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 ( 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.”

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).”

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 (, but no citations.  “Western Christianity,” on the other hand is well defined. (

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]