Monday, September 23, 2013

What Evidence Do You Have?

Here's a practical thought about “evidence”, since I often hear Atheist talk about no observable evidence for the existence of God and I often deal with evidence (or a lack of) for a living.

I’m certified to teach (and use) a logic method in problem solving & decision making for a global 500 company. The problem solving part is all about finding the root cause of a deviation. It answers the question, “why did it happen?”  The decision making part is all about making a choice. It answers the question, “what should we do?”  One might say it is about finding “truth”, regardless of opinions or feelings, even regardless of some facts that seem relevant at first, but turn out to be distractions in the end. When a group of engineers or managers cannot solve a problem or wants to make a good decision, I’m sometimes asked to help with the logic process even if I’m not an expert in that particular product or system. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here; I’m getting to a point if you bear with me.

You may think our method is 100% about facts and evidence. IT IS NOT! Most often it is physically impossible for us obtain all the data we need to answer all the questions we have. In fact, I don’t remember a time when we had all the evidence we wanted at our disposal.

So what do we do? Do we give up and say there is no way to proceed with a decision? Do we report back to upper management that the root cause of a problem is “nothing”, or the cause is “random chance”, or a “spontaneous event”? No, these answers are not answers at all and they are unacceptable to explain ANY observed effect, including the existence of the universe or our own being.

Instead, we use a thinking process to navigate the gaps between what we know and what we don’t know. Part of the process involves carefully making and tracking assumptions and inferences that connect the facts we have. We then have a way to move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable given the available data. This is NOT done via experimentation, observation or trial & error because these kinds of activities tend to waste company resources. It’s all done “on paper”, at first, using the available facts & knowledge (thinking made visible). We must get buy-in that the company should spend the time and money based on the conclusion we come up with, even though we have no absolute proof that it is correct; we just show how it is the most reasonable.

(If you’re curious, the process is called KT Resolve. It contains aspects of Occam’s Razor and Toyota’s “5-Whys”, but is much more comprehensive.)
A Thinking Process
The main point is this; at the end of the process we make a decision or determine the most probable cause of a problem, but our conclusion comes with NO observable evidence that it is actually TRUE and we still expect people to accept it. Why? Because accepting some things without observable evidence is rational & responsible solely based on the reasoning. Rejecting those same things is irrational & irresponsible based on the same reasoning. If an engineer or technician at our company were to keep repeating, “I reject your conclusion because there is no observable evidence that it is actually true and I will continue to work as if it were not”, he or she would not be employed with us for long.

Of course, the most probable cause of a deviation is ultimately proved-out to see if it is in fact the TRUE cause. A decision will also prove itself out over time as a good or bad choice. In the spiritual life this proving-out or “moment of truth” relates to the point of death where the theological virtues of Faith and Hope are no longer needed for a soul in the presence of God. All that will remain is Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

There is no question however, that reason alone is not enough to rest in God’s love, but it can start us on the adventure.  Like John the Baptist, reason cries out in the wilderness to prepare the way for faith, asking questions about life like “why did it happen?” & “what should we do?” Through reason, the winding roads of contradiction are straightened and the rough paths of muddled thinking become smooth to make way for something mightier, something that completes the often long and difficult journey from the head to the heart.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Assumption Gap (con't)

The last post on this blog spoke of assumption gaps and used some clever riddles to show how we naturally assume things in our thinking process. Whether consciously or subconsciously, once you make an assumption, the gap between what you think and reality can get further and further apart. This applies to matters of faith as much as anything else. Here are some examples from years ago in my own faith journey that are not uncommon. See if any of these ring a bell.

Ø  Who made God? God’s existence would itself require an explanation, just as the existence of the universe or anything else does.

This kind of thinking could lead one to atheism since believers seem to be contradicting themselves. The flawed assumption is that God is a contingent being just like any other being in the universe (one thing among many). Metaphysics, however, will divide reality into two parts; conditioned reality and unconditioned reality. There are formal logic proofs that show how there must be one unique unconditioned reality (one thing that requires nothing else for its own existence). Additionally, this unconditioned reality must be completely unrestricted, intelligent, loving and must sustain the existence of everything else. We call this reality “God”. The proofs are too much to get into here, but I highly recommend THIS BOOK if you have the intellectual stamina.

Since this unconditioned reality would not be contingent upon time, the word “made” in the question “Who made God?” makes no sense. The word “made” is past tense which implies a beginning point, which implies time. So what can we say with our limited human language that does make some sense? God just IS. God hinted at this long before any metaphysicist did; I am that I am (Exodus 3:14).

Ø  What’s the deal with original sin? Adam & Eve disobeyed, not me. I didn’t do anything, especially as a new born baby, so why should I have deal with original sin. It’s not fair!
The assumption here is that we are entitled to salvation. We have a right to the gift of grace and eternal life with God. The following analogy helped me tremendously.

Imagine your poor father befriended a billionaire before you were born. They were such good friends that the billionaire made your dad heir to his fortune. One day your father betrayed the billionaire, so he removed him from his will, leaving him in his poverty. Years later your father met your mother and you were born. Eventually, you learned the story of friendship and betrayal between the billionaire and your father. You realize that you would have been next in line for the fortune if your father would have remained a faithful friend, so you say, “My father betrayed him, not me. I didn't do anything, so why should I have to deal with poverty. It’s not fair! The fortune should still go to me”

The reality is that you never had a claim to the fortune in the first place.

Ø  Next-up is a common and usually subconscious assumption well illustrated by St. Augustine in his early years when he asked, “From whence came evil?” Catholics teach that God is ALL good and ALL things come from God, so this begs the question, where did evil come from? How could evil come into being at all?

St. Augstine
The incorrect assumption is that evil has “being”. Evil actually has no substance or being, it is just the privation of good. Think of physical darkness; it has no “being”. Darkness is merely the absence of light. It doesn’t come from anywhere or find its source in anything; it is merely the lack of something. No one can bring darkness; one can only take away light. Similarly, no one can bring evil; one can only take away what is good.

Ø  When I first heard the titles of “Christ the King” and Mary “Queen of Heaven”, I thought to myself, “Did Jesus and Mary get married and now they rule as king & queen of heaven?” 

The flawed assumption here is that a king and a queen are always husband and wife. 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 (1 Kings 2:13-21).
If we accept the premises that the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testament, the ancient kingdom of Israel foreshadows the new kingdom of Christ, and the King of Israel foreshadows Christ the King, then it makes sense to say Mary is the Queen of Heaven. In fact, it would be strange if it were otherwise.

Ø  Here is one on Papal infallibility. How incredibly arrogant (or stupid) for an organization to declare their leader “infallible”. One would be wise to be suspicious of such a thing.

One common elementary blunder here is assuming that infallible means impeccable. To be impeccable means to be without sin, error or fault and no Pope fits the bill for this. It’s not about being perfect. In fact, it’s really not about “being” at all. It’s about teaching, teaching in the context of proper authority (ex-cathedra) on matters of faith and morals.

Catholics believe that God’s “decision point” on earth would not lead us astray. Think about it; if there really is a God, and he really cares about us, He would make sure we have a way to know what is true in terms of what to believe and how to behave (faith & morals). He would not leave us alone with our imperfect intuition and flawed interpretations of His will. If infallibility were rejected, we’d end up with teachings as numerous as they are wrong. Could you even imagine?

Perception is NOT reality; perception informs our response to reality. Since we seldom see things as they truly are, we fill-in the gaps with assumptions, the most harmful of which can be the subconscious ones. Even if we’ve got something basically right, we only see a small portion of its totality. The important thing is seeing what needs to be seen, and God always provides what is needed. Catholicism is given to everyone as a universal way of seeing; a way of seeing by which we can best respond to the world around us.
You're kinda lost without it...

Monday, September 2, 2013

Are You a Clear Thinker?

Do you perceive reality as it really is? Do you ever make assumptions? Do you think you understand what needs to be understood? Try these:

  1. You are a participant in a race. You overtake the second person. What position are you in?
  1. Mary´s father has five daughters. Their names are: 1. Nana, 2. Nene, 3. Nini, 4. Nono and ??  What is the name of the fifth daughter?
  1. A cup and a teapot costs $110. The teapot costs $100 more than the cup.  How much is the cup?
  1. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
  1. Note: This next one must be done in your head only -- do NOT write it down.
Take 1000 and add:
and 10.
What is the new total?

  1. A woman was going home. She turned the corner and saw a masked man.  She knew she would not get home. Who was the masked man?

  1. Second position. Normally, being in front of the second person means you are first, but only if the second person remains in second. As it is, overtaking the second person puts that person in third and you in second.
  1. The answer is Mary. When we see a pattern we tend to assume its relevance. In this case, the pattern of A,E,I,O,U is irrelevant.
  1. The answer is $5. You may have subconsciously assumed that the teapot was $100. You may have also assumed “simplicity”, something like this, “x + $100 = $110”. But it’s a bit more complex. It’s really like this:
x + (x+$100) = $110
2x + $100 = $110
2x = $10
x = $5
So cup is $5 and the tea pot is $105 for a total of $110. The tea pot is $100 more than the cup.

  1. Here complexity might be assumed, as if this were a complex math problem. The answer is just 47 days. Think about it for a while.
  1. The correct answer is 4,100. Did you get 5,000? The decimal sequence confuses our brain. You may have unconsciously jumped from 4,090 to 5,000.
  1. The answer is “the catcher”. This is a coed softball game and a woman is turning the corner at third base. She knows she will be tagged out by the catcher and will not make it to home plate. You would have no way to know all this if it was not revealed to you (like some aspects of faith), but what assumptions did you make trying to solve the riddle? The masked man was a criminal? The corner was a street corner? Home meant the place where she lived?

    Don’t feel bad; we need to make assumptions to survive everyday life. As I eat I assume that my food is not poisoned, although I have no evidence. As I drive through a green light, I assume the cross traffic will remain stopped, although I have no proof. The key is to have an awareness of our assumptions and realize that sometimes our intuition can hurt us and lead to a bad assumption gap. Whether consciously or subconsciously, once you make an assumption, the gap between what you think and reality can get further and further apart. This applies to matters of faith as well.

    Our souls (will & intellect) are damage by sin, therefore the will is weakened and the intellect is dimmed in regard to the things of God. Another (not so nice) way to say this is that sin makes us spiritually stupid & lazy when left to our own uninformed (or unformed) assumptions, intuition or conscience. The resulting thinking gaps divide us from God and from each other like bottomless chasms, but Truth brings unity and Christ is Truth itself. In Luke 12:49-53 Jesus spoke of coming to “divide”, but He came to divide us from whatever divides us from Him. He came to close the gaps. In order to actualize this however, we must be separated from our faulty ways of thinking.

    In a week or so I’ll post examples from my own faith journey that are all too familiar, and can help to understand bad assumption gaps in matters of faith. Once you start with a bad premise, the gap between what you think and reality can grow at an alarming rate.

    The riddles above are courtesy of a “thinking” company called Kepner-Trego that consults for the company I work for.