of the cake as properly imagined, you can’t take it out of the oven too soon. But you have to take it out when it’s ready or you’ll likewise spoil it.

Science would disappear without its method. We would be stuck in a world whose mysteries had become concrete and impenetrable. Scientists would become state functionaries, dispensing edicts without the attendant justifications that make the scientific method useful. As it is now, any person may follow the scientific method and gain for themselves a piece of reality that will not fade into oblivion with their demise.

New Atheists and the Culture War

To conclude, let me bring things full circle: At least some studies have shown that, to quote Phil Zuckerman, secular people are “markedly less nationalistic, less prejudiced, less anti-Semitic, less racist, less dogmatic, less ethnocentric, less close-minded, and less authoritarian” than religious people. It’s a real shame that New Atheism, now swallowed up by the IDW [Intellectual Dark Web] and the far right, turned out to be just as prejudiced, racist, dogmatic, ethnocentric, closed-minded and authoritarian as many of the religious groups they initially deplored.

Godless grifters: How the New Atheists merged with the far right

I have followed some of the new atheists with interest for the last 20 years or so. I can also acknowledge that some of them have produced well-accepted academic work in the past. They have also found themselves justifiably ensconced in popular culture (Richard Dawkins’ Memes). I have even used some of their criticisms of Evangelicalism in my work, because I thought it prudent to include voices unlike our own. And some of their criticisms were, unfortunately, warranted. But I think Phil Torres’ critique of this crowd exposes a wide variety of their mendacious behavior, and their association with the worst elements of our society, make this read essential for those who would want to hear opinions from more than their insular compatriots.

left to right: Jeffrey Epstein, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Pinker

Am I disappointed in the bad behavior of these who wanted to think of themselves as the guardians of truth and defenders of the real world? No, not really. I never placed “faith” in them as if they were pure-minded and honest dispensers of the truth railing against the stupidity of religious people. Already they had made of themselves a degenerate subset of humankind by prejudicially exorcising every version of morality and spirituality (irony intended). Curiously but not unexpectedly, they have made common cause with those evangelicals, the majority of Congressional Republicans, and others who have denounced honesty, morality, science, intellectual integrity, and education as routes to human improvement. The new atheists and culture warriors have produced in themselves mirror images of degenerate humanity, the former by truncating spirituality, the latter by truncating the real world and the intellectual integrity of a scientific worldview. Both modalities are betrayals of personhood as made in the image of God. Both lead to precipitous and unwarranted certainties that eventually lead to the loss of personhood.

Now, let’s get the obvious critique over with now. Am I faultless in my accusation of my contemporaries? Not at all. I see the loss of my memory, narrowing of my focus, encroaching senility, and physical decrepitude as persistent companions. I am not making any claims to being above the fray. And I am not suggesting some particular version of human perfectibility. No, I am rather suggesting a return to humility about the weakness of any supposed absolute apprehension of our purpose in life as a ground for future action. I am suggesting a return to humility in the face of vast unknowns in a universe wider than any one person’s comprehension.

I am also not suggesting that humans cannot master some aspects of reality, or that mastery of reality is an error. I am asking for well corroborated humility in our assertions because of the incredibly hard slog required for even modest growth as individuals and collectively as the human race.

I believe there are absolutes, though I am fairly certain that humans can not annunciate them with any sense of perfect scientific clarity. Absolutes are the domain of metaphor, poetry, art, and prayer, and are part of a well developed sense of place in the unimaginably large cosmos. Absolutes declared with intellectual honesty must always be paired with the caveats of our incomplete and incompletable knowledge.

Because of the threat posed by knowledge, the evangelical culture warriors have abandoned the proposition that education is useful. Doubling down on indoctrination, they model the same authoritarian pose taken by the Russian and Chinese communists. This irony is lost on them who haven’t taken the time to explore why they are doing what they are doing. They think that protecting the borders of their enclave by shutting out the other is an effective strategy for protecting their purity. Attempting to take political control of their environment they can’t see that in their fear of reality they have partnered with a wide variety of people who easily, and laughingly take advantage of them. They unwittingly commit themselves in these alliances to courses of action that betray the essential principles of their lives and faith. Attempting to keep their hands clean from the political fray, they close their eyes to the inequities perpetrated in their names, and shut out any criticism of their allies. But in doing so, they find out that their views and activities are poorly thought of by reasonable people. And yes, the term “reasonable” unspecifically refers to people who can reason through to a conclusion without damaging people or reality, a delicate walk through the garden of God. “Does not the ear test words as the tongue tastes food? (Job 12:11 NIV)”

To conclude, I implore those who have ears to hear, to listen to the Spirit. I am not speaking about religion or any particular version of religion, but to the Spirit of God, the voice that transcends and comprehends our grubby existence completely and offers a hand up to those who want it. I implore those who are engaged in the culture war to abandon the blindness that reacts out of fear and find a better explanation for what you see. Search a little harder. Go beyond your boundaries to the world ignited by love and care, wisdom and knowledge, to see God’s gracious reality fully featured before you. Permit yourself to be judged in the loving hands of God, to make amends where needed, to adjust your course toward all life, to abandon prejudices cradled to your breast when they come to light. Do not be afraid to explore, to test out the voice of God and see redemption begin to make your life flourish in the garden of God.

Why is it important to study the contemporary world?

This post is an answer I gave to the above question in Quora on July 3, 2018. Every once in a while Quora sends me an email if someone upvotes an answer. I use an outline of a philosophy paper I read in a college philosophy class by C. S. Peirce. ( image )

One must study the contemporary world not so much to learn about it but to be transformed by the process of studying. To study the air is to know what pollutants one breathes, and a motivation to find a better atmosphere.

We’ve heard much about politically vicious bubbles, and how listening only to what one already believes is unhelpful. Listening to angry screeds by extremists doesn’t move us toward the truth. There may be truth somewhere in their rant, but without a broader apprehension of reality and opinion, it is difficult to fix one’s focus. Some retreat into the fear of learning for safety. But that is a mistaken move. Fear is as bad ground for truth as unwavering belief in one’s own opinion. Both modes of fixing belief come from immature expectations of an absolute.

To follow this line of thinking, let me introduce you to C. S. Peirce, a 19th century thinker who outlined modes of fixing belief. The first mode, and easily the most vulnerable one is that of trust in your own opinions. He suggests that for the reasonable person, one will give up that trust when a person one considers an equal has another opinion, one begins to question the veracity of one’s own. A sick person can’t make the move to doubt and resolution. They can’t be considered reasonable if they will not abandon a bad opinion when they see a better one.

The second method of fixing belief is by means of an authority one trusts. Whether this is a political party, a religious group, or a variety of philosophical or social theory doesn’t matter. So we see a person under this mode of fixing belief appeal to some leadership, religion, or political party. This may be an advance on self certification but that depends on the authority. And there is always the risk that the authority is acting out of self interest, and may be setting you up for failure.

The third mode of fixing belief is that of the a-priori or principle. This is clearly an advance, and it requires a logical yet flexible mind. The greatest ethical systems of history have required this sort of thinking for fixing one’s belief. Take for example the Golden Rule, “Do as you would be done by.” Formulated in a variety of ways both negative and positive by many cultures and leaders, the Golden Rule doesn’t actually tell you what you should do, but it does give you a guideline for making a rational choice. The first question is, “If I were in that person’s (or group, or nation’s) place, how would I want to be treated?” So, “do not judge a person ’till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” helps to work out what our attitude should be. So one can’t guide oneself by a strict policy on this reading. One must actually choose each time. Obviously, when one gains enough experience, they will not need to think about it each time, certain salient principles and justifications will emerge as one goes along. But without the impetus of the Golden Rule, the principles couldn’t have emerged.

As you might see, not all problems can be solved by the Golden Rule, and technical truths fall outside its scope, so, one must use a variety of general principles to navigate the waters of life. But it is complicated! One has to use one’s reason to ferret out many answers that might be easier to solve with an authority. But the advantage is that one is not bound by the authority or their own delusion in carrying out their reasoning. With practice one can detect errors of logic, errors of culture, and errors of authority. But if one is looking for closure, there are many traps in this mode. Belief that one has the answer is a temptation, because it took so much effort to arrive at.

The fourth and final mode Peirce recommends, and a mode that offers the best chance of getting it right is that of science. But this is not a simple science based on physics. And it requires the most work. This science is a method of proceeding that includes much of the a-priori and the efforts of one’s predecessors. It is an attitude that asks questions and takes probabilities as sufficient answers. It is not a search for absolutes, but an inquiry into reality. It proposes an answer then tests it, and isn’t satisfied until the best explanation turns up. It takes the experience of others, their theories and principles, and launches out on a sea of unknowns that are known to be unknown. It can answer both ethical questions and physical questions. It can answer what one should do for one’s family, nation, and culture without demanding that its answers are universal.

So my answer to your question is more an encouragement to study. Everything and anything you study informs your understanding of the contemporary world. But don’t be ready to come up with absolutes. Still there are signposts that one should attend to. Don’t study just to affirm your own notions. Study to discover. And truth should be the aim of discovery. If you don’t care about truth, then you would fall in line with a broad swath of modern culture that thinks it doesn’t matter how you get to your goal, that the ends justify the means. People like that you don’t want any where near you even though you should understand why their bad faith is unjustified.

entanglement*

I just finished a book that I started and did not finish years ago. It was not that I was uninterested in finding out what happens at the end, but that I was too distracted by life in general to finish it . That is, early in this millennium I was busy making money, trying to manage teaching, and doing a PhD in Philosophy at the same time. Now, in the Covid-19 era, I have both the time and energy to dig deeper into my long-term interests and finish pursuing those interests.

I want to recommend to you the book titled The Age of Entanglement: When Quantum Physics Was Reborn by Louisa Gilder. This particular problem, that Quantum Physics is incapable of offering us a Classical reality to latch on to, must be a serious worry to those concrete thinkers who are unable to lurch into the future. The story is a bio of the people, institutions, papers, and discoveries of physics in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Let me define, shortly, why there was a problem. Classical physics, say, the physics of the 19th century, can be characterized as an attempt to understand the world in terms of concrete objects, from planets to people, to atoms in the void, chemistry, and electromagnetism. All of these objects operate under rules that can be metaphorically described as billiard balls on the table of space. The properties of these objects follow rules that are defined by first, Newtonian physics, and then Einstein’s relativity. To us, the objects are medium-sized dry goods that behave in predictable ways by themselves and in relation to each other. So we have Newtonian Gravity, and Einsteinian Space-Time. These two formulations of our relationship to the rest of reality are all-encompassing descriptions of the events in the cosmos, that is, we understand how we relate to things in the physical world through these formulations. Neither is absolute, but they are so nearly so, that it is difficult to avert our gaze from them even for a moment to imagine a reality that might conflict with it. Of course, though Einstein does not entirely replace Newton, it offers a much finer and predictive matrix to work with. So, we fly around the solar system with probes and people using Newton with a few adjustments using Einstein.

The gravity of these systems is so all encompassing that we are all but unable to see anything else, even when the experiments that tell us something else is going on are displayed in capital letters for all to see. For example, the double-slit experiment, first performed by Thomas Young in 1801 showed a puzzling effect when light was passed through a barrier with two parallel slits cut in it. The light shining through the slits, which was expected to show two lines corresponding to the two slits on the back wall of the experimental apparatus, instead showed an interference pattern, a wavy pattern. It is an effect that is explained, with some resistance, by saying that light has characteristics of both particles, going straight back to the wall, and waves, producing an interference pattern on the wall. The 20th century physicists spent a good deal of time pondering the results of this experiment. It was discovered that elementary particles made up atoms, also behaved like the photons in the original experiment. The result of the many many double-slit experiments done is that Classical physics, the physics of space-time couldn’t explain this behavior. Quantum physics, the realm of the very small, was born out of experiments like this.

And so, after I finished Guilder’s book, I started browsing the Glossary (Guilder 337) which I have done only three or four times in the last 20 years. I found in it, in the definition of Bell’s theorem/Bell’s inequality a sentence that summed up the whole book. It must be disappointing for some people. In this statement a whole range of possibilities crop up that make it possible to go forward. It is particularly important for me because I have insisted since the late 1970s that truth is in relation, not in the objects themselves.

There is a murmur of a suggestion that the central reality, at the quantum level, is entanglement: that relationships between quantum “things” are more fundamental and objective than the things themselves. (Guilder 337)

This confirms my assertion but does not prove it. That is the fanciful part of the whole problem that both attracts and repels classical observers. My intuition had do do with ordinary objects of our perception, not the quantum reality. And though I was up on some of the scientific literature in the late ’70s, it was not until the ’00s that I made any closer association between ordinary objects and quantum reality.

Here, for me, is how this association works with ordinary reality. It is not a trivial issue, and defines everything in the human knowledge project. Plato’s “Letter Seven” relates to us that the more one knows the thing in itself, the less one can say about it truthfully. That is because the mystery of objects are baked into their surface appearance. The more we know about something, the more the relationship between us and the object is primary, not a datapoint in a chart. That is, we cannot lay out all we know in a textbook. The essential points are in the relation not the data. And our knowledge transforms us, does not permit objectification in some classical sense. For Plato, the science of the object, which is preliminary to knowing the thing itself, can be put in a textbook. It is definable by our standard categories, and has a location in our compendium. But knowing the object itself is a step or two beyond that, and making that knowledge inaccessible to the casual observer is irritating to those who would wish to put all knowledge into text. It is irritating to the point of denial by those who want classical categories of science to be fully explained. This is the puzzle of the expert who knows what they cannot say. They cannot say it, because saying it would concretize the relationship and break it. In fact, those who attempt to say what is not sayable betray that they do not know the thing itself at all, that they are in fact, breaking what is sayable in the science of the thing. That is because, to remain consistent, what is not sayable is not sayable because there is a tension between the science and the knowledge of the thing itself that can’t be resolved within the literary logic available to humans without the mathematical training to recognize the limits of cognition. The knower who does not in fact have that mathematical training, but realizes that there is a limit to what can be said has affirmed that knowledge of the thing itself is more closely associated with intuition than to science. The limits of science, advanced to the point of being able to anunciate previously intuited knowledge, can now say what was before unsayable. But in the end, the knowledge that is sayable now is knowledge of our relation to the thing itself. Yet the mystery is larger than what we can say.

I hope you can see how the definition of quantum reality also applies to the knowledge project in its children. That is, “that relationships between … ‘things’ are more fundamental and objective than the things themselves. (Guilder 337)”

This is why I had to write today, because at the root of things, truth is about relationships, not the objects themselves. This applies across the board for our being in the world.

For Christianity, Christ as an object is only the surface, the preliminary and incomplete version of our practice. At the core Christianity is about the relationship we have with God in Christ. Anything less is not Christianity at all, but religion. It is not that Christ can not be objectified in words, deeds, and the rest of history about the matter, but that these are only the preliminary features of reality, not reality itself, and not sufficient for one to acquire salvation. The textbook, the Bible, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for our knowledge of God.

For those for whom money is the core reality, the object of their worldview, only in relationship with money do we realize its insignificance as a feature of reality. To inflate its significance is to err in ways that degrade humanity. That is, loving it is truly the source of all evil. Making it the primary occupation of one’s life hides everything else: people, society, prosperity, etc. Having money is as much of a hindrance as it is a help. As the Scriptures say, the only weakness of the poor is lack of money, the only strength of the rich is money. Money can’t possibly be the central feature of humanity if the poor, who don’t have much of it, are more wealthy in the important features of humanity than the rich. Also, when the Bible condemns the love of money as the root of all evil, those who love money are repudiating the Bible. It is easy to see why Jesus said that it is easier for camel to thread the needle than to enter the Kingdom of God, (yes, I know there are ways to reinterpret this metaphor that is more genial to the rich. But making it more genial to the rich is not Jesus’ point here.)

For philosophy, the essential relation is with knowledge itself. The problems of philosophy do not simply boil down to knowledge, but to the relations between the objects in the world. The best and brightest thinkers have made it possible to comprehend those relationships we have with the world and with each other, without also sacrificing the relationships themselves. The poor philosopher is only capable of collecting objects as a science of relations, not a relationship with reality itself. And yes, I know about anti-realists, but am convinced that a philosophy of that sort is a linguistic backwater. Reality itself is more subtle. One can deny all day that there is a persistent reality, but depend on it nonetheless. This is just a convenient subterfuge to retain the consistency of a program that denies and relies on reality at the same time. What they really need to say is that our knowledge is incomplete and will remain so as far into the future as we can extrapolate our interaction with that reality. There is no real foundation in the halting and incomplete annunciations of science. Neither can we deny reality to avoid that problem. Our relationship with reality is not definable simply as science, but something more subtle that we do not understand the parameters of quite as succinctly as would be required to provide an absolute.

This issue, the one about foundations is not about reality itself, but about our ability to encapsulate reality in some formulaic program. I would refer you to the Principia Mathematica of Russell and Whitehead and how they came to an unresolvable paradox when confronted with Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Simply, any system that tries to emulate reality will be able to produce theorems we can recognize as true, but cannot prove within the system that generated them. Principia Mathematica (PM) as a system that attempted to unify all mathematics produced for Gödel true theorems that were not provable in PM. Either one can remain blind to the conflict here or acknowledge that human knowledge is not absolute. There are higher orders of system as yet not comprehended. The second is preferable, that is, there’s more to learn. It does not help either the knowledge project or people in general when one chooses to hide the incompleteness of one’s system. But because of Gödel’s theorem, we know that understanding of our reality is partly hidden. Human knowledge can’t make the claim of being complete. Rather we can know things that we can not prove within the system of logic we have. There is more that we don’t know beyond what we do.

*Notice: This is not about politics which both makes me happy and tells how little the criminal in the White House really meant for all of us. For context in the distant future, where our memory of him will be nothing more than the moldy photo albums of the ’10s, the presidency of Donald J. Trump between 2016 and 2020 has been the closest thing to a complete disruption of our Democratic institutions we have ever experienced since the inception of our Republic. I hope we do not repeat this mistake.

the atheist and the creationist…

…make the same kind of mistake.

It’s an easy one, but it disturbs me. The mistake is constituted by shutting one eye or the other. Anybody familiar with using a microscope understands this. This may be passé for the moderns, but in the 1960s if you wished to record what you saw through the lens of the microscope, you would have to look into the microscope with one eye and record the observation with the other one. There’s a trick to it that takes some practice. The same kind of skill is required if you wish to fly an Apache helicopter. What is required is that with one eye, the pilot sees the real world, while with the other, they see what is presented to them through an eyepiece that shows the world differently.

It usually takes anywhere between 9 to 12 months for a young pilot to become “safe” enough not to kill himself accidentally during night flights (until then, young pilots fly with instructor pilot or a senior and experienced pilot who can take controls in case of disorientation).1

Though flying a microscope does not risk the life of the pilot, it requires concentration and can be mastered in a few hours or days.

The problem for the atheist and the creationist is that they have closed one eye while they observe their data. The atheist, by presupposition, cannot see the hand of God in the universe, or the Bible that tells about it. The creationist cannot see the real world, or the data that it presents. For both, the world is skewed, by presupposition, to avoid the possibility that data from the other sphere may inform their observation. As a consequence, though the richness of their chosen myopia enthralls them, they are unable to see the world in its living splendor. This is regrettable and sad, but it can be fixed.

A further observation prevents data of the other sort leaking into their chosen world, that is, their opponent presents them with all the arguments against looking into that other world. They see their opponent’s error and rightly reject it as myopic. Their own lack of imagination prevents them from seeing that they make the same mistake. When Jesus pointed out that one’s judgment about the splinter in the other’s eye prevented them from seeing the plank in their own he was encouraging them to do a little self examination. Critique your own failure to see from the other’s point of view.

The golden rule shouts against the splinter judgment. Walk in the other person’s shoes for a mile; see from their perspective; understand their point of view. Both views alone are incomplete and problematic. Both require different skills.

Here’s my suggestion, primarily for the creationist since they do believe that people can change: Try to understand why it is important to include scientific data in your evaluation of the world. Try to understand why the scientist thinks that natural laws, in place from the beginning of time, do not change with every whim of God and lack of foresight. He created the world and called it good. So study the world, and add the lens of empiricism and logic to the tools of biblical interpretation. Try seeing the Book of God called Nature as compelling data for inclusion in your worldview. Open the other eye to the world itself and see the wonders of God unfold in a new fashion, not as the utilitarian groundwork of God’s exaltation of people, but as a living artifact of God’s desire, passion, and grace.

1https://www.quora.com/Do-Apache-helicopter-pilots-eyeballs-move-independently

i knew this, but here it is again

Today, I received an email from the Reasons to Believe ministry. Hugh Ross, Fazale “Fuz” Rana, Jeff Zweerink, and Kenneth Samples lead American Christians to trust both the Scriptures and the voice of science, historically the two books of God, the Bible and Nature. So, I decided to quote the Equipping Message from Hugh for 10/6/2015 because this issue is at the heart of many disputes highlighted in a mean-spirited way by the new atheists, but with generosity and wisdom by Hugh and Fuz. Here it is (some emphasis, and all apostrophes are mine.)

This month, Hugh and Fuz are speaking at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA). The theme for this year’s conference is Ideas Have Consequences, and we saw the truth of that in a letter Hugh received recently. A pastor named Paul had started believing that God’s Word and the book of nature couldn’t be reconciled, and the consequences spread throughout his life. He wrote:

“I never questioned whether God was real but lost hope that my love of science could merit as anything other than entertainment. I assumed true answers could not be known until heaven. As a result, my faith and life suffered severely. I quit the church as a pastor and stopped dreaming.

“Then I read your book Why the Universe Is the Way It Is and instantly my imagination started coming to life again. I was surprised when I recognized that my faith had grown exponentially as a result. I look forward to sharing that book with my 22-month-old son as he grows, since he already loves space so much.

“Dr. Ross, this is the answer to reaching the lost in society today. I literally thank God for you and your team daily. I’m more excited about my faith than I ever have been. You’re leading us through the greatest possible uncertainty when the entire world is changing and secular views grow louder in hatred for faith each week. We need your work. Please never give up.”

The new hope Paul found is a direct result of the prayers and gifts of RTB ministry partners like you. We’re not giving up, and we know you aren’t either. Thank you for your commitment to fighting the false ideas that can destroy faith!

The Reasons to Believe website is found at http://reasons.org. I don’t copy this message to encourage you to give money to this ministry, but if you do give, it certainly will help.

the pensmore conference

September 24th and 25th College of the Ozarks hosted a conference with contemporary Christian luminaries in the sciences. John Lennox, Stephen Meyer, Robert Spitzer, Michael Tenneson, Mark Rapinchuk, Kyle Rapinchuk, and Erin Hayes examined and exposed some of the trenchant issues on the interface between science and faith.

I went to the conference with my friend Steve Krstulovich, a recently retired engineer at Fermilab in Chicago. Unfortunately, he and I napped for some of the sessions, and where we went to different sessions, we recorded them for each other.

I only have the ones I recorded, since I haven’t received any from him yet, but here they are:

Stephen Meyer: Signature in the Cell (partial)

Download 100 MB


Stephen Meyer: Darwin’s Doubt and the Cambrian Explosion

Download 130 MB


Robert Spitzer: Creation and Evolution in My Classroom

Download 108 MB


Robert Spitzer: Evidence for the Supernatural from Human Consciousness

Download 130 MB

Enjoy!

The most exciting thing about this conference was the careful philosophical evaluation of materialistic naturalism. With one voice the presenters offered evidenced, nuanced, and valid criticism of the Neo-Darwinian supposition that life and consciousness appeared under the auspices of natural law operating on material reality. That turns out to be insufficient based on the sudden appearance of information in the universe. There was not enough time and material cause and effect is not sufficient to allow the evolutionary leap to complex life forms and then consciousness.