The Visceral Nature of Truth

Taking a step back from the clamor on social media, from the pundits and news sources, which have rarely been so vitriolic, righteous and passionate since the last presidential election, the more distant perspective gives me pause. One thing rings out to me as truth in the cacophony of disparate voices; it seems that everyone believes passionately that truth is truth, and truth is objective and people should know what truth is.

Yet, there is so much disagreement, and so many shades of disagreement. There is a virtual panoply of disagreement on all subjects, an almost infinite array of shades of disagreement even on matters on which some agreement can be found. But there is one common denominator.

The common denominator is that we all seem to believe that truth exists and that truth is objective. Continue reading

The Myth of Objectivity

[Reprinted with permission from Navigating By Faith]

Thoughtful and thought-provoking articles are a source for many articles I write. Those two characteristics are not always exemplified in the same single article, but an article by Trent Horn, Neil DeGrasse Tyson Shows Why Science Can’t Build a Utopia[1], is an exception.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson, of course, is the outspoken agnostic ambassador of science. The article was precipitated by Tyson’s tweet: “Earth needs a virtual country: #Rationalia, with a one-line Constitution: All policy shall be based on the weight of evidence.”[2] And Horn counter-tweeted: “@neiltyson ‘Rationalia’ is as useless as ‘Correctistan,’ or a country whose constitution says, ‘Always make the correct decisions.’”

To illustrate what he means by his counter-tweet, the author used the example of a driverless car. Fatalities have already happened with them and will undoubtedly happen again. That isn’t the point, though. The point is this: how should they be programmed when confronted with two options – to run over pedestrians or run into an object that may kill the passengers?

How does Rationalia weigh the evidence to determine which is the best course? Continue reading

Finely-Tuned For Love

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Science, philosophy and faith are each interesting subjects in themselves and even more interesting when considered together. In this piece, we take a quick look at the philosophical principles of determinism, necessity and chance, springboard to consideration of the observations of Stephen Hawking on the subject of determinism and free will, and finish with  some observations about faith and love.

We start with determinism, defined as “the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.” Many modern scientists and philosophers alike believe we live in a world that is deterministic. Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Kraus, Daniel Dennet and others ascribe to this view.

In his show Genius, in which Stephen Hawking walks three “average” people through a series of exercises that lead them to understand great, nuanced principles of science, he agrees that the universe, including people, are determined by the laws of physics. He asserts that, if we could know where every cog in the machine of the universe is at any one moment, the laws of physics would allow us to know what would happen at any point in time. Therefore, Hawking  says, free will is an illusion.

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Science, Faith and Semantics

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Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist and author, debated John Lennox, the Oxford mathematician and philosopher of science, in 2010.  This was the first of the Dawkins Lennox debates. Both men were both well-spoken and well-suited for the task.

Aside from the usual issues and points that are made in these sorts of debates about faith and science, some nuances emerge that I thought were interesting to consider. I highlight one particular interchange in particular.

Dawkins asserted, like an axiom, that faith is belief with no evidence (implying that faith is the antithesis of reason). Not surprisingly, Lennox disagreed. With a such a fundamental disagreement on the definition of faith, it seems to me, the focus should have been on the definition of “faith” – but it wasn’t.

Dawkins claimed that faith would not be faith if it was rational and evidence-based. In other words, Dawkins defined faith, in its very essence, as the absence of reason and evidence.

Lennox, on the other hand, described faith as the willingness to repose belief, trust and commitment in something for which there is evidence, but no “proof” (as in mathematical proof). In other words, Lennox describes faith as confidence in reason and evidence.

The way Dawkins defines faith it is the opposite of reason, while Lennox harmonizes them so that one (faith) emerges from the other (reason). Who is right? Continue reading

Understanding in the Gaps

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Science and religion, depending on the perspective, enjoy a beautiful (or contentious) marriage or have been the victors (or victims) of a bitter divorce in the modern world.  Debates on science and religion dot the Internet, providing plenty of food for fodder no matter which side of the family one might identify with.

One such debate involves Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist and author from Oxford and his Oxford fellow, John Lennox, the mathematician and philosopher of science. Both men are marvelously well spoken and present their competing views eloquently and  convincingly, though they cannot both be right in their ultimate positions.

The debate, which uses Dawkin’s book, the God Delusion, as the subject matter,  is quite long, not the usual fare in the MTV age of tweets and soundbites, but well worth taking the time to listen and watch. They begin with biographical information and early influences that inform their worldviews. The meat of the debate uses statements from Dawkins’ book as the outline.

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Atheism, Free Thinking and Common Sense

Badlands by Tianna Messier

Photo by Tianna Messier

“The late Christopher Hitchens, when asked does he believe in free will, replied, ‘I have no choice.’ It’s a question I dread, actually, because I don’t have a very well thought out view about it. I have a materialist view of the world. I think that things are determined in a rational way by antecedent events. And so, that commits me to the view that when I think that I have free will, and I think that I am exercising free choice, I am deluding myself. My brain states are determined by physical events, and yet that seems to contradict, to go against, the very powerful subjective impression that we all have that we do have free will.”

Richard Dawkins (from FREE WILL – Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins)

I am reminded of the statements of atheists committed (dogmatically) to an evolutionary theory of the origins of life who admit, in moments of candor, that the world looks as if it were designed. Still, the obvious, natural explanation is discarded for complex, highly nuanced explanations of origins of the world we know. Not that the truth is always simple. It isn’t.

But, we have a tendency to subscribe to the esoteric explanations of scholars because scholars are esoteric and, well, scholarly. Not that evolution is esoteric, at least not anymore. But, we tend to take scholarly, and particularly scientific analyses, on face value as a objective findings of objective people (because we tend to think that scientists are necessarily objective).

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