Tag Archives: rationality

Riposte: Christians for Sanity

bq. I’ve said it many times before: creationism is just wrong, and one group that should be fighting it hardest is Christians. They are letting a vocal minority usurp their religion, and if they don’t speak up they run the risk of letting those people speak for them. (Source: “Bad Astronomy Blog”:http://www.badastronomy.com/bablog/2007/02/10/christians-for-sanity/)

Seriously? No, really – _seriously?!_ The group that should be fighting creationism the hardest is Christians? I disagree — vehemently. The folks who should be _supporting_ creationism most ardently are Christians – despite the claim made above, I don’t believe that creationists are even remotely in the minority of Christian faith (though I suppose I could be wrong – a lot could have changed while I wasn’t paying attention).

Now, while I wouldn’t say that the Bible should necessarily be “interpreted literally”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2005/03/24/thursday-march-24-2005-at-0241-pm/#comment-1288 (there’s a lot of metaphor, poetry, and storytelling in there where literal interpretation would actually cause understanding to break down), I _do_ believe that it is inerrant. I also believe in a literal six-day creation cycle – the original texts are quite clear on this point. The Hebrew is very specific about the intended meaning. There is no cultural context would force a different interpretation of the events described in the first chapter of Genesis. There’s no poetry, no storytelling, no figurative speech contained in those first few pages.

Scientific claims run counter to the Biblical explanation of the universe and mankind’s origins. It’s been a continual source of contention for decades — and it always will be. But the folks over at “Answers in Genesis”:http://www.answersingenesis.org/ provide solid apologetical responses to the claims of secular science, answers that, despite secular science’s claims to contrary, are well-thought out, answers that take science facts, data, and evidence into consideration, and yes, answers that are even rational and logical.

I know how antagonistic secular science is toward all concept of creation and intelligent design — and I’m even fine with that. You can please everyone, and people who ardently believe a certain ideal become very angry and hateful toward people who believe differently than them (and sadly, this also applies to many Christians). I respect the belief that Christians should be on the front lines opposing creationism; it’s an opinion, but nothing more. But those Christians who “celebrate Darwin Day”:http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11145-christian-faith-in-the-iotheri-good-book.html are, I believe, grossly and dangerously in error. I believe that a Christian _can_ believe in evolution and the Big Bang and still be a Christian, but I believe that their beliefs with regard to origins theory are very, very wrong.

Call me a goofy whacko, if you will (oh, you already have?), but you simply can’t tell me all this around us came about by accident, not even by citing the “2nd law of thermodynamics”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/01/26/presuppositionalism-science-and-faith/#comment-10675 at me. I recognize the value of science and acknowledge its importance. But I don’t believe that traditional secular science has a prayer (I just love irony) of explaining the origins of this universe or of mankind. It’s simply too limited and conducted by a creature that is itself far too limited to explain or understand something that big and complex.

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.

Point of Reference

AFA – Should Congress pass a law making BC/AD the official method of dating time?

I’ve “mentioned”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=38 before how I believe that Christians have a bad habit of picking their political battles unwisely. I actually removed myself from the AFA(American Family Assocation) mailing list because of this. Most of the email I was receiving from this list pertained to issues that I felt were gross over-reactions to pretty trivial issues.

Periodically, some of their mailings still make it to my inbox via forwards from other people I know. I was actually a little bit irked about the one that arrived this morning. “Allegedly”:http://www.afa.net/petitions/bcad/takesurvey.asp, the Kentucky Board of Education has voted to replace the traditional BC/AD date system with the newer secular system of BCE(Before Common Era)/CE. This sort of move would not surprise me much, since I’ve heard talk before of removing the current system. ((Supposedly, BC and AD are offensive to certain people groups and harmful to society at large because of its foundation and basis in Christianity, a claim that I find to be dubious, at best.))

What troubles me the most about this AFA survey is that it provides absolutely no external sources or information, other than what information they provide on their website. There are no links to news articles or official documents relating to this alleged decision. The vote may have been made, but even a Google search on the topic has picked up no information whatsoever. All I have to go on here is the AFA’s word that this decision has been made. So, my first big problem here is that there is no way to validate this bit of news.

The second big problem I have with this survey is the suggestion that Congress pass legislation to keep the BC/AD dating system as the national standard, which would effectively countermand any state decisions that would opt for the secular BCE/CE system. And here we see why I believe we as Christians typically pick our political battles unwisely. The rationale for this suggestion?

bq. It also opens the door for the ACLU to find a liberal activist judge who will forcefully remove the use of BC and AD. The ACLU types will claim that the use of BC and AD are a violation of the First Amendment because it dates history based on the birth of Christ.

I’m sorry, but this smacks of irrational panic to me. The question I would pose is this – what possible impact could even this _possible_ future outcome have on the practice of my own faith? Switching from a BC/AD system to a BCE/CE system does not change the fact that Christ was born about 2000 years ago, and it does not remove my right to openly practice my faith (nor do I see any way in which this decision could potentially be used to strip me of that right). And even the AFA survey states that this system will be _added to_ the current one. It won’t simply replace it.

Personally, I don’t see how this issue will affect anything in our daily lives. The current system used as a dividing line in historical dates is all but meaningless now as it is. Very, very few people think about a date containing either BC or AD and instantly think, “Oh! This happened this-many years before/after the birth of Christ!” It’s merely a reference to a particular point in history that gives us some way to mark the passage of time. I highly doubt that replacing it with a new one will have _that_ huge of an effect on the way we do business. ((For the record, I voted ‘no’ on the survey and managed to do so without including any personal information that would get me back on their mailing list.))

Finite to Infinite

Science and rationality cannot _disprove_ the existence of God, just as they cannot _prove_ the existence of God because God is far larger than anything that exists. Nothing that we have available to us can ever explain something that large. It’s just like the way the “created”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=498 can never be anything but less than the Creator. Science and rationality are so much smaller than the Creator that they cannot ever hope to prove, let alone explain, His existence. Science and rationality are products of a limited universe. There are boundaries, by definition, on what we can see and know. God, on the other hand, the Creator, is by His very nature, by His very definition, infinite and boundless. It’s kind of like trying to fit a miscroscopic point to an infinitely large three-dimensional figure – it simply cannot be done. The finite point can never be made to fit to an infinite figure because by its very nature it is limited, finite. So science and rationality are to God. They are the finite point, and God is the infinite figure. Science and rationality and philosophy and theology all are limited because they must be able to fit inside the finite, and thus limited, minds of finite, and thus limited, men. So they, by their very nature, will only ever be able to describe an infinitely miniscule part of an infinite being. If you find any or all of these woefully lacking in their ability to describe and define an infinite God, it is because they _are_ woefully lacking, as ever will they always be woefully lacking.

Yet, God allows us, His finite created beings, to know and understand some miniscule part of Himself. How “wild”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/?p=467 is _that_?

Standards of Truth and Righteousness

I continue to be befuddled by those who would claim that absolute truth does not and cannot exist. I am also somewhat bemused by this because I find such individuals cannot remain true to their own arguments and philosophies. Their arguments claim that it is impossible to know truth because every determination of what is true is tainted and colored by the interpretation of that truth and by one’s own experiences, thus leading to many different understandings of what that truth actually says and means. Naturally, the more complicated the concept, the greater the deviation in understanding that truth (though I would posit that a complex truth is really actually made up of many smaller, individual truths, which easily understood separately, may combine to create a concept whose relationship between the smaller truths may be more difficult to observe and determine, yet not negating the truth of either the smaller truths or that of the composite truth).

Now, I have also talked with non-absolutists (as I will refer to them here) who have said that such-and-such act is or was wrong or evil. My response then becomes, Well, how do you do know? By what standard do you compare such an act to determine its level of good or evil, or its degree of rightness or wrongness? For anything to be considered in terms of morality (and the need to conceive of the world in such terms is obvious and necessary and inherent in all men, as evidenced by the natural inclination to establish rules and laws in order to keep the peace), there must be an absolute standard by which that morality can be measured. In the world of weights and measures, for instance, there are standards for all units — an object measured out to be the standard for the gram, or the liter, or the centimeter, etc. All all larger units are based upon these smaller, more basic standards so that measurement around the world may be consistent and uniform. It is the same with truth and morality. The rub seems to come in because these are more abstract concepts, not observable through any of the five senses. Yet the world functions in terms of morality, as it must in order to prevent its descent into anarachy and chaos.

So, there must be some standard for truth that is knowable and attainable and that can be standardized across the entire population. Men have tried using rationality as a basis for determining truth, and ultimately they are able only to return to the self as a standard, since that is the very origin of the rational mind, themselves a shifting morass of thoughts, ideas, emotions, and opinions. It should be obvious that this is not an ideal reference point due to that very continuous shift. Therefore, the standard of truth must lie elsewhere.

Science itself is not an adequate standard of truth. It is an ever-changing source of knowledge as its observations become more acute and the knowledge gleaned from its studied more comprehensive. And science addresses only those things that are directly observable; there is no ability for it to address the truth of good and evil, moral and immoral, those concepts that are often most necessary for the daily exercise of living. Therefore, the standard of truth must lie elsewhere.

Creation is not equipped to answer the truth of good and evil, to establish standards of moral and immoral, much for the same reasons as science cannot. Creation is observable and supplies only those truths that we can see, even though we may not be able to understand them fully. It has no voice to speak to the abstract, to the intellectual knowledge that governs the behavior of men. Therefore, the standard of truth must lie elsewhere.

So, the standard for truth would most likely belong to a sentient being, one gifted with a mind to fully know the secrets, both of the universe and of the ways of mankind, with a vision of the whole so complete that it could speak the knowledge into the hearts and minds of men, teaching them how they should live so that they may act with wisdom and live at peace with each other. Such an individual cannot be found among men, creatures who by their very definition are confined to and limited by the world they inhabit. Only an individual who is outside of the known universe, yet lives within it so as to interact with it, would be able to hold the entirety of it within their mind and be able to know it so completely as to speak the truth into it that would give men a standard by which they could govern their lives. This being would have to be a personal being, for no other would be able to establish the relationship with mankind to communicate the truth by which men may live.

There is One who claims to be all this and more, and who may be determined, through the testing of His precepts, to be the absolute standard of all truth. He is wise and all-knowing, greater than all existence, personal and knowable. His words are the truth and the way of life. His name is Jehovah.

Disbelief At Differing Conclusions

One of the things that I think I find most irritating is when people make the assumption that, just because you hold a different viewpoint than them, you 1) must be mis- or underinformed; 2) must be spouting the standard ‘party’ line; and 3) must be unable to think for yourself, able only to blindly accept and regurgitate the viewpoint you’ve been taught all your life, since anyone who can and does think for themself would just _have_ to come to the same conclusion they hold. There is no room in these people’s minds that someone could look at the same evidence they have seen, experience the same events, or look at the same issues and still come to a _different_ conclusion about all those things. The same people who tell you to use your head and _think_ for a change are the same people who seem incapable of doing so themselves, because surely if they were to actually think about _this_ topic long enough, they would realize that people who think do often come up with different conclusions.

I see this phenomenon all the time in the world of politics and in the world of religion. One party touts their viewpoint and accuses the other party of being blind and of not thinking, so sure are they that if the other party were to think, they would have no choice but to embrace their own viewpoint. (How’s _that_ for a contradiction in terms, since so many of these people also do not believe in absolute truth?) Christians are continually accused of this by their antagonists. Part of this is because a lot of Christians _don’t_ think, _don’t_ exercise critical analysis, _do_ blindly accept answers they have never personally investigated. But part of this is simply unbelievers being unable to entertain the idea that anyone intelligent could possibly ever disagree with them. The latter we can do nothing about, but the former is something that anyone and everyone can continually work on. This is part of why I, personally, write, since the feedback I receive continually exposes me to new ideas and new questions. I, for one, believe that both faith and critical thinking _can_ co-exist, a notion at which many unbelievers scoff. Faith, by itself, can be just as blinding as rationality left to its own ends. I have seen people argue with incontrovertible scientific evidence, simply on the basis of their ‘faith’ (e.g. the Earth is flat, not round). Likewise, there are supernatural occurences that happen on a daily basis all around the world that science and rationality are wont to explain (e.g. keys that float through midair in someone’s home). This is why I believe that God asks us to first believe on Him, in faith, then provides us with further information, both about Himself and about this world around us and tells us that we should explore His creation.

Faith, without rationality, is dead; likewise, rationality, without faith, provides only half the answer. Only when the two meet and supplement one another can balance be found.

Open Mind

It’s interesting to me that the word ‘open-minded’ has been paired with ‘rational’ and ‘pragmatic’ in the second frame of this comic strip. The reason for this is that ‘open-minded’ and ‘rational’ are actually on opposite ends of the continuum from one another. The word ‘open-minded’ is a product of our post-modern culture, where to settle into one opinion on a topic is to be considered ‘narrow’ and ‘close-minded’ and ‘intolerant.’ ‘Rational,’ on the other hand, is a remnant of modernism, where facts can be sifted through the sieve of the mind and truth discovered. Absolute truth. ‘Open-minded’ lends itself to relative truth or NO truth; ‘rational’ lends itself to the discovery of a single, absolute truth. So, to find these two words paired in the same sentence as complementary to one another is something I find VERY interesting…..

You Can’t Force Unity

Man’s search for a unified body of knowledge has led to a “forcing” of that unity because he has not been able to attain it in any rational sort of way, and he has forced this unity to encompass all of life and all of knowledge. Man has been reduced to a machine, with no freedom, just a function of the elements. And yet we know that free will exists, for Man operates against what would seem logical and against what would seem to be the appropriate response to a specific stimulus. And the modern modern scientist would simply nod and smile and insist that this is still not freedom, that there must be an element of which we are unaware which causes the response, for Man is a machine, determined by Fate or the environment or whatever else to behave in a certain way.

Thought based upon a chapter by Francis Schaeffer in Escape from Reason.