Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Intellectual Schizophrenia

Intellectual Schizophrenia is the title of a book by Rousas J. Rushdoony, originally published in 1961, and currently available in a reprint on Amazon.com.  The book was prophetic; what Rushdoony claimed would be the outcome of the change in public education from Christian to Humanistic foundations, is our present experience.

The purpose of this essay is to point out one particular arena where this schizophrenia is most obvious: the church.  As an example, I was teaching a Sunday school class for college students and we were studying the book of Genesis.  As we discussed the creation story, one student asked me how old the earth is.  I told him that we can’t be sure, but based on Bishop Ussher’s genealogy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology), there have been about six thousand years from the time of Adam until today, so I would conjecture, based on the Bible, that the whole universe was not much older than that.

Then he asked me, “But how old is it, really?”  I asked him what he meant.  He said, “They didn’t teach that in science class.”  Trying to be gentle, I pointed out that he was at a state university and that he was being indoctrinated by humanists to believe that the Bible’s evidence was not real evidence because they believe it is not scientific.

So I told him, “If there is a God, and if the Bible is God’s revelation, and if God tells the truth, then the earth is really thousands (not millions or billions) of years old.”  Really.

“How can that be?” he asked.  “How can it not be?” I replied.  “What about science?” he queried.  “Science, true science, rightly understood, will never contradict the Bible, rightly understood.  If there appears to be a contradiction, then we do not understand the science, or we do not understand the Bible, or both.  Truth is truth, no matter where it is found, and truth will not contradict truth.”

Christians in humanist schools hold to two different truths, religious truths, which are true in the religious dimension, and scientific truths, which are true in the scientific domain.  They are thus intellectually schizophrenic, trying to hold to two opposing ideas at the same time.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Religion and Science

I get three daily quotations via my iGoogle web page.  One quotation last week caused me to stop, re-read it, and copy it for further evaluation:

“Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion, rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science.”  -Gary Zukav

If we accept this statement as true, and then apply it to his own writings, then “Western religious people” will accept his precepts and “Western scientists” will reject what he says, for his writings are full of assertions without proof.

The Wikipedia article featuring him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Zukav) includes the following excerpts describing his Teachings:

Zukav introduces . . . . He asserts . . . . which he defines . . . . He further asserts . . . . According to Zukav, . . . . which he describes as . . . . He asserts . . . . Zukav distinguishes . . . . He calls this . . . . Zukav posits . . . .”

It is good for him that people are not generally consistent.  Both religious people and scientific people like his books, putting his books on the NY Times bestsellers list multiple times.

If you are familiar with analyzing logical fallacies, you will find two glaring examples of fallacies in the iGoogle quotation.  The first fallacy is called “Straw Man.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

He posits that “Western religion” has, as a fundamental characteristic, something for which there is no evidence in any religious writings.  (But I have already pointed out that assertion without evidence, i.e., asservation, is his strong point.)  It would seem to me that, if something were a fundamental characteristic of a religion, there would be some attestation to it in the religious literature.

The other fallacy is called “Composition (or Part for the Whole).” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition

Suppose Zukav has met one person identified as a Western religious person and that person accepted things without proof.  Then Zukav could have made this statement, supported by evidence, but with the Composition Fallacy.  Picking out one nut from a bucket of small parts does not mean that the whole bucket is full of nuts.  There may be many bolts, washers, screws,  nails and a few nuts.

His quotation is also ambiguous.  What is “Western religion” or “Western science?”  Western religion has a link in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_religion), but no citations.  “Western Christianity,” on the other hand is well defined. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Christianity)

If Zukav was parodying Western Christianity, then he is caught in a contradiction.  A cursory reading of the New Testament, the defining document of Christianity, reveals that much of the content is the presenting of evidence to support belief claims.  Much of the Gospel writings are a presentation of the evidence that proves that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.  All claims of individuals’ speaking on behalf of God are supported by proofs that the person qualifies as a Prophet, because he performed wonders or accurately foretold the future.  There are no claims or requests to accept ideas without evidence.  The evidence documented in the Bible (i.e., the presentation of the fundamental characteristics of Christianity) contradicts Zukav’s quotation.  Like Wikipedia’s characterization of his teaching demonstrates, he asserts it, i.e., he makes it all up.

It is a cute quotation, but you can now forget it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where do Presuppositions Come From?

A common theme is the last several essays has been that presuppositions determine conclusions.  The major premises that we accept without proof influence our logical conclusions as much as the minor premises discovered by investigation.  People who believe catastrophism will come to different conclusions than those who begin with uniformitarianism.

But where do major premises come from?  Basically, we believe what we believe because of our experiences and because we have not experienced anything that would contradict what we believe.  If we have experienced a contradiction, we are more prone to challenge or reinterpret the contradicting information than to contradict our prevailing belief set, because it is our prevailing belief set (often called our world and life view), that gives us our identity.  It is what makes us right in our own eyes, and we as a species, are reluctant to admit to being wrong.

I came to my presuppositions as a result of the sum of my life experiences, and you came to yours as a result of your life experiences.  Since no two of  us have identical life experiences, we rarely find someone whose presuppositions are identical to our own.  When we do find someone whose shared, shared experiences match those which we are willing to share with them, we call them "soul mates," because most people do not fall in the same category.  [It is only the shared, shared experiences that we find in common.  Some other experiences may be common to both, but without the verbalization and communication (sharing) of them, we do not realize all the commonalities or differences we have.  That is why soul mates break up.  They learn of differences that they had only assumed were commonalities.  They are no longer one.]

The scientific word for experience is experiment.  We learn what we learn and believe what we believe because of experience.  If we are wise, we can also learn from the experience of others, but most people appear programmed to have to go through things for themselves, and do not accept the testimony of others.

Let's revisit the major premise of the first argument we looked at:  All men are mortal.  Assuming this statement is not a tautology, then it relates to our experience.  We have each observed a process whereby living people die.  We have observed people to die who have an accident, an abnormal medical condition, an act of war, a capital crime committed against them, or they have grown too old to continue living.

In our "universal human experience," we have an expectation of death as an event that terminates physical life.  This experience is so common in our experience that we accept it as true.  On the other hand we may not, a priori, deny the existence of never-dying persons, on the basis that we have never seen one.  But we accept it by faith, or else accept, as we do for most theories, that it is probably true with a very high degree of probability.

Other presuppositions come with the same caveat: they are probably true. We build chains of inference that depend on our presuppositions.  If uniformitarianism is true, then evolution is probably true.  If catastrophism is true, then a world-wide flood is probably true. Etc.

Or, stated in the opposite way, if evolution is true then uniformitarianism (or something very much like it) must be true, and if world-wide flooding is true, then castrophism (or something very much like it) must be true.

Where do presuppositions come from?  They come from our experiments and experience.  Are they true? Probably.  What if two people have different presuppositions?  They should test them to make sure they are consistent with the rest of the data they collect.  What if the two people's presuppositions contradict each other?  They might both be false, but they cannot both be true, if, indeed, there is a contradiction.  Is one presupposition better than another?  Actually, the true ones are better than false ones.

The bottom line is, What do you believe?  Why?  It is your faith that determines your conclusions.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Proud Alumnus of Emory College of Emory University

Going through graduation season and having many acquaintances who are going through graduation ceremonies has caused me to think about my own graduation and what it means to me.

I went to Emory College at Emory University and also the Graduate School of Emory University, and was even accepted into the Master of Divinity program at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. (I only attended the convocation--I enrolled in Reformed Theological Seminary shortly thereafter.)  It has been 46 years since I graduated from Emory College, and it wasn't until a couple of months back, when a representative of the Alumni office came through Starkville, Mississippi, that I have thought seriously about what graduating from Emory has meant to me.

While at Emory, I never thought about whether or not it was a good school.  It was the only one I knew.  My brother and I were first generation college goers.  None of our parents or grandparents had gone to college.  My mother and step-father had determined to make it financially possible for my brother and me to attend college, and the faculty of Druid Hills High School, likewise, made it their goal to qualify us academically to succeed in college.  Those are debts we owe that can never be paid back.  They can only be paid forward to try to do the same for the next generation.

It is a marvel to me that, at the time that Thomas J. J. Altizer, the author of God is Dead, was on the faculty at Emory and receiving much publicity, I was involved in Bible studies with other students and became a born-again, evangelical Christian!  I was developing a love/hate relationship with my alma mater.  She stood for many things that were anathema to me, but also, she was the nurturing mother to my educational achievement and social development.  Although I do not really identify with Moses, I can understand how he must have felt, owing his life and training to the household of Pharaoh, although his true loyalties belonged to the Great I AM of the Exodus.

More than anything else, I remember the academic freedom at Emory.  The people there were really intelligent.  I do not understand how I passed the entrance requirements, but can thank six people, specifically, who seem to me now, to have been the ones who prepared my mind for those entrance requirements:  Mrs. Camp, my Geometry teacher, and Mr. Hall, my Advanced Algebra and Calculus teacher both prepared me to think analytically, and Mrs. Pomeroy and Mrs. Garrard, whose English grammar and vocabulary stick with me to this day, and Dr. Meroney, whose Latin vocabulary and grammar prepared me to excel in language learning.  I can't leave thoughts of DHHS without kudos to Mrs. Gibson who gave me a job as Chemistry Laboratory manager, and whose excellent foundation enabled me to get an NSF undergraduate research grant in my freshman summer at Emory.  So it was not I, but they, who scored my SAT grades and got me in Emory.  Nonetheless, I was surrounded by intelligent students and faculty.

I have now taught in five colleges in addition to being a teaching assistant in Geology at Emory.  None has matched the academic excellence and freedom that I experienced at Emory.  Only in the church do I have the freedom to challenge the students to think, in the same way I was challenged at Emory.  As my teachers before me, I am more interested in the process you use to get your results, than the results, themselves.  My teachers didn't require me to come to the same conclusions they did, but they did make sure I was rigorous in the procedures of reaching mine.  Did I test every assumption?  Were the steps in the process logical and clear?  It was an atmosphere of academic freedom like this that formed my understanding of understanding.

After a "Creation vs. Evolution" debate with a biology instructor at a private high school in Jackson, Mississippi, a couple of decades ago, the biologist told me, "You clearly won the debate, but I still don't believe you."   We live in an age of intellectual schizophrenia in which we do not need for things to make sense in order for us to believe them.  Even though existential philosophy was dominant during those years, my education at Emory prepared me for coherence, a belief in things that make sense.

Of all my peers in theology, I appear to have a background with more science and math than they.  I am able to analyze the arguments of scientists better than most ministers who majored in history, Bible, social sciences, or languages.  My blogs in the last month have been written with the intent to demonstrate how to apply presuppositional analysis to the arguments of scientists.

Presuppositional analysis, contrary to what my evidentialist brothers may think, is not simply showing that Biblical presuppositions are the only ones that lead to true truth.  It is also getting into the analysis of someone else's logic and demonstrating the problem areas, either in their presuppositions, or in their conclusions.

Last week's essays were able to raise questions, in the scientists' own framework, as to the limits of their knowledge.  By examining in a secular framework their own problem areas, I have hoped to open the door to a faith-based presuppositional argument that is more scientific than theirs, because it examines more evidence and eliminates exclusion bias from the process.

If I am successful, I can thank my Alma mater, Emory University, for setting me on the right learning process.  Cor prudentis possidebit scientiam. [A heart of prudence shall possess knowledge. Proverbs 18:15]

Friday, May 11, 2012

Rocks and Layers

In a prior essay, we looked at the geology of sedimentary rocks and at the conclusions that can be drawn from the existence of the layers.  We saw that a presupposition of uniformitarianism yields a conclusion more in tune with the theory of Evolution, but a presupposition of catastrophism produces a conclusion that favors a world wide flooding over a short period of time.

Uniformitarianism is currently in vogue, but there is so much to commend Catastrophism that some geologists try to join the two concepts into a different theory called Punctuated Uniformitarianism, to account for the evidence that supports both theories.  This theory suggests long periods of uniform activity punctuated by major catastrophic events.

Part of the reason for the need for a combined theory is found in the layers, themselves.  What makes a layer a layer is the fact that everything in it is similar material.  Being similar to itself means it is different from the layers above and below it.

The homogeneity of a layer causes some logical problems.  Why would a layer contain only a limited number and type of life forms?  If you would look in a river delta or a lake where dead things are being deposited by current runoff and erosion, you will find multiple life forms, including both unicellular and complex. You may find  algae, oysters, alligators, fish, and perhaps, a human corpse.  These things are all living in today's ecosystem, so if they died and were fossilized, the deposits would contain a diversity of fossil life forms, not uniform layers of index fossils characterizing just one group or age, unless there was something other than time, e.g., density, by which the layers were established.

The interfaces between two layers also present problems.  Was there a layer that originally existed between the two layers we find in today's rocks?  And did that layer get eroded (uniformly across the globe) so that all the life forms in it were totally annihilated by some global events?  The reason this is an important question is because Uniformitarianism and its associated consequence, Evolution, would require that life forms represented in one layer evolve to life forms in a later layer.

There would need to be evidence of gradual changes from one life form in one layer to more complex forms in the next layer.  Because there are no fossils showing intermediate forms, these "missing links" (missing between any fossil and its supposed ancestor, not just ape and man), must be assumed to be in the layers that are not present, i.e., the layers that must have been washed away by erosion, washed away, incidentally, without any evidence or any fragments of preexisting fossils in more recent layers that should contain such runoff.  [Note: this kind of argument is called "argument from silence," indicating it is implied by the absence of data.  Although it is not necessarily a fallacy, an argument from silence is weak, at best.]  The global extent of the layers and the uniformity of the extant layers makes the absence of any intermediate forms anywhere, a convincing statement.  Sometimes, the absence of data is because it never existed in the first place.

The third problem evinced by layers is the limestone/coral problem.  Some limestones are formed mostly of the fossilized remains of coral.  Coral are known to grow only at certain temperatures and water depths, so coral-limestone should form in linear bands along the coastlines of continents.  The fact that some of the layers, e.g., in the southeastern United States consist of many miles of coral-based limestones, indicates that the delicate ecosystems that support coral growth moved over time.  It is postulated that the limestones in the layers in the southeastern US were formed as the polar ice caps melted and the ocean advanced onto the continent, and then moved back to their present locations.  This would mean that these limestone regions represent large periods of time and that they cut across time, not that they represent a particular time.

Here we see some of the problems posed by the existence of layers.  The problems must be accounted for by the presuppositions. Otherwise, the presuppositions need to be modified or rejected in order to account for the data problems.

As we have seen, presuppositions determine conclusions, but presuppositions must also be consistent with the data being analyzed.  Remember that presuppositions are just paradigms that are accepted on faith.  Clark Pinnock once said, "The heart cannot delight in what the mind rejects as false." (Set Forth Your Case, Craig Press, Nutley, New Jersey, 1968.) Your faith must be reasonable to you, but, in the end, it is faith, nonetheless.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Limits of Presuppositions for Scientists

Up to this point we have seen that presuppositions determine conclusions, major premises determine interpretations, and that only what goes into the deductive reasoning process can come out.  Reason and argument do not add anything to a system that was not already there.  For this reason, it is said that all reasoning is circular reasoning.  This does not mean that all reasoning is fallacious, however.  It only means that all reasoning depends on the truth of its premises.

Reasoning can, in itself, be instructive.  Sometimes combinations of truthful statements shine new light on a problem that allow insight to be gained, and sometimes, reasoning confronts us with the limits of our presuppositions.

Let us take time as an example.  Time is defined as a succession of moments or even as a dimension in a multidimensional space.  Time is important in both science and history.  Existentially, we move through time from one day to the next, or one moment to the next.  Time is an essential ingredient to human personality.

In mathematics, we talk about time as existing from minus infinity to plus infinity and use symbols like the indefinite integral to represent functions whose time-frame goes from minus infinity to plus infinity.  However, in the real cosmos, we know that this is not a true construct.

In the real universe, we have observed what we know as the Law of Entropy, which states, among other things, that things go from more ordered states to less ordered states, from more energetic states to less energetic states as they progress through time.  This is why a pan of boiling water cools off, if you turn off the heat under it.  We can take measurements of the surrounding environment and the current temperature and volume of the water, and extrapolate back to the time the water was at a full boil.  Eventually, the water and its surrounding environment will be the same temperature.  If it has cooled for a long time, the water will be as cold as its surroundings.

This principle of Entropy, when applied to the cosmos, and especially to "hot spots" in the cosmos, such as our sun, indicates that there was a definite point in time when the sun was formed.  If there were an infinite time period, all "hot spots" would have cooled, and everything would now be the same temperature.  That fact has led scientists to postulate a beginning point.for all things, a "big bang" or "creation" event.  It means there is no such thing as "minus infinity" on the time line.

The mathematician is free to use the indefinite integral and to study functions involving the concept of minus infinity, but physicists and other natural scientists must limit themselves to a "t sub zero," the first instant in time as the starting point in their time formula and the lower limit of their time integration.  I am afraid most scientists do not consider t sub zero when extrapolating backwards on the time line.  It is possible using mathematics to extrapolate backwards to minus infinity, but any extrapolation prior to t sub zero is an error, in the real world.

There is another presupposition problem most scientists ignore.  We know from experiments that mathematics allow us to represent equations for systems such as the flow of electrons in a circuit.  However, we also know that these equations only work when the circuit is at steady state, but do not apply at the instantaneous state when the circuit is first energized.

We know that a circuit behaves very differently when the power goes from zero to some steady value, than it does after a certain period of time has elapsed, and the circuit has stabilized.  The circuit demonstrates transient effects when it is first energized, and these effects last a definite, but transient period of time.

By analogy, we should expect to see transient effects at a creation or big bang event.  We normally use another mathematical construct, differentiation, to help explain changes over time, but differentiation doesn't apply to a time between the first instant, and the non-existent instant before it. Some transient effect must occur, which can resemble the effects of division by zero.

Normal assumptions do not apply to transient situations.  The definition of some things becomes meaningless at such a point.  Things such as velocity, for example, expressed as a value "per second" don't have meaning in that period leading to the first second.  Even such equations as E=mC^2 need special attention at the first instant, because C, the speed of light, is expressed in terms of "per second."  What does that mean when time is going from zero to one second, causing transient effects?  Can C be a constant in such a situation?

I don't know the answers to these transient time questions, but I do know that one should be cautious in making definitive statements regarding time and the Big Bang or Creation.  The point I am making is that one's presuppositions need to be examined.  They sometimes contain limits.  In order to be consistent in our argumentation, we need to remember the limits of our presuppositions.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Theories are Presuppositions

Today's lesson will demonstrate how viewing the same data using two different presuppositions yields two different interpretations of the same data.

Prior to the 18th century, scientists depended on the Bible to inform their presuppositions.  In the 18th century, James Hutton, known as the father of geology, suggested that the time line of the Bible wasn't long enough to account for all the earth's features to be formed.  He observed processes such as erosion, runoff, flooding and deposition, that could account for the earth's features, given enough time.

Hutton speculated ". . . that processes occurring in the present were the same processes that had operated in the past, and would be the processes that operate in the future."*  These thoughts were formalized as the Theory of Uniformitarianism.  In the 19th century, Sir Charles Lyell popularized Hutton's ideas in his book,  Principles of Geology (1830)*.

The contrasting view prevailing at the time, was named Catastrophism, to indicate that immense, catastrophic events were involved in the formation of the earth's features.

Let us use these two different Theories as major premises and see how they are used to interpret the same data.

First, let us limit ourselves to the class of rocks called sedimentary, those which appear to be formed from the deposition and hardening of rocks, sand, silt, and clay and those formed from prior plant and animal life, primarily oil, coals and carbonates.  The other kinds of rocks, igneous and metamorphic, are not generally categorized in the same way as the sedimentary rocks, because of the absence of fossils in them.

Sedimentary rocks are found worldwide in layers.  Each layer is identified because it contains the same materials and the same kind of fossils.  Assuming that layers are formed as a process, the layers can be numbered or named in regard to where the layer fits in relation to the other layers.  Assuming they have not been inverted, the ones on the bottom are considered to have been deposited prior to the ones above them, and the ones on the top are considered to have been deposited most recently.

A laboratory experiment can easily verify that these assumptions have merit.  If I take a glass jar and pour black sand in it, then yellow sand, then red sand, followed by white sand, the layering of the colors corresponds to the order in which the layers were poured.

Geologists call the bottom layers the oldest ones and the higher layers the newer ones, thereby assigning a time dimension corresponding to the differing layers.

If you assume Uniforitarianism, all these statements are logically consistent, and indeed, this is the view of most modern geologists.

What if, on the other hand, you assumed Catastrophism?  What if all the layers were deposited in the same period of time?  What if a tremendous event eroded the land surface and mixed the sand in the sea bottom, all at the same time?  In that case, the layering would not represent time, but it would represent something else.

A laboratory experiment can also be suggestive as to how layers could be formed in this scenario.  Suppose I take a large bucket and pour in many different kinds of rock-making particles, from silts and clays to sand to pebbles to rocks.  No matter what order I put these things into the bucket, when I add water and shake the bucket violently, the particles group themselves into layers, based upon particle size and density.  The smallest particles group themselves at the bottom, and the largest ones are grouped at the top.

The rock layers exist, but what do they tell us?  The meaning we give to them depends upon which major premise we use in our syllogism.  The minor premises are the observations.  There are layers.  There is no argument about that.  But there is room to argue on the meaning of the layers.

One geologists begins with Uniformitarianism and concludes the layers correspond to time.  Another geologist begins with Catastrophism and concludes the layers do not correspond to time.  Both geologists might have the same degrees and be equally competent scientists, but they have different starting points, different presuppositions, different faith-principles, different faiths.

Please note, the argument is faith vs. faith, not faith vs. science.  Also note that these faiths used entirely secular terminology.  One's faith doesn't have to be a religious faith associated with a particular religion or sacred text.  Faith is what one accepts because he or she thinks it is true, not because it can be demonstrated to be true.

Notice that I have neither said that Uniformitarianism is true nor that Catastrophism is true.  I have only demonstrated that choosing a theory or major premise to accept in an argument will determine your interpretation of the reality you are investigating.  Obviously, we choose to believe things that do not conflict with what we believe based on our life experience.  In this case, the theories are both bigger than anyone could experience in a lifetime, so neither theory conflicts with what we accept as true.

This still leaves the question, Are all theories equal?  Does it matter what I presuppose?  Is one theory better than another?  I will try to address these issues in later essays.


Monday, May 07, 2012

Consistent Logic is Faith-Based

Up to now in this series of essays, we have looked at the topic of logical consistency, and have seen that deductive argumentation (what we normally associate with being rational or being logical) depends on two types of premises, major premises and minor premises.  We have seen that major premises are things we accept (by faith), and minor premises are things we observe.

We have seen that two people having access to the same scientific observations can nonetheless come to different conclusions about the interpretation or meaning of the observations.  Both people would be considered rational, intelligent beings who follow the same principles of logic.

One one level, all major premises are of equal validity, i.e., they can neither be proved nor disproved.  They can only be accepted or rejected.  This is the realm where philosophy and science intersect.  And the most two people who come to different conclusions about the meaning of their observations should do, in the way of relating to each other, is to say, "If your presuppositions are true, your conclusions are true, but I do not believe your presuppositions, so I reject your conclusions."  Likewise, the other person may take the same stance against the first person's presuppositions and conclusions.

Note that they are both performing the same logical operations and taking the identical stance in reaching their conclusions.  One is not more intelligent or more scientific than the other.  I belabor this point because I have seen some arrogant pseudo-scientists try to put down other scientists because they reach different conclusions with the same data.  Rather than acknowledging their own presuppositions or analyzing those of the other scientist, they claim to be right by assertion instead of by demonstration.  "I am right because I say I am right (and they sometimes add that an individual or community agrees with them)!"

You may have observed this kind of behavior in the "global warming" dialog.  This problem is obviously one of such a grand scale that it cannot be demonstrated in a scientific laboratory.  The atmosphere of the entire Earth is involved, and processes involving the Sun and the Moon are involved in the creation of our climate.  Geological data seems to indicate that the magnetic poles have moved in the geologic past, which may mean that the Earth has changed its orientation in relationship to the Sun, thus moving the polar ice caps by melting at a prior orientation and refreezing at another..  Some studies also show much cyclical temperature variation in geologic history.  To claim that man has done something in the recent past, or is doing something currently, to upset those processes, is simply a statement of faith, not a scientifically-demonstrated phenomenon.

Human-caused global warming may be possible; it may not.  The observations of a few years temperature and weather pattern changes really don't give us enough information (compared to geologic time frames) to determine whether or not the data indicates a pattern, much less the scale of the pattern.

The passion of the debaters for global warming points to their faith in their conclusions.  They have far more passion than the data warrant, partly because of the bleak consequences of the scenario they predict if their conclusions are true.

Can you see that their conclusions rely on their presuppositions more than (or at least as much as) on their conclusions?  This battle is one person's faith versus another person's faith.  It is not science.  It is not logic.

The same is true of the Origins debate.  Where does everything come from?  In another essay, I will demonstrate how different presuppositions affect the geologic argument for Origins.  How can two scientists with the same number of advanced college degrees come to different conclusions about Origins?  Is it because one went to a "better" school?  Is one of them smarter?  Or is it only because they embrace different religions?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Geologic Logic and Faith Principles

Today's post will continue to build your skill in evaluating arguments and identifying presuppositions.

Whenever you hear someone say something with which you disagree, what do you do?  Most people just assume that the other person is stupid or irrational. Some people will even try to convince them that they are wrong.  But not many will ask themselves, "What are they presupposing that would make their conclusion rational to them?"

If people are not crazy and are not stupid, but differ from you in their understanding, then they either know something you don't know, or they are presupposing something you are not presupposing.

If you value the relationship with the other person, you should expend the effort to identify the missing information or to elucidate the unidentified presupposition. To not try to find out why you disagree is a sign of arrogance.  Such pride is the cause of most arguments that do not get resolved.

The resolution may be that we identify our differing presuppositions and refuse to change our minds, and "agree to disagree."  Since presuppositions are accepted by faith and cannot be proved or disproved, we have agreed that we must follow our separate belief systems.

I have one belief system and you have another belief system and those faiths bring us to different conclusions.  I am not a better scientist than you and you are not a better scientist than I am.  We agree on the facts.  That is science.  We disagree on the interpretation of the facts, and that is because of our belief systems, not the facts.

All geologists agree that there are similar layers of rocks found worldwide.  Each layer contains fossils, predominately fossils that resemble other fossils in the same layer, but are different from those of the layer above, and the layer beneath.  Fossils are frequently casts in stone of soft tissue, or the remains of hard body parts such as shells. But they represent plants and animals that had been alive and have died in such a way that their remains formed layers that became lithified due to processes that occurred after their death.

These statements are scientific.  They represent the physical evidence that scientists have found, and there is no disagreement as to what the evidence is.  There are, however, differences in what geologists say the fossil layers mean.

One will look at the layers and say they demonstrate Evolution, and another will say they obviously are the results of a world-wide flood.  Same rocks, same logic processes, but different conclusions!

The instructor for my first course in statistics had been asked to evaluate the entrance requirements for allowing students into Emory University. It was determined that the then-current evaluation criteria were an excellent admissions predictor of success for Emory students.  He had to show them that their data had only included current Emory students who had already been chosen by those criteria, and that it was, therefore, not representative of the general population that might apply to Emory.  Their data excluded students who might have succeeded at Emory but were rejected by the criteria.  This subtle bias was hard for them to accept, because there had been such a high correlation in their results.

The same can be said for people who do not recognize that their own selection bias, i.e. their presuppositions, determine what they see in the data.  If a person says, "There is no world-wide flood," as part of his presuppositions, he will not be able to conclude, upon examining the data, that there was a world-wide flood.  He will have to come to some other conclusion.

We live in an age of religious fanaticism.  Some fanatics are terrorizing the world, killing those who do not agree with them.  Other zealous fanatics are trying to force public education systems to exclude scientific possibilities with which they disagree. They only want one possible explanation, i.e., one set of faith principles, to be taught in schools.  They do not want children to learn how to evaluate faith principles and how to reach their own conclusions.  They want to indoctrinate, not to educate.

Friday, May 04, 2012

I am not crazy and I am not stupid.

Nobody thinks they are crazy or stupid.  Everybody thinks he or she is right.  We have an innate need to be right.  Yet, other people do not give everybody else the same benefit of the doubt that they give themselves.

If I think I am right, and someone contradicts me, I must assume that he or she is wrong.  When the other person hears me say he or she is wrong, he/she reacts in kind and says I am the wrong one.  This scenario must happen when people are convinced they are right and others contradict them.  Our reactions imply that the other person is crazy or stupid.

When the principles of the prior two posts are considered, we can isolate the source of most problems.  People are most often looking at the same set of facts.  If they are not, they can iterate what they have observed.  In the lipstick problem, the wife was not privy to an observation the husband had made, i.e., an encounter with a lipsticked relative.  Had he mentioned this encounter when he saw his wife, they both would have had the same facts from which to draw a conclusion.

Assume that two people have iterated the facts and agreed to them, but still disagree on the meaning or interpretation of the facts.  Since the rules of logic do not vary based upon who the individual is, the only thing remaining to account for their different conclusions is their presuppositions, i.e., what major premises they have accepted by faith.

My first college degree was in Geology.  Geologists have an interesting task similar to that of the historian, viz., how do you understand something that happened in the past, when you only have artifacts and relics from the previous time period, and cannot be an eye-witness, yourself, to the events, themselves?  Future historians will be in a much better position than current ones, because of advances in technology.  Whereas today's historians are limited to the study of written documents and built environments from the past, tomorrow's historians will be able to view DVD's and other audio/video media that will let them observe the actual happenings from which they will be drawing meaning.

Geologists frequently limit their historical observations to the rocks and fossil records in the rocks, but they could also learn from the historian, and use the collective written records from ancient cultures to augment their understanding.  Only a presupposition separates two geologists who come to different conclusions.

If a geologist assumes the rock records were deposited in pre-history, he will not look for verification in historical records.  His assumption then colors his conclusion.  He will not be able to conclude that the rock layers are related to historical time.  The fact that many cultures record stories of great floods will not even be considered in his evaluation of what the rocks mean.  His blinders of scientific objectivism keep him from seeing what may be obvious to others. (This is a problem with modern university education: so much specialization means educated people have no knowledge of other specialties.)

Another assumption made by geologists in the last century or so is the rule of Uniformitarianism.  This rule states that things have always happened the same way we observe them happening, today.  This assumption limits the understanding of things that happened in  prehistoric time to the same processes that have happened in historic time.  It is a way of saying, "Seeing is believing."  If we are not able to see it happen, it can't have happened.  This is an arrogant statement for the residents of a miniscule particle of the universe in an instant of the time line to make about a time line of billions of years (in their scheme).

But it is not crazy and it is not stupid.  It is merely an argument made using the observations of scientists (the minor premises in the argument) by logically following an assumption (major premise) to its logical conclusion.

Remember that these presuppositions are faith principles.  They are accepted and embraced by faith and subjected to scrutiny only when the conclusions lead to contradictions.  One faith leads to one conclusion and another faith leads, with the same evidence, to a different conclusion.

Crazy and stupid do not apply.  Faith does apply.  In argumentation and evaluation of arguments, all faiths are equal.  They are only beliefs that are embraced by different people.  Those fundamental assertions will lead them to different conclusions.

But are all faiths equal?  A question for a later discussion.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Analyzing an Argument

In the previous post, I suggested that consistency was a key to analyzing an argument.

From studies in formal logic (the form determines the correctness), one form stands out: Modus Ponens.

When I studied it many years ago, the classical form was given like this:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

The first statement is called the Major Premise, and the second is called the Minor Premise.  The last statement is the Conclusion.

The full version of the logical statement is as follows:

If the major premise, "All men are mortal," is true and the minor premise, "Socrates is a man," is true, then the conclusion, "Socrates is mortal," is necessarily true.

This form is the heart of deductive reasoning.

Now, let us examine the details of the form.  Is it true that "all men are mortal?"  Perhaps we can claim it is true by definition.  Being a man is being mortal.  On the other hand, it does not follow that being mortal is being a man, because we have seen that other things, from dogs to grass, also die.

It may be possible for there to be a man somewhere who is now alive and will never die.  The only way I could demonstrate to everybody that all men are mortal is to kill all men.  And then, my argument would be proved, but A) there would be no one left alive to be interested in my proof, or B) one of them might spring back to life and my argument would fall on deaf ears, anyway, though it was disproved.

Major premises of this sort fall in the category of statements which are generally accepted by "all men everywhere."  By "accepted," we mean "believed to be true."  In mathematics, we call these things "axioms," the starting principles that we assume to be true (and don't try to prove), and in theological circles, we call them "faith principles."

Major premises are generally things that are asserted. Minor premises are generally things that can be observed.  In Apologetics, we call Major Premises "Presuppositions."

In analyzing a deductive argument, we generally accept the truth of the major premise, because then, we can see where it leads the argument.  If a consequence of accepting the truth the major premise leads us to a contradiction, then we challenge the major premise.

In yesterday's blog about consistency, we looked at three different major premises, i.e., three different assumptions made about the Old Testament, the New Testament, and their relationship to each other.

We saw that different denominations start with different major premises; they look at the same Biblical evidence (minor premises), and get different conclusions.  They were all logical, i.e., they followed the rules of deductive reasoning.  Yet they came to different conclusions, precisely because they started with different major premises, not because one group was more rational than the other.

This is an important point, not only in courses in logic, but also, in any argument that occurs between two people.  These arguments frequently occur in family situations, where a husband and wife reach different conclusions about an incident (minor premise) and fail to understand that their difference is in what they are assuming (the major premise) to be true, not in the actual facts they see.

A man comes home with lipstick on his collar.  He may not even know it is there.  The wife observes the lipstick and concludes the husband has been fooling around with another woman.  In this case, the major premise of the wife might be, "I cannot trust my husband."  The husband's might be, "I am a trustworthy husband."  The minor premise is clear:  There is lipstick on the collar.  The wife's major premise requires her to conclude her husband was unfaithful.

Note that the husband now thinks the wife is not being logical, because he assumes she has adopted the same major premise he holds, and her conclusion does not logically follow.  But she is being logical.  She is just holding to a different major premise than he believes.

Let's say, for argument's sake, that the husband had run into Aunt Sally (you know, the huggy one who always has her face painted to perfection) at a business luncheon with his male colleagues.  He had forgotten all about it.

Here's the issue:  The conclusion of a deductive argument is influenced just as much by the major premise as by the minor premise.  Anyone familiar with John Gray's "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" series of books will understand why men and women frequently have different major premises that lead them to different conclusions using the same evidence (minor premises).

It is because our presuppositions (what we believe and accept to be true, but can't prove) determine our conclusions.  Obviously, if two people are looking at the same facts and using the same rules of logic, then the only thing that can lead them to different conclusions is their presuppositions.

I have used several words for our relationship to our major premises, assumptions, presuppositions, beliefs, and faith principles.  You cannot separate conclusions in deductive arguments from belief.  This is not only true for people of faith; it is universally true.  Major premises are normally assumed, accepted, believed, etc., to be true, i.e., they are accepted by faith.  It doesn't have to be a religious faith.  Even an atheist believes there is no God.  That is an act of faith.

As  I look at all the evidence for belief in God, I conclude that an atheist has a greater amount of blind faith than I do, but that is another lesson.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012


As I have answered questions from my students, I have come to believe that consistency is a crucial element  in a belief system.

For example, I was recently asked why the Church of Christ doesn't use musical instruments, but we (I was teaching in a Baptist church) do?  The answer highlights the issue of consistency in Biblical interpretation among different Christian churches and denominations.

The crux of the problem is that the Christian Bible consists of two different sets of historical documents, the Old Testament, originally written in Hebrew (and shared with many faith-families, e.g., Jews, Muslims, and Christians), and the New Testament, originally written in Greek, accepted by all Christian denominations as sacred.  [We will ignore the books of uncertain authorship, commonly called the Apocrypha, at this time.]

The problem is that the Old and New Testaments have points of ambiguity, if not outright contradiction, between them.  So the issue of understanding comes down to the question of what is the proper principle of interpretation to relate the two testaments to the church in the current age?

The musical instrument question will help explain the issue.  The Churches of Christ (and other similar New Testament churches) use a rule of interpretation that the Old Testament is illustrative to the Church, but the New Testament is normative.  The Old Testament books give us examples of God's dealings with people in history, but the New Testament is the only rule of faith and practice for the people of God, since the first century.

This rule of interpretation eliminates some problems that divide other Christian denominations, because it is simple and straightforward.  If the New Testament, alone, is the rule book for the church, then we eliminate the problems associated with Christians' use of the Old Testament, e.g., what do we do with the passages about the sacrificial system, the priesthood, the position of Israel, etc.?

If the New Testament, alone, regulates the church, then we do what it says; we don't do what it says not to do; and when it is silent about an issue, we err on the side of caution.  For example, the New Testament does not speak to the issue of instruments in worship, but it does relate to psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  So don't be alarmed when visiting a Church of Christ that you find no piano, organ, or any other musical instrument you might be familiar with in the church where you grew up.  They are trying to be consistent to the principle of interpretation they believe is designed for a New Testament church. They sing a capella.

The mainline churches, including Roman Catholic and Protestant, use a different rule of interpretation for the Old Testament/New Testament dilemma.  The main difference between Catholic and Protestant denominations is that the Roman Catholics believe the Church (via Creeds, Councils and Papal edicts) can still write dogma equivalent to the Old and New Testament Scripture, while Protestants believe that the Old and New Testament Scriptures (completed near the end of the first century), alone, are the only rule of faith and practice for the church.

With that (major) distinction, then, these denominations follow a similar rule of interpretation for the Old to New Testament relationship.  This rule says that the Old and New Testaments together are regulative for the church.  The Old Testament is still normative for the people of God, unless the New Testament makes a clear, definitive change.  For example, the Old Testament includes dietary restrictions intended to differentiate the people of God (Israel) from the peoples around them.  Jews could not eat pork, or shrimp, for example.  The New Testament indicated that the wall separating Jew from Gentile was broken down and the laws intended to differentiate the people of God have been done away, i.e., their purpose has been fulfilled, so they no longer apply.

Certain issues are easy to handle with this rule of interpretation.  If the New Testament does not make a change, then the Old Testament principles are still regulative.  For example, the Old Testament prohibits murder and the New Testament makes no change, so it is still wrong to murder someone.

We have looked at three basic rules of interpretation of Scripture:

The Old Testament is normative (Jews, Muslims--with additional books, e.g., Talmud, Koran, etc., overriding)
The New Testament is normative (Church of Christ, other New Testament Churches)
The Old and New Testament are normative (mainline Christian Denominations--with New Testament overriding Old Testament, and Roman Catholics with Church overriding the Testaments)

This posting is a gross oversimplification of Biblical interpretation principles, but it will be instructive for those people who wonder why there are differences in the practices of different churches.

They are all trying to be consistent to the fundamental things they believe about the Scriptures, the revelation from God to his called-out people.

You may wonder which principle of interpretation is right, in the absolute sense.  That is a different topic.  This post is designed to help you examine faith claims, not to demonstrate which ones are right.  This post is designed to help you recognize an argument's presuppositions and whether or not an argument is consistent with its presuppositions, not to decide which presuppositions are right.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year's Day is like Groundhog Day, the movie. This is the day when we look at the past, see what we did wrong, and resolve to do it better in the future. Like Bill Murray's character in the movie, we will have to repeat the same scenarios until we learn the lesson and make corrections, before we are allowed to move on. Unless we love the mess we are in (the pigs my granddaddy raised on the farm liked mud and slop), we are going to have to make changes to get out of the mess. It is easy to blame our environment or somebody else for our problems. When we give environments or other people the power over us, we lose hope and become their slaves. To be free, we must do all within our power to get out of that environment we think is bad for us. We must do all in our power to get out from under the influence of those who cause us to react wrongly. We might not have the power to eliminate those influences completely, but we do have some power to make some change. Like muscles, more power will come from the exercise of what power we have. As in Groundhog Day, one little change repeated regularly has a great effect on the outcome. There is power in resolutions. Write down one or a few areas where you want to see change in 2012. Keep your list where you can see it. Work on it a little bit, every day. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you make up your mind to be free from slavery to bad environments and bad reactions to people. When you let somebody make you mad, you lose control to them. They become your master. If, instead, you determine in advance what you will do when they say that thing that makes you mad, you will be the master of that situation. You will be free. This is what being filled with the spirit is like. You have so loaded up your mind and heart with God's word, that you know what is right to do. Then, determine to do it. Spirit-filled living is giving over control of your reactions to the influence of the Holy Spirit as mediated through his word. Do what the Spirit says to do, not what you have always done. Don't be led by the flesh (and the habits you have always had), but be led by the Spirit. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sinful, fleshly living. Then he was raised from the dead with power so we can now live new lives. There is nothing holding us back. May 2012 be the year we exercise that power completely and walk by the spirit.