“Is,” “Ought,” and “Will be”… in search of meaning

“Is,” “Ought,” and “Will be”… in search of meaning

As our culture continues to fracture, we find fewer and fewer significant answers to the questions that matter most. One of the formative thinkers in my life is Ravi Zacharias who says there are four main questions of life.

Origin—Where did I come from?

Meaning—Why am I here?

Morality—How should I live?

Destiny—Where am I headed?

Beyond these questions, I have often wondered, how do they connect? In my conversations with people over the decades, I have come to believe that you cannot answer one of these without trying to answer all of them. In my study of epistemology, my colleague Ward Crocker (founder of Family Apologia), has inspired me to think more deeply about this topic. In our numerous discussions, he brought to my attention some writings by my former colleague, Christopher Cone who has written extensively on the topic of epistemology and metaphysics..The graphic below is Cone’s effort (as a presuppositionalist) to connect these basic questions. Cone writes:

© 2011-2017 Christopher Cone

There are four major areas of philosophical inquiry that make up the basic components of worldview: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political philosophy. Epistemology (the study of knowledge) addresses the question of how can know what is true and what is not. Metaphysics (the study of reality) addresses the question of what exists. Ethics (the study of what should be done) addresses the question of what we should do in light of what reality is. Socio-political philosophy (the study of ethics on a societal scale) addresses the question of how communities and society should behave.

The Components of Worldview Chart illustrates a logical ordering of these topics of inquiry. The arrow on the far right indicates that we begin at the bottom and move toward the top. We can’t address socio-political issues until we deal with ethics, we can’t handle ethics until we answer questions of metaphysics, and we can’t answer the metaphysics questions until we address the epistemological ones.

I appreciate Cone’s approach, but am unconvinced that we must begin with epistemology. I think there is another approach to Hume’s IS/OUGHT problem (a.k.a., the naturalistic falacy). I think most people begin with Ravi Zacharias’ basic questions of Origin, Meaning, Morality and Destiny which don’t always begin with epistemology. Science itself begins this search with sense-experience. In teaching my graduate students, I developed the following graphic that integrates all of the concepts above with some of my own ideas.

This is a work in progress, and I am sharing it today looking for your insights and ideas. The key aspects to my illustration are that we approach the “Is“, “Ought“, and “Will be” in four main categories:

  1. Origin
  2. Meaning
  3. Morality
  4. Destiny

These categories bridge the gap between Metaphysics, Epistemology and Ethics and treat them more as a web of integrated thought rather than a liner progression. Within these four categories I see six basic questions of life which help us connect our thoughts with this broader philosophical concepts:

  1. How did I come into being?
  2. What is purpose in life?
  3. What is the right thing to do?
  4. How can I fulfill my purpose?
  5. How ill my legacy be judged?
  6. What happens when I die?

In teaching my graduate course in Ethics, I refocus the above illustration as follows:

Here the emphasis is on Metaethics, Normative and Applied ethics. With this shift in focus, the six basic questions get a bit of a rewrite as well.

 

  1. How do we/I come into being?
  2. How can we/I know what is right?
  3. What is the right thing for me/us to do?
  4. What must we/I do now?
  5. How will our/my legacy be judged?
  6. What happens when we/I die?

Notice here that the questions bring into the discussion answers that are targeted at both the individual and the larger society. How many of these questions can be answered purely on the individual level and how many can be answered universally?

So again, this post is just a rough sketch of the ideas I unpack over many hours of lecture, but enough content, I hope, to give an idea of where I am taking these concepts so that you can give some feedback.

  • What are the strengths of this illustration?
  • What are some weaknesses?
  • What ideas have I missed?

All ideas are welcome as I refine my thinking.

Max Planck on Ethics & the Need for Scientific Realism

Max Planck on Ethics & the Need for Scientific Realism

My introduction to the legendary physicist Max Planck was decades ago during my undergraduate studies in thermodynamics. Through his work across the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Planck deduced a universal constant ‘h’ for the distribution of  energy emitted from a blackbody. What came to be known as Planck’s constant forever changed scientific perceptions of the natural world. His work was a foundational precursor to modern quantum theory and marked the “end of the mechanical age in science, and the opening of a new era.”[1]

Today, in my study of science and religion, I am discovering that what made Planck such a great physicist was also his understanding of philosophy. In his 1932 book, Where is Science Going?, Planck laments the crisis of history that he observed overwhelming every branch of “spiritual and material civilization” and corrupting“the general attitude towards fundamental values in personal and social life.”[2] Some people saw this change as positive progress while others believed it marked the end of civilization. This skepticism, Planck notes, first took root in religious fields—eroding the moral systems of society—and evenly burrowed its way into the sciences such that, “There is scarcely a scientific axiom that is not nowadays denied by somebody. And at the same time almost any nonsensical theory that may be put forward in the name of science would be almost sure to find believers and disciples somewhere or other.”[3]

More than 70 years later, Planck’s lament rings familiar as many wonder, as he did then, if “there is any rock of truth left on which we can take our stand and feel sure that it is unassailable and that it will hold firm against the storm of skepticism raging around it”[4] Every generation has its share dystopian acolytes, yet Planck’s concern seems keenly prophetic in depicting the state of the modern mind.

Planck’s chief concern in science was the trend among respectable institutions to reject the principle of causality which was, prior to his time, universally accepted and a foundational assumption for research. Specifically, Planck opposed scientific positivism which denied the reality of the outside world. Planck shared common ground with positivists in seeing the individual’s sense-perception of the outside world as the starting point for all scientific knowledge .[5] Einstien in his intoruction to the book summarizes this idea well:

Thus the supreme task of the physicist is the discovery of the most general elementary laws from which the world-picture can be deduced logically. But there is no logical way to the discovery of these elemental laws. There is only the way of intuition, which is helped by a feeling for the order lying behind the appearance and this Einfuehlung is developed by experience.[6]

Recognizing this shared epistemolgical starting point, but the positivist was not willing to go any further. Planck rightly saw the danger in the positivist’s rejection of a reality outside one’s own personal experience. The following is the example he used to illustrate the dilemma:

Our daily habits of speech make it rather difficult for us to observe the strict positivist rule. In ordinary life when we speak of an outer object—a table, for instance—we mean something that is different from the table as actually observed by physical science. We can see the table and we can touch it and we can try its firmness by leaning on it and its hardness and if we give it a thump with our knuckles we shall feel a hurt. In the light of positivist science the table is nothing more than a complex of these sensory perceptions and we have merely got into the habit of associating them with the word table. Remove these sensory perceptions and absolutely nothing remains. In the positivist theory we must entirely ignore everything beyond what is registered by the senses and therefore we are impregnable in this clearly defined realm. For the positivist, to ask what a table in reality is has no meaning whatsoever; and this is so with our other physical concepts.[7]

The ultimate danger of positivism was its denial of scientific realism and of any objective reality outside experience. If this is true, Planck argues, then the entire scientific revolution is rendered meaningless because both Ptolemy’s earth-centered universe and Copernicus’ heliocentrism are equally valid. “They are merely two different ways of making a mental construction out of sensory reactions to some outer phenomena; but they have no more right to be looked upon as scientifically significant than the mental construction which the mystic or poet may make out of his sensory impressions when face to face with nature.”[8] Thus, the positivist is left with no way to meaningfully observe nature and must consequently reject any esthetic or ethical standard.[9]

The positivist philosophy is impotent to make sense of everyday experiences. For example, when a stick is placed into a glass half filled with water, what do we observe? The length submerged appears bent. But is any trained observer tricked by their eyes into thinking the stick is truly bent? No. They recognize the law of refraction is at work and the appearance of a bent stick is a deception of the eye. Experience then is falsifiable. Reality exists outside experience if we only have a way to determine that reality. However, the positivist is not so lucky. “The positivist will not allow us to conclude anything. We have a sensory impression of the part of the stick that is in water and a contiguous sensory impression of the part that is in air; but we have no right to say anything about the stick itself.”[10]

Planck’s illustration reminds me of the old scientific riddle, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” As a trained acoustician, my first response is to answer “the tree does make a noise, but does not make a sound.” But this is a purely materialistic interpretation of this question. A noise is the production of energy waves when the tree strikes the ground, but only becomes sound if there is someone to hear it. But there is a deeper metaphysical truth exposed by this question I had not considered prior to reading Planck. The question really asks, “does anything exist outside of observational experience?” “Can the sound exist for me, but not for you?” How a person answers this question exposes them as either a scientific positivist or scientific realist. In denying any external reality, the positivist has no way to discern any truth outside of personal sense experience. Even more destructive, the positivist is left in isolation with no way to share in the experience of others.

When we come from the animal world to the world of human beings we find the positivist scientists making a clear distinction between one’s own impressions and the impressions of others. One’s own impressions are the sole reality and they are realities only for oneself… But, in the strict positivist view, we have no reliable knowledge whatsoever of other people’s impressions. Because they are not a direct sensory perception, they do not furnish a basis for the certainty of our knowledge.[11]

Positivist logic has continued to creep its way into the foundation of Western culture and today we can observe the deleterious consequence in our isolationist—even narcissistic—ethics as predicted by Planck. The everyday positivist of our time concludes:

  • If I can feel only my pain, then only my pain exists.
  • If I self-identify as female, then no one can deny my feeling because there is no biological reality to constrain me.
  • If I feel like aborting my baby, then the feelings of others do not exist in my reality and any choice I make is justified.
  • If I am offended by your actions, your feelings or intentions do not matter because only my feelings can determine my truth.
  • If my heart tells me something is good, then there is no external reality to contradict my feelings or tell me my actions are bad.
  • If a man is not a woman, then he cannot speak to a “woman’s issue” because he cannot “know” her experience.

Positivism leaves us stranded on our own island of reality; impotent to exchange ideas or speak to the experience of others because there is no common reality outside of us to govern that exchange. Given this challenge, how then must we respond? Planck makes the choice for scientists clear:

So we are faced with the alternative of either renouncing the idea of a comprehensive science, which will hardly be agreed to even by the most extreme positivist, or to admit a compromise and allow the experiences of others to enter into the groundwork of scientific knowledge. But we should thereby, strictly speaking, give up our original standpoint, namely, that only primary data constituted a reliable basis of scientific truth.[12]

So then, if we accept all sense perception as absolute we cannot deny the validity of any scientific experiment. To every researcher, their own experience is truth and theoretical physics is excluded from knowledge. If science rests solely on the foundation of isolated experience, then the dependability of science is lost. But, if we choose to accept the reports of others as knowledge (scientific data) we break the chain of logic in scientific positivism.

Now, having poisoned the roots of scientific positivism, Planck moves into the realm of the metaphysical. If sense-perception is a starting point, but not the end of science, we must have a way to determine the validity of experience outside our own. That is, we must accept a scientific realism that exists outside of individual perceptions, feelings, and emotions. The two pillars of realism he outlines are: “(1) There is a real outer world which exists independently of our act of knowing) and, (2) The real outer world is not directly knowable.”

On the surface, these two statements appear in contradiction. But together they make the case that scientific knowledge is only partial and corrigible and it must interact with other disciplines, such as philosophy and theology, to make any sense of the real world. Every new scientific discovery only unveils a new realm to be discovered. The goal of science is unobtainable as it can never reach the metaphysical.

How will you determine the truth that exists outside you own experience?

That is the question Planck evokes in the mind of the reader. For me, the answer lies in the warranted true belief in the external reality of God who speaks to us through his word: the Christian Bible, the Holy Spirit, the living Christ and the manifest church. In humility, I accept scientific realism and through my faith seek to find a way to engage with others and learn from their experiences. To that end, I leave you with this poem by Planck.

“Was Du gefflueckt, was ich gefflueckt

Das wollen wir verbinden

Und weil sich eins zum andern schickt

Den schoensten Kranz draus winden.”[13]


FOOTNOTES

[1] Max Planck, Where is science going?, trans. James Vincent Murphy, First ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1932), 17.

[2] Ibid., 64.

[3] Ibid., 65.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 66.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 69.

[8] Ibid., 71.

[9] Ibid., 73.

[10] Ibid., 74.

[11] Ibid., 76.

[12] Ibid., 77.

[13] Ibid., 36.

 

 

Swastika for Peace or Terror? The Power of Shared Symbols

Swastika for Peace or Terror? The Power of Shared Symbols

With so much anger over NFL protests during the national anthem, the issue of the American Flag and what it symbolizes has become a hot topic. To some, the Flag represents systemic oppression. To others, it represents the hope of freedom and the ideal of human equality. But what happens to a nation when Her people become so balkanized that they no longer have a shared symbol of unity? Hold on to that question and let me tell you a story.

Recently, I was out to lunch with some colleagues. After entering a local Chinese restaurant, I saw the buddha statue (pictured above) decorated with a swastika. I was shocked. I asked myself, “What was the symbol of Nazi hatred doing on a statue here in an Asian-American restaurant?” When I got back to my office, I did some research and found some information that challenged by perceptions of this symbol.

First, it seems I am not the only one who was dismayed seeing these symbols pop up in unexpected places. In this story out of New York, “Sixth-graders at an elite Bronx private school have been caught drawing swastikas in art class, so administrators met with the kids — talking mainly about how the symbols represent peace in some cultures.” Parents, seeing their kids draw these swastikas assumed that there must be some sort of white-supremacist or nazi influence. But was that the only possible response? From a 21st century perspective the swastika is a symbol of Hitlerian hate, yet to countless others throughout history the swastika was a symbol of peace. Really? Is that even possible?

A quick look at the history of the swastika may help us discern a truth outside our limited experience. The Holocaust Teacher Resource Center, writes the following:

The swastika is a very old symbol with use widespread throughout the world. Sometimes referred to as a “Gammadion” “Hakenkreuz” or a “Flyfot,” it traditionally had been a sign of good fortune and well being The word “swastika” is derived from the Sanskrit “su” meaning “well” and “asti” meaning “being.” It also is considered to be a representation of the sun and is associated with the worship of Aryan sun gods. It is a symbol in both Jainism and Buddhism, as well as a Nordic runic emblem and a Navajo sign.

Basil Jackson in this article goes into more detail of just how old the swastika is:

The swastika is one of mankind’s oldest symbols and one of the most powerful in effect. Apart from the circle, the swastika is probably the most widely distributed of all symbols. The swastika has been found on a fragment of Greek pottery dating back to the eighth century, and the use of the swastika has also been demonstrated among Egyptian, Greek, Arabic, and Navajo civilizations.[1]

Would you be surprised to learn then that the swastika was a symbol even used by Jews? It’s true. The swastika has been discovered by archeologists inside of a Jewish 2nd century AD synagogues “paved with simple white mosaics and a swastika”[2] and also among other ancient remains dating back to the 7th century BC:

The most striking types were the bowls and dishes with two handles, and the pottery with Philistine decorations, the concentric whirls, the so-called Maltese Cross, the square cross in use long before the Christian era or its late adoption by the Knight Templars, the swastika, and especially the strange swan-like bird with its neck curled around over its back.[3]

Clearly, these kinds of symbols do not have inherent meaning but can be adopted and used for many reasons—including the manipulation of an entire nation. Hitler was a master of manipulation—using a symbol that spoke peace to the psyche of the German people and then subverting it with his own brand of terror. Jackson concludes:

Hitler recognized the power latent in this symbol, but instead of leaving the swastika spinning “with the sun,” representing the powers of light, he gave it a satanic twist by reversing the emblem and thus causing it to spin in a counterclockwise fashion. This is a significant clue in the understanding of the satanically energized control that Hitler had over millions. He knew and used the power of the symbol to reach into the very depths of the unconscious of his people, and thus gained control over them.[4]

Even today, James M. Skidmore observes, “In places like Pointes-des-Cascades, where pre-Nazi swastikas exist, extra care must be taken to contextualize their presence.” If you happen to be traveling around the world, remember that not everyone shares your point of view. Not every swastika is a Nazi-swastika. You cannot just see a swastika on a statue and assume it means “hate”… even though it certainly has that shared meaning within our own Western context.

So then, back to the original question, what happens to a nation when Her people become so balkanized that they no longer have a shared symbol of unity? 

Without doubt, some people will always look at the American flag as a symbol of oppression, but the problem for us as a nation comes when we are so divided that we lose any foundation for unity—we become broken and polarized. As I discuss in this short video, “Polarization is the ultimate consequence of a Secularized, Pluralized and Privatized society demonstrated in the balkanization of civic, social, religious, and family structures.”

Symbols like the American Flag do not have any inherent meaning, but that is why it is all the more important we as a people have a consensus. The flag should not be a symbol of my experience, your experience, or any one group’s experience. The flag should not be a Christian symbol, a Muslim symbol, a Buddhist symbol or an Atheist symbol. It should rather be used as a symbol that reflects our common ideal of human dignity.

We should not allow the white-supremacists or the Hitlers of our day steal the symbol from “we the people”. No one person owns the right to define the symbolism of the American flag. We don’t stand for the National Anthem to honor a president… or any person. Neither the foolish Tweets of Donald Trump nor the race baiting of Liberals should dull our passion to stand together for something better.

We should not stand in denial of the sins of racism & bigotry that do exist & will always exist because all mankind is sinful. Every nation is scarred by sin. Standing does not mean we deny the bad, but that together we can rise above it.

But I cannot shake the feeling that when people of good will sit or take a knee, we let the wicked think that America belongs to them. We let the wicked become little Hitlers who take it upon themselves to redefine the meaning of a flag that should otherwise stand for something good.

The only people who should be ashamed to stand during the national anthem and salute the American flag are those who deny the truth enshrined in our constitution that all human beings are created equal and worthy of dignity.

Instead of sitting or taking a knee, we should stand together and demonstrate to the world that “we the people” are willing to come together, rise above our failures, work to eliminate the influence of the corrupt, and dedicate our lives to helping every man and women know real freedom. The flag means nothing except the meaning we give to it. And if we lose our common symbol of unity, we will find only discord.


Footnotes

[1]  “Psychology, Psychiatry, and the Pastor: Part,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 201–202.

[2] Avraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990).

[3] Melvin Grove Kyle, “Excavations at Tell Beit Mirsim, the Ancient Kirjath Sepher 1928,” Bibliotheca Sacra 85, no. 340 (1928): 394.

[4]  “Psychology, Psychiatry, and the Pastor: Part,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (1975): 201–202.

The Loss of Wonder and the Descent of Humanity

The Loss of Wonder and the Descent of Humanity

What are we to make of the recent attack in Las Vegas that left 58 dead and hundreds injured? What would motivate a man to undertake such an evil?

The investigation into the specifics of his motive are ongoing, and I cannot pretend to have a complete answer. There are; however, some basic facts that can tell us some important things.

The shooter was wealthy. By all accounts, he had enough wealth so that he no longer needed to work, but spent his time in leisure gambling. From the outside, he was a financial success living a life that many people look upon with envy. so why would a man of success, living “the dream” do such a terrible thing?

In part, the answer comes when we realize that setting goals and fulfilling dreams is far different than having meaning and fulfilling purpose. Ravi Zacharias in his book, Recapture the Wonder: frames the question well:

Skeptics would use a tragedy like this to point to the absence of God in the human experience. “Where is God in such disfigurement?” ment?” they will argue. “How can one blame this man for seeing no purpose and fulfillment in being alive?” I think it is here that we make our first very subtle mistake, both in our logic and in our experience. It is shallow reasoning to deduce that because pain or unfulfilled dreams have brought disappointment appointment to experience, life itself must be hollow and purposeless. less. In fact, this conclusion may miss the deeper problem within our common struggle to find something in life of ultimate purpose.

Ravi Zacharias. Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy (p. 3). Kindle Edition.

It was observed by family that the shooter had:

“No affiliation, no religion, no politics. He never cared about any of that stuff. He was a guy who had money. He went on cruises and gambled.”

This, to me, is a picture of depression, isolation, sadness, and sorrow… not success. Ravi goes on to observe something important here we can all take to heart.

You see, fulfilled dreams are not necessarily fulfilled hopes. Attainment and fulfillment are not the same. Many dream and wish for the attainments that would make them the envy of our world. Careers, positions, possessions, romance … these are real goals, pursued sued by the vast majority who are deluded into believing that succeeding in these areas brings fulfillment. But deep within there is some stronger longing, sometimes even hard to pinpoint. We know there is a vacuum, a space of huge proportions that seeks a state of mind that attainments cannot fill. That dream of ultimate fulfillment is intangible but recognizable, indefinable but felt, verbalized but imprecise, visualized but blurred, inestimable but traded in for something less, something daily. I suggest it is the greatest pursuit of every life, consciously or unconsciously, and it is not mitigated by one’s worldly success. That

Ravi Zacharias. Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy (pp. 4-5). Kindle Edition.

Too many people are consumed with living a dream that empties us of our souls. We see poverty as the anti-hope and wealth as the ultimate fulfillment. But if we can learn anything from the shooter in Las Vegas, it is that the size of ones bank account does not correspond to fulfillment. Ravi says:

I believe it is possible that those who have attained every dream may be at least as impoverished as the man at the dump-perhaps even more-as they bask in the accolades, knowing that the charade is shattered by the aloneness within them.

Ravi Zacharias. Recapture the Wonder: Experiencing God’s Amazing Promise of Childlike Joy (p. 5). Kindle Edition.

We can talk about gun control. We can talk about mental health. We can talk about Islamic radicalization or Antifa. These are all important and necessary conversations. But right now, today, we also need to talk about meaning and the value for human life that only comes from God. Without God, there is a loss of wonder that only leads to the descent of humanity. If you are someone struggling to understand why, then the first step is to turn towards Jesus Christ—the one person who has all the answers.

Today, amidst the terror of inhumanity, I am reminded of the old hymn I used to sing when I was a kid.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu’rors we are!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

His Word shall not fail you, He promised;
Believe Him and all will be well;
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

What have we wrought?

What have we wrought?

Is God real? Is faith in God delusional? Ravi Zacharias argues three approaches to fashioning a reasonable worldview; Total Objectivity/Transcendence, Total Determinism, and Semi-Transcendence. Only the latter is the hope of producing a systemic coherent scientific and religious worldview. Following are some quotes to consider.

We are living now, not in the delicious intoxication induced by the early successes of science, but in a rather grisly morning-after, when it has become apparent that what triumphant science has done hitherto is to improve the means for achieving unimproved or actually deteriorated ends.
Aldous (Leonard) HuxleyEnds and Means: an Inquiry into the Nature of Ideals and into Methods Employed for their Realization (1937), 310.
“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever.”
Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means
Many of the most fundamental claims of science are against common sense and seem absurd on their face. Do physicists really expect me to accept without serious qualms that the pungent cheese that I had for lunch is really made up of tiny, tasteless, odorless, colorless packets of energy with nothing but empty space between them? Astronomers tell us without apparent embarrassment that they can see stellar events that occurred millions of years ago, whereas we all know that we see things as they happen. … Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.
 Richard C. Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons” in: The New York Review of Books, 9 January 1997, p. 31
“Has anyone provided proof of God’s inexistence? Not even close. Has quantum cosmology explained the emergence of the universe or why it is here? Not even close. Have our sciences explained why our universe seems to be fine-tuned to allow for the existence of life? Not even close. Are physicists and biologists willing to believe in anything so long as it is not religious thought? Close enough. Has rationalism and moral thought provided us with an understanding of what is good, what is right, and what is moral? Not close enough. Has secularism in the terrible 20th century been a force for good? Not even close, to being close. Is there a narrow and oppressive orthodoxy in the sciences? Close enough. Does anything in the sciences or their philosophy justify the claim that religious belief is irrational? Not even in the ball park. Is scientific atheism a frivolous exercise in intellectual contempt? Dead on.”
David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions
“So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over–a weary, battered old brontosaurus–and became extinct.”
Malcolm Muggeridge, Vintage Muggeridge: Religion and Society
When a general principle is advanced, it collapses quickly into absurdity. Thus Sam Harris argues that “to believe that God exists is to believe that I stand in some relation to his existence such that his existence is itself the reason for my belief” (italics added). This sounds very much as if belief in God could only be justified if God were to call attention conspicuously to Himself, say by a dramatic waggling of the divine fingers.
If this is so, then by parity of reasoning again, one might argue that to believe that neutrinos have mass is to believe that I stand in some relationship to their mass such that their mass is itself the reason for my belief.
Just how are those neutrinos waggling their fingers?
A neutrino by itself cannot function as a reason for my belief. It is a subatomic particle, for heaven’s sake. What I believe is a proposition, and so an abstract entity—that neutrinos have mass. How could a subatomic particle enter into a relationship with the object of my belief? But neither can a neutrino be the cause of my belief. I have, after all, never seen a neutrino: not one of them has ever gotten me to believe in it. The neutrino, together with almost everything else, lies at the end of an immense inferential trail, a complicated set of judgments.
Believing as I do that neutrinos have mass—it is one of my oldest and most deeply held convictions—I believe what I do on the basis of the fundamental laws of physics and a congeries of computational schemes, algorithms, specialized programming languages, techniques for numerical integration, huge canned programs, computer graphics, interpolation methods, nifty shortcuts, and the best efforts by mathematicians and physicists to convert the data of various experiments into coherent patterns, artfully revealing symmetries and continuous narratives. The neutrino has nothing to do with it.
[In Semi-Transcendance] humanity is able to move outside of itself to a legitimate degree and what it ends up doing really in the ability to move out of itself to a legitimate degree it is then able to measure its pronouncements by external testing, external verification for correspondence and coherence. When you make a statement you can check it out correspondingly to be true. When you build a system, you can look at it as a systemically coherent worldview. This is the way it is in our courts of law. This is the way it ought to be in a scientific lab itself. When you make a statement it is measured against a referent. When you put together a system it ought to be coherent and brought together. Total Transcendence is logically, biologically, and ideologically impossible. Total Determinism is self-defeating. The Semi Transcendent way is the only way we are able to half rise outside of yourself make meaningful statements about reality and measure them up against the truth as they really correspond.
The Reporter Who Cried Trump

The Reporter Who Cried Trump

I do not share Trump’s underlying value system. I will wait and see what policies he actually proposes, but I do not have high expectations for the Trump Presidency. I have a feeling it will be an unpredictable bag of some positive and some disastrous policies. That being said, one major reason Trump won the Presidency in 2016 is people do not know what “news” to trust so they end up picking the news that fits their preferred worldview.

This is a dangerous situation when ideology trumps truth in reporting. It is simply the classic Aesop’s Fable of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf;” too many false alarms and the people don’t know when the alarm is real. Below is my retelling of this fable for our modern world.

The Reporter Who Cried Trump

There once was a reporter who was bored as she sat in front of her computer checking her social media rankings. To increase her followers she took a great breath and typed out, “Trump! Trump! Trump is a racist!”

The American people took to twitter to help the reporter spread the fearful message and drive Tump away. But no sooner did they reshare the warning, they found the news was fake. The reporter laughed at the sight of their angry faces.

“Don’t cry ‘Trump’, reporter,” said the American people, “when there’s no evidence of your charge!” They went grumbling and complaining back to their Facebook accounts.

Later, the reporter cried out again,”Trump! Trump! Trump is a Russin stooge!” To her naughty delight, she watched the American people take to twitter to help spread the fearful message and drive Tump away

When the American people saw the news was fake they sternly said, “Save your frightened tweets for when there is really something wrong! Don’t cry ‘Tump’ when the news is fake!”

But the reporter just grinned as her twitter shares soared and watched the people go grumbling and complaining on Facebook.

Later, she saw a real danger when Trump proposed a terrible law. Alarmed, the reporter jumped on twitter and cried out as loudly as she could, “Trump! Trump!”

But the American people thought the reporter was trying to fool them again, and so they didn’t reshare and many more unfollowed her.

During the next 24-hour news cycle, some people wondered why the reporter hadn’t returned to twitter to share more salacious news. They scoured social media to find the reporter’s latest news. They found her unemployed.

“There really was a Trump scare this time! But, the American people have scattered! I cried out, “Trump!” Why didn’t you reshare?”

An old man tried to comfort the reporter as they walked to the unemployment office.

“We’ll help you look for a new job in the morning,” he said, putting his arm around the reporter, “Nobody believes a liar…even when she is telling the truth!”

Pin It on Pinterest