Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Reason Rally II

Atheists & Secularists held a “Reason Rally” in D.C. on March 24th. Ironically, God is the source of reason and any true reason rally would ultimately lead to Him. Since the theme of this blog is Faith & Reason, I thought I’d write-up a reason rally of my own.

We had an incredible warm spell in March in the Chicago area. One sunny eighty-five degree day I was driving down a familiar road, when I saw a man in his front yard with some Christmas lights. I thought to myself, “It’s a bit late, but what a perfect day to take down Christmas lights.” I then began to think; maybe he was not a bit late, but a lot early putting up his lights for next Christmas.
I did not actually observe him taking down the lights, but only holding the lights. Taking the lights down was an assumption on my part. Driving by, I had no way to know or prove what he was doing or not doing with the lights. However, based on certain premises from past experience, it would be MORE reasonable to say the man was taking down the lights and LESS reasonable to say he was putting them up, although both are within the realm of possibility. (Yes, I often have strange thoughts like this).
Other examples of such things:
• Speaking of driving, what do we do as we approach a green light? We drive through it assuming the other drivers on each corner of the intersection will stop on red. The red light is in no way connected to their brakes and there is nothing physically stopping them from running the light, but it is more reasonable to think a car will stop at a red light and less reasonable to think a car will run a red light, although both are within the realm of possibility.
• Are your parents really your parents? Suppose you had no access to a birth certificate or DNA test and you don't even look like them. Your parents say they are your real biological parents, but you have no proof. Why do you believe them? If you have learned to trust your parents over the years, it is more reasonable to believe them and less reasonable to assume they are lying.
• How about this one? Someone suffering from paranoia says, “Everyone wants to kill me.” You respond, “I don’t want to kill you."  The person answers, “Of course you would say that to keep your evil plan a secret.” There is some logic there, but the premise is unreasonable.
There are many things in life we simply cannot prove; some argue that we cannot prove anything at all. We certainly cannot prove things like dogmas, philosophies, ideologies, morals, values, goodness, badness, justice, purpose, etc. using a scientific method, so what should we do? Premises are certainly a key; given certain premises we should logically move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable. Also, the more assumptions one needs to make a premise true, and the more complex they are, the less reasonable the premise becomes.
For the atheist, a premise needs to be that the universe comes from nothing for the purpose of nothing. More specifically, it comes from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose. This is a good definition of an accident; the universe is a perfectly fine tuned accident.
Making something from nothing actually defies the laws of physics and we must be careful not to redefine “nothing” to be some scientific “something”. Also, something unintelligent or non-rational making or becoming something rational under its own power and direction contradicts our general experience. I would need to call either of these two unreasonable or at least LESS reasonable when comparing to what St. Thomas Aquinas proposes in his contingency theory for example. See posts Aquinas Regarding Contingency & Fr. Spitzer on the Existence of God. 
Scientism holds that truth can ONLY be found through the scientific method. This poses a problem because we cannot use the scientific method to prove the previous sentence is true. This defies a principle in logic called the principle of non-contradiction. Bible Christians hold that we know what is true through the bible ALONE. The difficulty here is that this teaching cannot be found in the bible, so it is unbiblical. This too fails the principle of non-contraction. See post All Statements are False.
This brings us to the Church in the modern world. Those who do not study Catholicism do not understand the premises for what is taught. From the existence of God to the teachings on Mary, one premise logically flows to the next. For example, let’s look at Mary’s title “Queen of Heaven”.  If we accept the premise that the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament, then we can see how the ancient Kingdom of Israel foreshadows the new Kingdom of Christ, and the King of Israel foreshadows Christ the King of Heaven.  In the ancient Kingdom of Israel, the queen was always the mother of the king (not the wife or wives) and part of her role was to bring petitions to the king (see 1 Kings 2:13-20). Given this premise, it is reasonable to say Mary is the Queen of Heaven and part of her role is to bring our petitions to Christ, in fact, it would be strange if it were otherwise.

Many run with the assumption that Church teaching is a bunch superstitious hooey from the dark ages; this then becomes a premise.  Once we have this premise, Catholicism is instantly dismissed. As a result, we search elsewhere for ultimate truths. We look to other Christian denominations, religions of the East, science or make-up our own. How did we become so arrogant that we automatically dismiss centuries of careful thinking from thousands (millions?) of Catholic intellects without even objectively exploring the premises?  
Bishop Sheen once said that we all have “a philosophy”. We all believe things we can't prove. Spend time exploring the premises for your beliefs. What assumptions are you making for your premises to be true? How complex are they? Always ask “why?” Are you using true reason or reason based only on the premises/assumptions you like best?


Bishop Fulton Sheen

24 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Anonymous,
      We can have a discussion, but I don’t allow insults on the blog. Peace be with you.

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  2. Can any scientist define time? Of course, not in terms of how we measure it or conceieve it, but in true scientific terms. If we cannot define it accurately can we say that it does not exist?

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    1. I would just add that time is very measurable, so it lends itself well in the scientific method. But let’s take morality for example; I cannot say or measure that your morality is a 9.70 on the “morality meter” and mine is an 8.50. We can’t use a scientific method, but I think most people agree that morality does actually exist.

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    2. Thanks Ben. Just wondering whether we are measuring time or are we measuring the change that occurs because of the existence of time. Like gravity! We measure the pulling force it exerts but not the phenomenon itself. By the way, I am just curios. I am no scientists.

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    3. Good point. I once heard somewhere that “Time = A Measure of Change”. I’m no scientist either, but I deal with technical things for a living along with formal troubleshooting & decision making processes. I’m amazed sometimes how it helps me in the area of faith & reason.

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    4. I am struck by how, in both cases, the phenomena in question (time and gravity) are known only by their effects. That is, as was pointed out, neither is directly observable, but each is known by how other things are changed by them. In a similar way, God is frequently not known directly, but through his effects. Creation is the best example as God is the "first cause."

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    5. Great observation Joe!

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    6. Thanks Ben and Joe.

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  4. There is a huge difference between assuming the crossing cars will stop and this. Namely, we *need* to assume it. But there is no requirement to come up with some absolute, overarching truth. One may say that without one, morals run adrift, but I tend to feel the opposite...that such absolutes equate to the "answer in the back of the book". They side-step effort.

    There is quite an important tone for such things actually. And in those times, I understand belief and faith, for by virtue of the fact that religion is part of the make up of our physiology, it *must* have a need. So I can see that I contradict myself. It is clear that man has evolved to have some level of "religiosity", but it is nice to understand deeper what that "need" is. It is a coping mechanism no different from prescribed, over the counter, or illegally obtained drugs. It is no different than a relaxing bath. It is no different than porn, in fact, in some ways.

    When hope is all you have left. When there is no easy solution ... when your worries are doing you more harm than good, I can see where a psychologist would prescribe a drug.

    See, normally the "reward" is meant to be in a "job well done", but sometimes that job is impossible to do right. We did ourselves "totally screwed" (if you will), and a coping mechanism can be just the thing. Unfortunately, such a cycle can be habit-forming, and we may turn to such means prematurely. I claim then that religion can be a substitute that is more socially accepted than other "short cuts" to success.

    The more challenging path is to work hard and be constructive without some master guide book to follow. Actually figure it out. That's what people mean by "reason" ... not "how did the Universe start". Who cares about that?

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    1. Hello Eli,
      You say that we “need” to assume that cars will stop at a red light. We only need to assume this if we are to continue down that road, just like one “needs” assume there is no God to continue down the road of thinking that dead-ends with “we come from nothing for the purposes of nothing” or “right vs. wrong are only relative to the individual”.

      You also mention some “need” for religion to evolve. You remind me of a Catholic theologian writing about Natural Law. All humans desire LASTING happiness and this only comes with a final union with God (called heaven). Our souls need God like our bodies need food. If we reject the source of happiness (God), we seek the coping mechanisms you mention which never provide the lasting happiness all of us want.

      You also mention a master guide book to follow. Everyone, including Atheists follows a master guidebook; it’s called “a philosophy”. As the post says above, we all have a philosophy. We all believe things we can't prove (empirically) and we act on those beliefs. Spend time exploring the premises for your beliefs. Are you using true reason or reason based only on the premises/assumptions you like best?

      Thanks for your comment.

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  5. You make an assertion that everyone follows some unified philosophy or other, but, if anything, I think people ate fairly inconsistent and opportunistic. The bible, itself, is riddled with inconsistencies some people enjoy poking fun at.

    But many of us have no illusions that we make any sense. It's actually a form of humility to know I'm an animal who balances my primal urges to satisfy hunger and find pleasure with my intellect and passion for peace and generally happiness of fellow being (including that of other species). *How* I should do this, I have no clue. There's no master philosophy. You stay flexible, roll with the punches, adapt, revise. *That* is the cornerstone of the scientific method... not some claim that nothing comes from nothing.

    And on that note, you fail to avoid that paradoxical homunculus argument by saying God created everything, for God is either "something", too, in which case he needs a creator just like the universe would (some argue they are different words for the same concept... except God is your buddy, your best friend, where the Universe is imagined to be this cold soulless thing). Either he needs a creator or he doesn't need one because he isn't real. By your own thoughts, all real things need a creator, so that must include God. Thus religion, also, does nothing to answer the paradox.

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    1. Morning!
      I do NOT assert that everyone follows a UNIFIED philosophy, only “A” philosophy, meaning a belief system that cannot be proven by ANY scientific method, but determines ones actions. For example, Joseph Stalin and Richard Dawkins may both be Atheists, but have different belief systems. I highly doubt Dr. Dawkins is OK with killing thousands of people to gain or hold power (I hope).

      Secondly, you are starting to get into the logic arguments for the existence of what we call “God”. The logic proofs refer to the necessity of a “First Cause” or an “Uncaused Cause” or an “Unconditioned Reality” (click existence of God under blog tags for a lot more on this). There must be at least one reality that needs nothing for its own existence, not even space or time. The question “Who created God?” is written in the past tense which implies past time. If a reality is outside of time, the word “created” has no meaning in reference to it, so there is no contradiction about it.

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    2. Eli,

      As I read your comments, it seems that you use "reason" to refer to practical, everyday use, like that of experience, rather than for philosophical uses. You had wondered who cared about how the universe started. You refer to those big questions as "the answers in the back of the book" which seems to imply that, for you, those answers not deducible. Am I correct?

      If your premise is that there exists nothing other than what you can sense (empiricism which can lead to materialism), I can see why you come to the conclusion that religion is nothing but its effects upon us as material beings (the opiate of the people), and thus, no God. However that isn't proof, it's a circular argument.

      For example, if all one knows from childhood is the inside of a building, never going outside, all within that building is explicable and makes sense. If one looks too closely at the waste system or water supply however, there may be some uncomfortable moments of uncertainty, but since all else is explained internally, one could assume that those should be able to be similarly explained also.

      However, if the analogy is true, (comparing that building to our universe) then only by having an open mind to more possibilities than of those which we can sense will give us the true picture of reality.

      In other words, it is exactly the exclusion of non-sensible data that prevents materialists from getting the whole picture.

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  6. As to your earlier post, why do you get to decide that it's ok for God to be the first cause, but you think it's absurd for the universe (or "reality" ...or the big bang) to be? in those cases, you say, "nothing comes from nothing". It's double talk just so you come out "right". As usual, it's pointless to have these infuriating conversations. I, at least, respect that you are keeping my posts up.

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    1. Let’s take a step back and not use the word God. Let’s say “X” is the first cause. Agreed? The universe or the big-bang is defined within the boundaries of time and space, therefore there must be some X outside those boundaries that caused it, because saying our universe or the big bang or reality comes from nothing is a contradiction, and a contradiction is something that cannot be, or I might say “superstitious”. If X is outside of time, the phrase “what caused X” has no meaning because there is no past.

      From here we ponder what a curious thing “X” would be that does not need space, time or anything in the universe to exist and can cause everything else. Agreed?

      As far as “infuriating”, as long as there is no profanity or personal insults, you are welcome here. Peace.

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  7. But only you are declaring "getting the whole picture" to be a goal. The unanswerable is only important if you think you will go to hell (as Jesus is purported to have said) if your guess is wrong. But let me tell you, probability-wise, you are not very likely to have a very good guess, at any rate, basing your beliefs on derivative versions of stories of early man ... that originated well before Christianity or Judaism. I could easily make assertions about a flying spaghetti monster or a celestial tea pot or a magic purple piano, for that matter. The whole thing is ridiculous, and religious people who refrain that ancient man had names like "Peter" and "Joseph" ... the bible glossed over the necessity that either Eve or some unnamed daughter would have had to commit incest ... that's the best explanation there is?

    I'm gonna wager that in your scenario where people must speculate what is outside some building they've never been able to leave, not only wouldn't pure guesses be likely to give us much explanation, they wouldn't do us much good in the long run. Now, coming at the problem without any preconceptions could help to stumble on a more accurate answer...assuming there's sine trial and error feedback, but it would still be of little practical use.

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    1. I think many scientists over the centuries would disagree with you as to the importance of the unanswerable. All of them looked for answers to then-unanswered questions. To them, these questions were of paramount importance.

      You bring up some important points. First of all, it is straightforward to prove the existence of something outside of time and space (not part of the material universe) that had to have caused the material universe to be. The material universe could not have been forever. Entropy would have caused it to run down. Even sequentially repeating expanding/collapsing universes would have retained entropy over each cycle and run down also. Scientists agree that the material universe had a beginning. If so, from what did it come? It had to have started from something outside the system. Outside of nature is "Supernatural" to use the term correctly.

      Once it is established that SOMETHING is needed, we ask ourselves what kind of thing is it? There is only so much we can deduce from that data.

      The bible is a compilation of encounters of people who met that SOMETHING who reached out to them.

      Consider any history. The stories told of early America may or may not be true. If I today made up a new story, I could use my historian credentials and add to the set of stories, could I not? How can someone be SURE that any historical episode is true? Is the older story truer than a newer story? You seem to say it is not. Are newer stories truer than older, then? That seems unlikely.

      I only ask so that you might consider your own assumptions. If you want to discard the Bible as having no value, I would like to hear on what basis you do this.

      I agree with your wager about the building. The best one can do in that position is to use what they DO know and go as far as you can with that, knowing where your probabilities are. I can know that SOMETHING sends that water in and SOMETHING deals with the waste water.

      Consider this, what if the Water department sends the building a notice thru the door slot, telling us about how the water is provided and reclaimed? Would you say "Nonsense! Anyone could have faked that letter! There's nothing outside the building!" You would be on the closed-minded side. Even "revealed" experience is data. We need to consider ALL the data. Not just the data for which we have a theory.

      That makes for a good, accurate "big picture."

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  8. Isn't it convenient that the version of reality that you want to be true is the version you believe to be true? You sidestep everything I bring up by bringing up a new definition. When I talk about "reality", you bring up "material" reality. When dealing with discussions like this, there is never ever ever ever ever anything to stop you from moving the goal posts and maybe, just maybe ... having a point. It always comes back to, "you can't prove me wrong, so I might be right". But what are your chances of being right? New or old, pure guesses have little chance of representing reality. That said, I'll take modern instrumentation and technique over ancient hearsay ... propagated and evermore distorted through the ages to match what we'd like to be true ... that there's an omnipotent, omniscient, telepathic being whose communications can never be detected and who loves everything and everyone you love and hates everything and everyone you hate. Sorry. It ask just works out too neatly. You just aren't that important.

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    1. Eli,
      I sense some frustration with what you call “the version of reality” that we want to be true. It may help to clarify two points about this reality that came-up earlier.

      1. Adam & Eve: Catholics do not interpret the Bible literally. It is not a science book or a history book. It is the story of a relationship between God and man. Adam and Eve could have been the first humans infused with a soul, not the first human-like beings; we just don’t know and it is not important to understand the relationship. The Bible is a collection of books. Consider a library; there is a fiction section, a non-fiction section, a poetry section, etc. We cannot take everything in the library literally.

      2. The flying spaghetti monster: Almost every Atheist I talk to makes the elementary blunder of describing God as something within existence; as one thing among many, like a ghost or a fairy or unicorn. We don’t view God as one part of existence, He IS existence itself, goodness itself, beauty itself, love itself, truth itself, etc. Example: We generally don’t say there is water in the ocean. We are more apt to say the ocean IS water.

      If we are to speak of “versions of reality”, let’s at least have the accurate version.

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    2. Eli,

      I am sorry that you feel I am avoiding your points.

      You said, "why do you get to decide that it's ok for God to be the first cause, but you think it's absurd for the universe (or "reality" ...or the big bang) to be?"

      Then you said, "When I talk about "reality", you bring up "material" reality."

      I tried to answer that question. The universe or the big bang cannot be "God" since for anything to be God, it would have to be the cause of all things in the universe. Are you good with that? Or am I wrong? If so, help me out.

      Thanks for your patience.

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  9. There could be something being the universe, but any "personal relationship" you have with it has been shown in psychology many times over to be "the adult version of an imaginary friend." Primates have some aspects of this, too - an inner voice that says, "I'm gonna be ok."

    As for not taking the bible literally, again, this is an example of picking and choosing and moving the goal posts to your liking. I talked about religion evolving to match and fill in whatever is unknown or in dispute... picking which parts to accept is an example of this.

    Also, consciousness and intelligence is a continuum. Some humans feel more deeply than others. Some are smarter. Some animals are smarter and more capable of feeling pain and love than some humans (such as brain damaged ones). This concept of "soulness" vs. soullessness is horrible. It's part of how religion crosses the line from a quirk that helps some people to being downright evil. It allows any animal injustice or sacrifice people feel like committing because, after all, they are just "animals" (like you, by the way), and they have no soul (like you, by the way).

    Also calling the flying spaghetti monster a blunder doesn't make it so. It's just an ad hominem. And again, you are arbitrary deciding the rules when your God gets to live "outside material reality". Ok fine. I assert that there is a flying spaghetti monster ... but one that lives outside of reality. Doesn't help any. It's just more double talk.

    It's obvious to me that this is hopeless. You just want there to be a God, so you will always believe there is one, and there's a great body of material that explains how we humans have evolved to think such things. Well, it's in our evolutionary lineage, but as evidenced by me and others, it may not always be (except that religious people tend to breed more).

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    1. Eli,

      I looked carefully and didn't find any questions in your reply. You feel comfortable telling us why we do what we do and think the way we think (albeit incorrectly), but you have a problem when I ask you to question your own assumptions. So be it.

      Since you say "it's obvious to me that it is hopeless", I feel you have stopped listening. When you are ready to step outside the building, let us know and we can restart the conversation.

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