Tag Archives: philosophy

Forthcoming

I’ve just quite a bit of material to write about, all of it stacking up in the queue. Most of it right now has to do with theology and philosophy and the like, some of it has to do with writing, and some to do with gaming. All of it requires a clear head to mull over and think through coherently enough to formulate something worthwhile from the rabble, and so I’ve pushed it off for a few days now. My heart may be into writing, but my mind simply can’t keep up right now.

To give you a little idea of what I have on the table right now, here’s a list of entries I’m hoping to draft in the somewhat near future:

* A response to statements that the Bible may not actually be inerrant
* A response to the charge that C.S. Lewis himself may not have considered the Bible to be inerrant
* Musings on the use (or lack thereof) of classical logic in today’s culture
* The disappearance of antithetical logic
* The social nuances of avid bloggers
* An objection to bookstores that are beginning to place science fiction and fantasy novels in separate categories
* A little blurb on eschatology
* Video games in politics – again
* Storytelling in video games – just how important is it?
* The relationship and similarities of statistics and psychology

I’ll even give you folks a choice – which of the above topics sounds most interesting to you? What would you like me to write about first?

Escapism and Imagination

I stumbled across a debate yesterday on the topic of escapism, worldbuilding, and speculative fiction. I had initially intended to contribute my own thoughts to this discussion, but after having perused a number of _other_ opinions on various websites and blogs, I doubt very highly that there is anything I could add that hasn’t already been said a dozen different ways already. So, allow me a moment to rabbit trail from that discussion and go in a slightly different, but related, direction.

One of the claims often made about speculative fiction is that people immerse themselves in it as a way to escape from the realities of life for a little while. I’m comfortable with the notion that at least _some_ people who read speculative fiction do, indeed, read it for this exact purpose. But I’d like to explore the question of why _do_ people read this genre. Surely not everyone who enjoys speculative fiction seeks to escape real life, right? Because wouldn’t that mean that people were so ill-adjusted to real life that they can’t cope with reality?

An anecdote to provide a counter-example:

I’ve always enjoyed speculative fiction. I remember that some of my first real writing assignments in grade school were typically science fictional in nature. I also remember that most of my peers really enjoyed those stories, so I would often read them aloud in front of the whole class.

In writing those stories, I wasn’t trying to escape real life – I simply had a very active imagination. I spent hours with some of my best friends re-enacting episodes from the cartoons _Silverhawks_ and _Thundercats_. I loved anything that involved advanced technology and travel through space, new worlds, alien races. I even had, for a while, an imaginary world of mice and cats, where the mice had very fast vehicles that raced through tunnels and where the cats constantly tried to capture the mice when and where they periodically emerged from one tunnel section to speed toward the next. I would tear through the neighborhood on my bike, imagining myself as one of these mice who was continually able to outwit the cats, albeit always by a slim margin. It wasn’t escapism – it was merely an imaginative kid having fun.

As I’ve grown up, though, my imagination has gotten no less active. I still find advanced technologies and magic to be endlessly fascinating. I think it revolves around natural human curiosity and ambition to see new things and do even more than we can currently. To some extent, I almost think that a fascination with speculative fiction encompasses the hopes and dreams of a better, more productive future. Could be I’m all wet, too, but I think I’m at least partially right.

Sure, I suppose there’s a bit of escapism involved in even _my_ interest in speculative fiction, but it’s certainly not my primary attraction to the genre (I don’t even think it’s particularly high on the list). Mostly, for me, it’s just fun and enjoyable and brings the kid in me out to the surface – and I suspect I’m not alone in this.

So, what is it about speculative fiction that most attracts _you_ to the genre? What do you love about it? And is there anything you hate about it?

Rational/Emotional Logic

A friend “wrote an entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2007/02/01/its-all-in-your-head yesterday that got me thinking – the natural state of so-called ‘rational thinkers’ is, at best, skepticism and, at worst, out-right cynicism and condescension. The rational thinker realizes that there is always something more to learn, something more to know. He realizes that never in his life will he be able to get his mind around everything there is to know and experience; he realizes that any conclusion he comes to is going to be prone to error. Every fact and tidbit is subject to revision as more data is received, processed, and catalogued. Doubt and uncertainty become, to some extent, a way of life because everything the rationalist knows is subject to change, given the right sort of revelations (usually involving new things coming from the scientific community).

So it’s ironic, then, that the more knowledge one possesses, the less rational that person can become. Human beings are, by their very natures, emotional creatures. Everything we do and think involves an emotional factor, an _irrational_ reaction that rationality by itself often cannot predict or counter. Because everything the rationalist knows can be called into question, can be subject to revision, there is an inherent emotional stressor (called doubt) present that often goes unidentified, one that, if left unchecked, can actually undermine the very process of rational thought.

The rationalist attempts to logically work his way through a problem area, using critical thinking as his primary tool. He works from a set of “presuppositions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/26/presuppositionalism-science-and-faith/ based on those bits of knowledge he already possesses and has been able to fit together, leaving any of them open to revision in the event he finds that the new information he has just gleaned sheds some new light on any of those beliefs. He neglects, however, to account for the seemingly random emotional factor, disregarding it as unimportant exactly _because_ it is not ‘rational.’ So, when he is faced with a confrontational factor during this rational process, he is frequently unable to deal with it and locks down his rational system, ultimately by walling himself behind those things he already believes and sees as ‘safe’ and solid because those are the things he has already worked through and believes to be true. As a result any information that was presented in a confrontational manner is disregarded as illogical and irrational – whether or not it actually is – because it evoked an adverse, stressful emotional response. This decision is typically reinforced when it is philosophical in nature, when it is something that rational science cannot itself examine directly.

The presupposed way of thinking is, therefore, reinforced – it’s safe and does not make the rational thinker _feel_ stressed or upset. It is ordered, structured, logical and is thus deemed to be the better conclusion of the two.

Sometimes, then, rational thinking can, in fact, be an emotional reaction and therefore be the more irrational of the two. True rational thought should recognize the presence of emotion and not only prevent it from ruling the thought process but should take it into account and even integrate it.

Presuppositionalism, Science, and Faith

I know I’m probably going to take a beating for writing this, but here goes, anyway.

I suppose you could say that I’m a “pressuppositionalist”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presuppositionalist – I tend to follow an apologetic approach that believes it is impossible to find “meaning in anything where man himself is at the center of the pursuit for truth and understanding”:http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa210.htm. I carry with me a “certain set of core beliefs and assumptions”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2005/04/16/saturday-april-16-2005-at-0812-pm/ that guide and govern, not only those things that I do, but also the way I fit together all knowledge into a cohesive whole.

It’s interesting – when the evolutionist looks around him and witnesses nature, “he sees millions of years of natural selection at work”:http://highlyallochthonous.blogspot.com/2006/10/mountain-musings-2-whats-god-got-to-do.html; when I look around me, I can’t but believe that _something_ had to have put all this in place. This belief is based purely in logic and observation – I just find it impossible to think that chaos at the beginning of time could have somehow found its way into some sense of organization that just naturally progressed over billions and billions of years to what we have now. That, to me, requires a much greater leap of faith than believing in an intelligent creator. From everything I’ve seen and witnessed and studied, the natural state of the universe at large tends toward entropy. Everything that currently exists is moving steadily toward a state of decay and decline, not the other way around. This has ever been the way of things. So I find it much easier to believe that everything started in a state of perfect order that somehow began a downward spiral toward chaos.

Both of these viewpoints are based on a set of presuppositions. For the evolutionist, there is no God, no creator, no intelligent designer, merely a “long process of natural selection”:http://skatje.com/?p=103, with new species adapting to their environments until we have the diversity that we see today. And natural selection makes some amount of sense, since it _is_ directly observable in the world around us – the strongest of the herd survive while the slowest, sickest, and least able to adapt die off, thus strengthening the species as a whole. I just have trouble believing that natural selection could ever have, ultimately, brought humanity into existence from a single-celled bacterium – and I have yet to see compelling evidence that states such. For the creationist (or the IDist), there must have been something intelligent and powerful to have set all this in place, that there is no way for something like this universe in which we live to have come about by chance or some evolutionary process.

Consider this – what if the all that scientific data that has been collected on the origins of the universe and the evolutions of the species can’t be trusted? Secular scientists place a lot of faith in rationality. They place man at the very center of rationality itself by presupposing that systematic, scientific study will eventually unlock all the secrets of the universe – or at least that’s the goal and hope – and this methodology _does_ and has worked in a great many areas of study and research. But what if scientific study as it relates to these two macroscopic issues has been placed in the wrong context? What if, by placing man at the center, by assuming that if we only ask the right questions and study things in as unbiased a manner as possible, what if in doing science in this manner, we are getting it wrong? What if this basic assumption in secular science has led to a great many misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the data we have?

I believe that faith and science _can_, indeed, “complement each other”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/05/christians-and-scientific-discussion/. When “framed in the context of an intelligent designer”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/, the scientific data that seems to lend itself so strongly for evolution yields a very different picture. And contrary to popular belief, scientists who believe in intelligent design _are_ still scientists who work within the constraints of their field. The data I’ve seen on sites like Answers in Genesis is the same data I’ve seen shown on secular science sites, with the same explanations of what it means. The difference is that Christian scientists provide alternative solutions for why some of that data might be misleading. It is unfortunate, in a way, that many of these explanations can never be verified, as they are the result of “unreproducible events”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/05/christians-and-scientific-discussion/#comment-8899. Similarly, neither can secular scientists prove their claims about the origins of the universe for the exact same reason. Despite objections from the secular community, Christian scientists _are_ able to provide a complete, unified response for their conclusions based on their presuppositions. And theirs is a response that makes _much_ more logical, rational sense to me than the origins answers that secular science sometimes provides.

And this is where faith bonds with science. We believe, based on a record given in the Bible, that the Earth looked a certain way during its beginning. Framing scientific data into this context provides an explanation why, for instance, “carbon dating may not be as accurate”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/carbon_dating.asp as is generally assumed by the secular scientific community. Because none of these events that various groups believe in – Creation, Big Bang, Great Flood, evolution – can actually be reproduced and examined first-hand, certain things must, by necessity, be taken with a certain measure of faith. This does not stop scientific study itself, nor should it. Mankind is, by his very nature, curious and so there is a great deal of worth to be derived from such pursuits. But the scientific community, no matter what camp, should bear in mind that personal presuppositions are going to greatly influence the way the collected data is interpreted.

So does secular rationality actually fail when faced with its own presuppositions? We can only wait and see, but I would posit that, yes, it does. Mankind is a “limited”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/09/05/finite-to-infinite-2/, “finite”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/04/05/finite-to-infinite/ creature, and as such our abilities to know and understand will always be subject to that limitation. If science, by itself, reveals anything to us with regard to the origins of everything that is, it will be that we can never know everything and that some ‘secrets’, like how the universe began or where mankind came from, will never be answered by science alone.

But don’t mind me – those’re just my presuppositions talking.

Christians and Scientific Discussion

I stumbled across another interesting “science blog”:http://highlyallochthonous.blogspot.com yesterday, this one focusing primarily on Earth Science. In “this entry”:http://highlyallochthonous.blogspot.com/2006/12/truth-in-science-on-newsnight.html, Chris Rowan makes a couple of statements that all scientists (especially _Christian_ scientists) should take into consideration:

Furthermore, to properly interpret criticism you need a firm theoretical understanding of the theory you’re criticising.

This is one the primary reasons why lately I’ve tried to curtail myself from writing on topics about which I have very little knowledge and expertise. There are few things so embarrassing as making a dogmatic point only to find out you’re wrong and then have to backpedal.

I’ve watched a number of Christians debate certain scientific points, and it quickly becomes evident that these folks clearly have a less-than-adequate understanding of the other side of the argument. So most of the time arguing is spent trying to get the Christian to understand the point that the secular scientist is trying to make, rather than actually debating the merits of the argument itself and the supporting (or damning) evidence from both camps.

And let’s be clear – “evolution can’t explain x, therefore ID” is not an example of the scientific method in action, and “an unspecified intelligence at some point did something to DNA by some unspecified mechanism” is not a scientific hypothesis. When you make some positive hypotheses about the nature of God- sorry, The Designer- and when and how he has done his designing, and show (by experiment, not assertion) that your hypotheses explain the facts better than evolution does, then biologists might start taking ID seriously.

In the field of science, I’ve seen researchers on both sides of a lot of issues fall into exactly this kind of trap. Most commonly, it is the Christian scientists ((Let me be clear here – when I say ‘Christian scientist’, I am _not_ referring to the particular philosophy/religion/cult of Christian Science; I am merely making a distinction between the average secular scientist and the scientist who possesses a belief in a creator God.)) who will make specific claims, only to have them fall under the weight of evidence from evolutionary scientists.

As a result, I have to wonder how much of science from Christian research organizations is founded on actual evidence and research and how much is simply airy exclamations based on theological beliefs. Don’t get me wrong – I do believe the Bible to be accurate, and I believe in a literal, 6-day creation and intelligent design. But I fear that far too many scientists who are Christians try to make science fit into theology. I believe that science and theology _can_ complement one another, even when they seem to be in opposition. ((I attribute this to the fact that mankind’s understanding of the universe is finite and that there is likely no way possible that we will ever be able to understand everything, even under the best and most rigorous scientific study.))

I believe that Christian scientists do a great disservice to both science and theology when they try to force scientific evidence to fit their own personal theologies. I think that fear plays a large part in _why_ they try, though – science and rationality sometimes have a way of shaking one’s faith in the existence of God, especially when they seem to support the traditional Darwinian evolutionary viewpoint. But rather than facing their fear and examining fact, far too many Christian scientists take information gleaned in the scientific community and try to force it to fit a specific mold. Consequently, they come off looking like fools and their research is quickly debunked as garbage. ((For the record, I’m sure that even if they had indisputable evidence backing their claims, there would be those in the scientific community who would laugh and scoff. You always have naysayers.))

At any rate, it’s a little food for thought, and as always, this entry is open for discussion and debate. And I believe that reading through Chris’ site may inspire some interesting and new story ideas.

Bleak

365 tomorrows :: View topic – October 9th, RELUCTANT

Someone over at the 365 Tomorrows forum recently observed that a lot of sci-fi first contact stories end with humanity blowing themselves up (and often the alien beings, as well). And it’s true – sci-fi is, among other things, often a cynical foray into prophetic speculation. We observe humanity in the world around us, we see the violence and degradation proliferating through all cultures on the planet, and then we write our stories and discover that the people in the books look disquietingly like people today. Big surprise, huh?

Not all sci-fi is bleak and cynical, of course, but a large part of it is. Every story is an expression of the author, so some part of the author is conveyed into the setting and tone of the story and the portrayal of the characters. Folks who write sci-fi also tend to be the rational sort, and in my experience rational people also tend to be highly cynical, and we see that in a lot of stories. Sure, most sci-fi is about hope, about seeing mankind stretch his own limits and exceed his boundaries, but we just can’t help but think that in some ways, mankind will never, ever change. The stories themselves are usually no less entertaining for it – after all, every story needs some sort of conflict in order to work well – but that bleak outlook on the future condition of men’s souls will probably always be a major underlying theme in the science fiction genre.

The Literary Sexual Mechanic

“Yesterday I mentioned”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2006/12/13/reality-dysfunctional/ my dislike of the literary sex mechanic. Today I’d like to elaborate on my views on this topic a little. This is a difficult philosophy to put into words, so bear with me as I do my best here.

I realize that a lot of stories and novels contain at least one sex scene. Heck, there’s even a genre of literature that’s about nothing _else_ but sex. And as I also mentioned yesterday, I tend to think that it’s a reflection of our sex-hungry culture. ((In case you missed it, I don’t think this is such a good thing.))

One of the many philosophies of science fiction as a whole is that one day mankind will evolve to the point where he realizes that his need for and reliance upon the mythology of a God or gods is foolish and unnecessary. ((Note: this is, of course, _not_ the philosophy which I espouse.)) As such the speculation is that mankind will throw off those restrictive shackles and fully embrace hedonistic activities, including unrestrained and unprohibitive sexual activities. Technology will, of course, aid in these pursuits due to mankind’s inevitable control over and annihilation of disease and pregnancy, so there will never be a need to worry about consequences. The overarching moral ethic of humanity will think nothing of this way of life, as there will be few hard and fast rules. So it’s natural that a good number of science (and other) fiction novels seem to revolve around this subject.

Trouble is, I tend to think that the use of sex in fiction is a bit of a cheap way ((As in, cheap thrill.)) to get through the story. Rarely have I ever seen in a story a sex scene that was absolutely required – very few stories I’ve ever read had sex as a pivotal plot point. You could either strike the scene completely or rewrite it slightly to eliminate the sex and the story would not suffer adversely. I honestly don’t see the need for fiction to revolve so heavily around the sexual element. Real life already accomplishes that far too effectively.

Granted, I realize this is merely a matter of personal philosophy, so I don’t expect a lot of people to actually agree with me. I just know that the fiction I have read in the past that I felt had the most solid writing and was the most stimulating intellectually was notably lacking in any kind of sexual content. ((Kind of an ironic ‘duh’ statement there, isn’t it?)) The way I see it, sex is really such a small part of what life is all about ((Yes, it’s fun and necessary for the propagation of the species, but I really do think that people devote far too much of their time, attention, and resources to the pursuit of sex, often to the destruction of other, far more important things and people.)), yet mankind has exalted it to a place of utmost importance. I think there are a lot of other, better stories out there to tell, and main characters grappling in the sack with one another all the time aren’t the ones that I think are all that interesting or important. So I find it disheartening when so many of the things I enjoy ultimately only end up coming back to sex.

These are just my thoughts. Take ’em for what they’re worth.

Finite to Infinite

I’ve been delighted that a “friend”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com of mine has joined the ranks of bloggers. He never fails to stimulate my thinking, and his “entry”:http://fadingdust.wordpress.com/2006/09/03/evil-problems/ from the other day is no exception:

bq. As to another application, while studying philosophy here in seminary, I’m curious about Plato & Natural Theology. Philosophy has always been ‘searching’ for a conception of God that is ‘pure-God’, consistent, full, beyond disbelief. But it’s a search without an end. Who’s to say your conception of God “is”? You conception of God will never be The Concept of God, it will always only be Your Conception of God, in-so-far as it’s based only in your head & not in external info (like God’s own self-revelation).

As usual, I’m taking one piece of his monologue and running in a slightly different, but related, direction with it. Yes, I like philosophical rabbit-trails. They’re fun.

He’s correct in saying that no conception of God will ever be consistent, full, or beyond disbelief. Ultimately, none of us can ever have a concept or understanding of God that is comprehensive and total. God is, by definition, infinite; we as humans are, by definition, finite. It is simply impossible to fit the infinite into the finite. The finite will never be able to contain it all, let alone comprehend it or understand it. This is the nature of the created to the Creator. He will always, ever be so much bigger than us that all we will ever be able to understand of Him will be just the very, very tip of a massive iceberg. In point of fact, it is safe to say that our human (finite) understanding of an infinite God will always be infinitely small.

This is exactly the reason why faith is a necessary factor in relating to an infinite God. We have to understand that, since we are infinitely smaller than Him, there will always be an infinite number of things about Him that we simply cannot comprehend or understand, that will be forever beyond our reach to see, know, or experience. This is why faith is absolutely crucial to our ability to relate to an infinite God. We have to trust that God is good, despite the fact that He does not reveal everything to us, knowing that we are simply unable to grasp all that knowledge.

This is also why science will always fail to fully explain everything that exists and happens in the universe. Science is, by its very nature, a finite tool. It is a construct of finite men and so is inherently limited. Because the ability of men to see and know and understand is limited, so too is science limited in the same ways. Science _is_ a useful tool for learning more about that which finite men can experience, but science can never be the all-encompassing, comprehensive tool of study that mankind would like it to be.

Faith and science are not mutually exclusive tools. They are, in fact, complements to one another, particularly when wielded with wisdom and patience.

Paths of Viewpoint

Interesting. Rob “pointed”:http://www.rmcrob.com/?p=3008 me at a link for a Christian philosophy “blog”:http://triablogue.blogspot.com/ that endeavors to address some deep philsophical arguments coming out of at least one corner of the atheistic community. At this point I’ve read only the three entries at the top of the page, but in just the few moments in which I have done this, I’ve followed a link-path that has illuminated what is, to me, an intriguing juxtaposition of viewpoints and reactions.

1) Rob sees Steve as being full of himself. I see Steve simply as knowing what he believes so well that he is able to defend his beliefs very eloquently from a philosophical viewpoint.

2) Both Steve and John Loftus (whom Steve has been going head-to-head with lately) see each other as taking snippets of the others’ arguments and presenting them out of context and in so doing twisting the arguments to put words in each others’ mouths.

3) John has added an “entry”:http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2006/12/poisoning-well.html to his “blog”:http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ (shared with several other authors) ranting about how some people on the web are “poison[ing] the well.” I’m sure he had Steve in mind when he wrote that, particularly since John left a comment on his site today. What I find interesting is that John wrote that rant on his own site, then neglected to disallow the option for anyone to comment or leave feedback.

As I said, interesting. Both Steve and John just got added to my blogroll and daily reading list. I’ve always enjoyed good philosophical discussion and being prompted to think deeply on some of the weightier matters of life and faith. I think I’ll follow both these men for a little while and see what takes place in their discussions. Heck, I may even opt to contribute, and I’m sure there will probably be fodder for writing some things of my own here.