Tag Archives: understanding

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.

Ducks – In a Row or Otherwise

Willful Grace: And Your Point Is?

Grace has written another wonderful article that hits you right in that soft, sensitive spot of pride. Ouch. But it does give me pause to finally write about a topic that’s been on my list for a while now and that I just haven’t quite found time to talk about yet. So, before I get started, go read what grace has to say (and comment if you feel led to do so) and then come back and we’ll chat a bit further on the subject.

Go on, go. I’ll wait right here. Go, now, I mean it!

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Done? Wonderful. Now here’s my two bits on the topic:

It is impossible to judge a man until you’ve walked in his shoes for a while. This is a phrase that we are probably all familiar with, yet it is also one that most of us conveniently forget. We forget that the reasons for an individual’s actions are usually multifaceted and complex. It is only in understanding the _person_ that we are able to understand his _actions_. Orson Scott Card points to this complicated interpersonal relationship in his _Ender_ series, where the brilliant Ender Wiggin must defeat his enemies by understanding them so thoroughly he is able to predict what they will do and why. In so doing, however, Ender also comes to love the very enemy he destroys because he knows and sees them as they see themselves.

Most of us are oh so quick to pass judgment on another. We see the way a person dresses, the way they speak, the way they act and behave, and we pass judgment on them, particularly if we disapprove. The individual never gets a chance to prove the reasons for his actions because we have already decided for ourselves that they are not worth more than the dirt on the bottom of our shoes.

There are two similar but subtly nuanced ways in which we judge an individual. First, we cannot judge what a person is _made_ of until we have walked in their shoes. To put it a different way, we can’t know what drives them, what motivates them, what inspires them to do certain things or act in certain ways, until we have spent some time trying to understand what their needs are, what dreams they hold and have, what ideals are important enough to them to shape their behavior. We tend to assume that everyone else is like us, that they have the same values we do, that they think and believe the same way we do. We project our own personality traits onto these other people and then expect them to act and behave the same way we would, and when they don’t, then we criticize and condemn them and push them in a category that we consider to be the Untouchables. Yet, when we are (rarely) faced with the opportunity to learn the _true_ motives behind an individual’s actions and discover that they are driven by, say, desperation, for example, we are ashamed of rushing into judgment and feel guilty for not considering other alternatives for this person’s behavior.

The other way in which we judge was hinted at in the previous paragraph. We cannot pass judgment on an individual until we truly know and understand the _why_ of their actions. Now, we are all aware that we should not judge, yet we still do so. It’s part of our fallen nature, I think, to pass judgment on another, rather than simply seeing them as a fellow human being. The interesting thing about learning what a person is _really_ about is that it usually forces us to revise our judgment of them. We have categorized them as Untouchable, as someone to be shunned because they did or said something that we consider shameful. It’s not fair because we would be terribly upset if someone were to do the same to us, yet we find ourselves falling into that trap all too easily. But when we find out _why_ the individual in question did something, we realize that we might just as easily have acted in the exact same manner for the exact same reasons. We find that our judgment was unjust and unfair, and we (hopefully) begin to view this person in a new light – with compassion, mercy, and grace.

We cannot judge what a person is made of or judge the justness of their behavior until we have walked a day (or more) in their shoes, until we have seen the world as they see it, through their eyes, through their need, through their desperation. We would want others to take the time to try to understand the motives behind our own actions. Why, then, can we not extend the same courtesy to others, no matter how Untouchable we may _feel_ they are?

Embrace the Outcasts

I’m not entirely sure I understand the problem. Isn’t the Church supposed to be the epitomy of grace, love, and understanding? Then, why are there so “many”:http://scatteredwords.com/ who are so alienated from Christians, who “feel”:http://willfulgrace.blogspot.com/2005/10/my-blog.html as though they have to keep their struggles secret? Aren’t we supposed to be the _first_ ones to reach out to those in need so that we may provide support, aid, and comfort? Yet, one of the biggest areas of ministry is being ignored and overlooked in so many of our churches. Tim Wilkins, founder and CEO of “Cross Ministry”:http://www.crossministry.org/index.htm and a former homosexual has devoted his life to reaching out to the homosexual community. One of the most important pieces of wisdom he provides is that the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, but righteousness. The reason that this is so key is that most Christians seem to think that the way to bring a homosexual to God is by turning them into heterosexuals. Unfortunately, this approach has never worked, but apparently few ever realize this. This creates a certain level of pressure on the struggling homosexual, who is already wrestling with unwanted attractions to members of his or her own gender. Coupled with the discomfort of heterosexual Christians who are not sure how to relate to and interact with the homosexual, this generates a lot of tension, further alienating the homosexual who finds it easier to stay away than to continue interacting with ineffective Christians.

Most unbelievers are quick to “accuse”:http://btalbot.blogspot.com/2004/06/fear-and-self-loathing-in-dc-is-topic.html Christians who are wrestling to overcome homosexuality of being fakes, frauds, and pawns of the ex-gay movement. They simply “do not understand”:http://www.deeperwants.com/cul1/homeworlds/journal/archives/002784.html that homosexuality is wrong, that God has something better in mind, that it _is_ actually possible to overcome homosexuality and live a life of righteousness. Tim Wilkins is a prime example of what God’s power can do in a person’s life.

As a result of Christian impotency in ministry to the homosexual (as well as those who respond with “condemnation”:http://dyinginchrist.blogspot.com/2005/12/homosexual-agenda-most-americans-do.html and “anger”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/index.php/archives/64/) and the ridicule that originates from the unbelieving community, the struggling homosexual is left with no support group. He is rejected at every front, and so the only solace is to hide his ‘secret’ from everyone but God and himself. It is so refreshing and encouraging to “hear”:http://scatteredwords.com/d/2005/12/light_years.php about good groups of Christians who are willing to come alongside the struggling homosexual and embrace him — physically, as well as emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically — accepting him as he is and helping him to work through his struggle. So few Christians are able to overcome their own discomfort (a product, I believe, of the lackadaisical society in which we live) to reach out to the homosexual, and that is why I support and approve of organizations like Cross Ministry, who work to jostle people out of their complacency and provide teaching and encouragement and a summons to righteous living. They take a lot of flak from every side, sadly, and theirs is a difficult job, but they provide a model for us all by which we should live.

We as Christians need to make a concerted effort to ignore our discomfitures and model ourselves more after Christ by reaching out to those whom we may consider undesirable but who are in such a state of need and support and encouragement and to whom Christ has mandated we reach out. God loves them. Shouldn’t we also?

In the Background

Christianity is a faith, I believe, that functions in the background. Or at least it should. The Christian faith is a personal one. It functions as the relationship of individual to Deity, but it is also a function of individual to individual. The most effective dissemination of the Gospel has always been on a one-to-one basis. Granted, God has blessed many great evangelists over the years with widespread ministries, leading hundreds and thousands to Christ at a time. But I think the numbers would show that the greatest spread of the Word has been through personal relationships with each other, with letting the Christian lifestyle speak volumes, with communicating our hope in casual conversation. When Christians take the Gospel to the public arena, particularly the political arena, the message somehow gets tainted and stilted. In that realm emotions like fear flavor the good news in a way that is often harmful because political-religious concerns involve protecting the right to worship. That fear drives that political action, and what starts as a movement to protect freedom of worship almost turns into a blanket action to forcefully establish a state religion, something that the founding fathers were very careful to protect against. (Of course, there are also those who use their beliefs to foster an attitude of superiority, who allow that attitude to breed anger, hatred, and bitterness, but those are the individuals that need to be separated from the whole because they clearly do not aid the Body. They are the cancer that brings the Body down and should removed.)

Christianity is a faith that operates best in the background. Our faith should be visible, but not obnoxiously so. Our faith should be presented with love and compassion but also with patience and understanding, two virtues that I think are all too often forgotten or ignored. No one can be forced to believe in Christ or in God, yet the practice of our faith should be compelling and awe-inspiring. This is why it is so important to develop active relationships with other people — with other Christians for the strengthening of our faith and the renewal of our spirits, and with unbelievers so that we may demonstrate with our lives and testify with our lips the power of the hope that is in us. Let us relate our hope to others and build the Kingdom one life at a time.

What’s black and white and gray all over?

Truth. Well, sort of. Honestly, I think that all truth is actually very much black and white, and if it seems to be more of a gray issue, it is simply a demonstration of the limitations of human
knowledge and understanding. Some truths are really very basic, very cut-and-dried, things like, “Gravity is what holds me down,” and “If I touch this hot stove, I’ll get burned.” Others often seem to be purely black and white and end up looking more gray the closer the individual looks. The trouble is that so many things in life involve levels of complexity that quickly overwhelm the capacity of the human mind to process. Human behaviors may seem relatively
straightforward, and we may think we understand the motivation for why one does something, only to find out upon breaking the issue down that we really don’t understand it at all (or, at least, as much as we thought we did). Even the person involved in the behavior itself may not fully understand everything that goes into their own motivation, which is often, I believe, why there is so much confusion in so many people’s lives.

It is so very easy to fall into the trap of using stereotypes and generalizations as definitive answers for any topic or issue. The trouble is that they are only ever just guidelines, general statements of human behavior. People do A because of B. This group will react in such-and-such a way because of such-and-such motivations. There’s your black and white. The gray is examining individual motivations in said groups. Ultimately you will (typcially) find that every individual acted in a similar way for similar, yet different, reasons. And that is where you find that the strength of stereotypes and generalizations to describe behavior breaks down. The irony is that the generalization doesn’t actually generalize all that well. Every individual within the group proves to be the exception to the rule. People will judge an entire group based solely on a stereotype (e.g. “Christians are horrible people because they are so judgmental.”) without ever taking the time to learn and understand that so often the stereotype doesn’t
apply to nearly as many individuals as one might think. Stereotypes and generalizations do an adequate, though ultimately very limited, job of describing group behavior (though perhaps not the motivations behind said behavior) but do a less than adequate job of describing individual
behavior within said group (duh, right?). Clearly, the complexities of the human psyche make it seem as though the truth of the issue is an issue of grayness.

Limitations of knowledge and understanding can gray-out truth. Deliberate action to gray-out truth is an additional factor. There are some who feel threatened by truth. These are individuals who wish to live their lives in their own way and are only free to do so because the ‘truth’ of their lives is appropriately gray enough to let them interpret it however they see fit. These are
the sort who, as soon as an individual begins to try to make sense out of the grayness and move it more toward black-and-whiteness, are quick to try to discredit the individual or to introduce a new level of complexity to the issue in an effort to keep the issue within a
comfortable level of gray. In other words, they deliberately sabotage the effort to achieve understanding. In doing so, they are able to remain within their own comfort zone and continue living life as they see fit because, for them, truth is whatever you make of it.

Is it any wonder that our society is in the place in which we find it? Religion and politics are topics in which it seems nearly impossible to know what is true because such things as debates about semantics, character defamations, complex contributors to situations and behaviors get in the way of making sense out of the gray. Science, as well, often ends up in the realm of the gray, with one study proving a finding where another study disproves the same finding. And in all places, personal and political motivations muddy the waters appropriately so that it seems that the truth can never be truly known, only guessed at, only interpreted, only approximated. Postmodernism, political correctness, and ‘tolerance’ are the results, a dwelling in the land of the gray with black-and-white, clear-cut truth little more than a pipe dream to those who wish to know it.