Wednesday, October 26, 2005

By What Standard?

Read the prior message in this series: "The Value of Absolutes"

The law of gravity is a physical absolute. We can know this truth by experience and experiment. If you don't believe in the law of gravity, it matters not. The law is true. Jumping off a tall building will experimentally and experientially prove this to anyone who denies it. We can describe the physical universe by these sorts of truths (or laws) like the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics. As far as we know, these are universal truths.

Once we know a truth, we can use logic to help us connect that truth to other truth and improve our understanding of reality. Here's an example: If x + y = z is logically true, then if we know the value of  x and y, we can logically determine the value of z. Or, if we know the value of a, b, and c, logic allows us to put them in proper order, for example: If a > b and b > c then a > c.

We know absolutes exist in the physical universe, and I showed above how truth and logic work together in simple mathematics, but does this also work in the realm of ethics and moral behavior? And if it does, how do we discover these absolute moral truths so we can use our logic to better understand morality?

Could there be moral laws governing the universe just like we have physical laws that govern the universe? Do absolute standards of moral behavior exist? And, if those moral laws exist, where did they come from?  How do we discover them with any certainty they are absolutes?

A lot of people cringe at the word "religion," but hang with me for a moment.  If you have negative emotions about religion try to suspend negative emotional judgment that all religion is bad and poisons everything, as atheist author and journalist Christopher Hitchens claimed.

Take the high road hypothesis with me, and for the sake of argument, let's use a positive definition of religion as a set of beliefs that inform us about how we should live.  If we can get past the negative baggage created by radical religionists, perhaps we can find some clues about absolute truth through the similarities in the tenets of major world religions.  Knee jerk reactions like those of the late Christopher Hitchens throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Let's just admit the practitioners of religions do not practice them perfectly, and some even twist "religion" to justify their evil behavior.  Forget about the practitioners who screw up.  Let's suspend negative emotions about the word "religion" enough to let reason kick in.  If we do that I think we can find some nuggets of truth or perhaps a big gold mine!  Let's give the benefit of the doubt to the ancient wisdom literature of major world religions.  I'm talking about religions that have withstood the test of time.

It is generally agreed among civilized people that the Ten Commandments are a proven standard for moral behavior.  Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all trace their history to the biblical story of Abraham which eventually leads to Moses and the Ten Commandments. But, are the Ten Commandments moral absolutes? Or, are they just ten good suggestions?  These questions forced me to think about my own truth seeking apparatus, and through this introspection, I realized I needed some better truth seeking tools to distance myself from my own biases.

Read the next entry in this series: Developing My Epistemology

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Final Installment?

This open discussion was initially agreed to be a dialogue with fellow blogger Jen Koontz (aka JRae) on the question of "Who is Jesus?" If you want to read the whole exchange in order, here are the links:

Exchange 1, Exchange 2, Exchange 3, Jen's Unedited Response

I got sidetracked between April and August, so this is my very belated response. Just to be fair, I posted Jen's Unedited Response from early April in full (see link above). In that message Jen says she's "losing interest in this discussion." However, rather than engaging on the question at hand, she is bringing into the discussion unproven and faulty assumptions that interfere with understanding religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Jen writes:
> Religion in general was made up to explain things 
> But now we have science, a far better method to attempt to explain

There you have it. Jen Koontz likes her religion (Science) because it fits her definition of religion. Science is for Ms. Koontz a religion, because it explains things. That's her definition. This discussion was not intended to be about religion but about a historical person, Jesus.

Other bad assumptions:
> the Gospels were all written 100-250 years after Jesus died!!

Well, if the authors were really Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (and we have no reason to believe otherwise), then that is not just a bad assumption, but it makes no sense. The Gospel writers were contemporaries of Jesus. So are we to believe St. John was 120 to 270 years old when he wrote the Gospel of John? (Adding 20 years assuming this was John's approximate age at the time he met Jesus.)

This late dating of the New Testament is a fairly recent claim that is unsupportable from history and from the science of textual criticism. Late dating the Gospels amounts to what would be hearsay evidence in a court case.

> Political reasons are why they want you to place blind faith

This idea of political motivations for faith is a nice theory, but the Christian documents were all solid and widely disseminated long before the Roman conquerors thought to promote Christianity for political reasons. If Rome adopted Christianity for political reasons, they did it after Christianity -- and its founding documents -- had already survived brutal persecution by those same Romans for 250 years. Additionally, Christianity isn't blind faith. Faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed. That is why the discussion question is "Who is Jesus?" I don't have blind faith. I've done the research to know in whom my faith is placed. Jen has built up a false dichotomy (which is promoted in our public school systems) that faith and science are mutually exclusive. This simply isn't true. In fact, the scientific method and some of the most prominent scientists of all time were devout Christians. I highly recommend the book "The Soul of Science" to help correct this misperception on the relationship between science and faith.

> Courts don't trust eyewitness accounts

Actually, courts do trust eyewitness accounts. Until the very recent advent of DNA analysis and other forensic techniques, eyewitness accounts were generally the most compelling evidence in any trial. Maybe Jen has been watching too much CSI where her religion of science rules the courts with forensic evidence. Either way, hearsay is not acceptable in court at all, no matter how recent. Late dating the eyewitness (Gospel) accounts of the life of Jesus is just heresay, and Jen provides no forensic evidence to discount the established eyewitness accounts.

Which brings us to her conclusion:

> I'm reading the Bible, but like I said it's all
> "believe that Jesus is the son of God!" and no actual teachings.

She must not be reading very much of the New Testament, because something less than 2% explicitly promotes the idea that you should believe Jesus is the son of God. Other parts contain large chunks of Jesus' teaching,
and even more gives moral instruction by his example. I guess she didn't get to the Sermon on the Mount yet. A much larger part of the Bible deals with the problem of evil and offers a radical solution for it.

If Jen or anyone else is serious about investigating the claims of Jesus, here is a good starting point: Seeking the truth is not for the timid because you have to be willing to put your preconceived notions and deeply held beliefs on the line. I'm willing to do that if someone can show me objectively where I'm mistaken, but it seems to me that Jen is happy with her scientific naturalism worldview. When she is ready to seriously examine the claims of Jesus, I'll be happy to engage in the discussion once again.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Time Flies

I got a reply from Jen Koontz way back in April, but between kid sports, a job search/change, and family commitments, I haven't responded to Ms. Koontz. However, just to be fair, I'm posting her full unedited reply from early April. Maybe that will give me an incentive to post a response. Here is the last communication I received from Ms. Koontz...

From: Jennifer Koontz
Date: Apr 7, 2005 12:04 PM

So I dunno. To be honest I'm losing interest in this discussion.

I'm reading the Bible, but like I said it's all "believe that Jesus is the son of God!" and no actual teachings. Which is very suspicious... if he truly was the son of God and his teachings were valid, then why do they need to prove anything? Why can't they just present the teachings and let them judge for themselves whether they have any validity? But instead it's all "Jesus did miracles, therefore you must believe him."

And why is "faith" so important?? A person can't just follow the other commandments, that's not good enough? So even if a person doesn't lie, cheat, or steal, and in all ways follows the 10 commandments except the "worship no god before me part," somehow they're still a bad person going to hell? That makes no sense... if God truly wanted us to follow these rules to be good people, I think he would value that above being worshipped.

And while there are MANY explanations for why people would make up a God and religion and try to get you to believe that Jesus is the son of God, there aren't any reasons for why people would "make-up" evolution. Why would someone invent that? I suppose you could say to subvert religion, but that's a ridiculous conspiracy theory considering how the entire scientific community has embraced it, and it's not like EVERY scientist is God-hating or something, many still are Christians, they just don't interpret the bible so strictly.

The reasons people would make up religion/God/Jesus as son of God-

-Religion in general was made up to explain things that were unexplainable to people with their limited knowledge. And, an attempt to influence these events through worship and appeal to the gods. Humans have a tendency to personify everything, as this is our best tool for empathizing with others and trying to explain motives to ourselves in order to navigate and predict future results and actions. So it makes sense that we would personify things we don't understand.

-But now we have science, a far better method to attempt to explain the unexplainable, and with reliable results when trying to influence the events too.

-Political reasons are why they want you to place blind faith in Jesus- they saw that Jesus was popular guy, who influenced a lot of people with his common sense. So they took advantage of that and decided to use his popularity to convert his followers to be used for their purposes. The "they" I'm referring to are the Roman conquerors who adapted Christianity in order to not have a religious uprising against them.

You argue that historical knowledge is what we must use as proof about Jesus, and while history can be a good tool, we all know it can also be severely twisted depending upon the teller.

And the Gospels were all written 100-250 years after Jesus died!! Eye-witnesses, huh? Courts don't trust eyewitness accounts after like 1 year, let alone 100... so even if the writer thought they were telling the truth, the events were bound to be twisted by their current motives...

So I don't know, it's just becoming really hard for me to take anything in the Bible seriously. It just MAKES NO SENSE.

But if that's what someone needs to be a good person, then fine, I'm happy they're a good person. But I personally, and many others, can be good people without it. And isn't that the point of religion, making people be good? (and by good I mean not lying, cheating, stealing, harming other people or killing...)

---end Jen's initial reply---

When I got the above reply I was on a business trip and picked it up on a wireless connection in the Tulsa airport via my gmail account. Gmail does threaded discussions, and I just now noticed that Jen also sent this brief addition a few minutes later...

From: Jennifer Koontz
Date: Apr 7, 2005 1:50 PM

However, I MUST thank you for getting me to read the Bible. I have NEVER had more fun with right-wingers than I am now, throwing bible quotes at them that totally refute their points. You're right, the Bible is GREAT as a weapon!!! :)

Hey, so I don't want to cut off contact with you just because I'm losting interest in this one particular discussion. Maybe we can talk politics? You should check out this blog, it's outrageous! I met this other guy there Evan who is so well-spoken and has great arguments (against the blog, of course). I bet your well-thought arguments would be great to add to the mix... if you're interested in heckling such trash, of course. I mean heckle in the most reasonable way possible. ;)

---end Jen's follow up reply---

So, there you have it from Ms. Koontz. She's losing interest in the Jesus question which isn't surprising. For those who are serious about discovering the truth behind the "Who is Jesus" question, check out I hope to put together a reply to get this discussion back on track or at least wrap up this exercise in trying to reason with an atheist.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

April update

March was a really busy month for me, and I only managed two blog entries during the whole month. I suppose Part 3 in the Jen Koontz "Being a Truth Seeker" series was long enough to count as several entries. Haven't heard a peep from Jen about that. Hmmm. Wonder if she gave up on truth seeking so easily. I was really looking forward to having a Part 4 in that open dialogue with Jen. Perhaps her March was as busy as mine. Spring baseball is upon us. My 8 year old is playing coach pitch ball, and we had two games last night (one was a rain-out reschedule) and another game this morning. We're having fun with it though. There are 20 more games and practices between now and May 15th when baseball season ends, so that will keep us busy. Hopefully I can carve out some more time for truth seeking after baseball. I really want to get back to my "Treatise on Truth" series, but so far I just haven't been able to make the time for it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Part 3

This is an ongoing, open email discussion with Jen Koontz intended to discuss the question "Who is Jesus?" We're still dancing around the topic, but hopefully Jen will be ready to dig into the main topic in our next exchange. This is our third exchange, but you can also read Part 1 and Part 2 in earlier blog entries.

Jen Koontz writes:

Ok, here's my response. I'll get on reading those [bible] passages (though I am loathe too, since they are written by men interpreting God, not God himself, and therefore open to corruption and manipulation). However, like I said, I need more ammo. ;)

Dennis Elenburg responds:
I'm curious about your claim that the text was corrupted and manipulated. What evidence do you have for these claims? Or, is this really an unnecessary prejudice without factual basis? I would suggest that you read the Gospels as historical documents written by eyewitnesses, which they are. The Gospels are far more reliable and have far more manuscript evidence than any other ancient texts.

Jen: Maybe you could also give me a little rundown of your personal beliefs about God and all that too, just so I can better understand where you're coming from.

Dennis: I believe that Jesus really was who he claimed to be. If you want to know what those claims are, just read the source texts. Start with the Gospel of John, perhaps with the New Living Translation.

Jen: [re: on being an atheist] Are you serious? I thought it was fairly clear by now that I am firmly atheist. Although if I ever found solid proof, evidence, or even some well thought-out reasons for the existence of a deity, I might be convinced to change my mind. I feel that way about everything I believe, no matter how firmly I believe. But so far I have found none of the above to support the existence of a deity.

Dennis: Finding no evidence to support the existence of God is NOT the same as having found evidence or proof that there is no such thing as God. The atheist position (proving non-existence) is nearly impossible to defend rationally. That is why many closet atheists are openly "agnostic." They know atheism is impossible to defend rationally, so they pose as agnostics in order to deflect the logical problem with their position. However, if you're really willing to change your mind given proper evidence, then you're already talking like an agnostic. Honest agnosticism (not the closet atheist version) obligates a truth seeker to evaluate the evidence for theism. If you're really willing to take on the full risks of honest agnosticism, that would be very bold. I haven't personally met anyone that honest and bold, although I've read about such people. Are you willing to be that honest and bold?

Jen: [re: on being a rationalist] Hmm, well now I'm not sure. Remember, I got the term rationalist off of a personality test website, lol!!! I looked it up in the dictionary, and I think this definition most fits what I mean by it: a view that reason and experience rather than the nonrational are the fundamental criteria in the solution of problems.

Dennis: I can go with that definition as a reasonably good one for a rationalist.

Jen: But basically, the empirical method of science is my main method for explaining the world around to myself. I use reason and apply it to empirical observation to figure stuff. For things which I have no empirical evidence of (like God), then I make educated guesses using reason and logic based upon what I already know. So that's what I mean by rationalist.

Dennis: The empirical method of testing the truth of a hypothesis by experiment works great for science, but doesn't work so well on proving a historical claim. If the scientific method was the only way to prove something, you could not prove where you were at 9am yesterday morning. We can't turn back the clock to 9am yesterday and repeat the experiment. To establish a historical fact, we must use legal-historical evidence to establish a verdict, just like a lawyer does in a court case. Legal-historical evidence includes oral and written testimony and exhibits like DNA or fingerprints. Based on the preponderance of evidence, we can come to a verdict beyond reasonable doubt. Insisting on empirical evidence to discover who Jesus was is not reasonable. It wouldn't be reasonable for proving who Abraham Lincoln was either. However, we do have plenty of legal-historical evidence to make a case for who Lincoln and Jesus both were historically.

Jen: So that's why I don't see a conflict in appreciating the morals Jesus teaches, but still able to call him a loon for believing he's the son of God. That's just psychology. You can have schizophrenia but still speak truth once in a while, and sometimes even have insights into human nature that sane people don't.

Dennis: True, but you cannot base anything on schizophrenic musings because you don't have any way of substantiating them. The best you can do is look elsewhere for confirmation, which is the same as ignoring the lunatic and just looking elsewhere in the first place. If you're firmly an atheist, then it would be rational to think someone is a loon for believing they are the son of someone who doesn't exist. So, as long as you're trapped in atheism (i.e. don't allow the possibility of God), then you're forced to conclude that Jesus was crazy because you've arbitrarily eliminated the possibility that God exists. Until you move to agnosticism and allow the possibility that God may exist, you have no choice but to believe Jesus was a nut cake. However, that isn't a rationalist approach to the question. An honest rationalist would apply reason and experience to the question without axiomatically eliminating the possibility that Jesus really might have been who he claimed to be.

Jen: [re: comparting the Golden Rule (GR) and Darwinism] I don't think they are incompatible at all. The GR is just further along in our social evolution than our baser instincts, and only applicable in the right environment and circumstances. And humans always have contradictory impulses... in fact, we need them, because our environment is complicated and we can't have just one impulse to deal with it. You gotta eat, but you also gotta sleep. Sometimes those needs contradict. It doesn't mean they are incompatible.

Dennis: The incompatibility of the Golden Rule (GR) and "social evolution" is that the genetic fitness of the individual is not enhanced or propagated by the GR. The individual best propagates his own genes by other people practicing the GR and by not practicing it herself. This is generally attainable in the Darwinist (atheist) world view by lying and cheating and manipulating other people, which is the opposite of the GR. The GR may enhance the viability of a culture as a whole, but not of any particular individuals. Therefore, there are no individuals selected to practice it. The GR does not spread by natural selection in society unless it is already there and pervasive from non-Darwinian causes.

Jen: [re: God's perfect creation] If it was so perfect, it shouldn't have been corrupted. At least, that's what the philosopher was arguing--that perfectionism means it shouldn't have to or be able to change from being perfect, because then it wouldn't have been perfect in the first place. But that's just nitpicking over the definition of perfect.

Dennis: I don't think this is nitpicking. It is an important point. Immutable "perfection" is sterile and uninteresting. This is why people are more interesting conversationalists than robots. Choosing good is even more virtuous in a system that allows for evil. In fact, how would we even know what "good" means without the possibility of "evil"?

Jen: [re: evidence of Intelligent Design] And what evidence is that? Just because some event had to happen to kick-start [the universe] doesn't mean it was God. If so, then who created God? He was just sitting around in nothingness for all of eternity before he decided to start the Big Bang?

Dennis: Since God (or whatever started the universe) is outside the system, we have no basis for speculating on whom or what started God. We do have a very good reason to believe that something (or Somebody) is outside the system with enough power to kick-start an awfully big universe. This forces the rationalist away from the atheist presupposition to at least an agnostic position which is willing to examine evidence that might point to Him/it. Are you ready to move to the agnostic position, Jen?

Jen: Hmm, see I can believe in some sort of event or something that made the jump-start happen, but I can't believe there was intelligence. I think intelligence evolved so that us humans could interpret and explain the world around us. If there was nothing before God decided to jump-start the universe, then he wouldn't have needed intelligence to explain anything.

Dennis: I'm not following your logic. It's easy to postulate an anti-entropic process like evolution, but pretty hard to demonstrate any particular instance of it. I work with computers, and they don't get smarter by themselves. If they did (or could be made to do so) then every software company in the world would buy up supercomputers and set them to evolve new software. Intelligence is entropic, like energy. You don't get it for nothing, and it tends to decrease when left alone. You don't even get counter-gradient energy transfer (like refrigeration) without intelligent design (or some kind of life) behind it. It just doesn't happen. When you apply the 2nd Law to the information domain, it is very simple to see that any intelligence in the universe had to come from some sort of Intelligent Designer. Interestingly, this obvious scientific fact has been conveniently left out of public school text books.

Jen: [re: on reading the Bible] Or that's a good reason NOT to read it!! I've seen how it changes people and how they use it as a weapon!!

Dennis: Is that "weapon" effective? If so, then why not learn how to use it yourself? At least you could learn how it works, so to parry its use by others. If it's not effective, then why all this concern over some ancient book?

Jen: I also know it's been highly edited by the church, to the point of censorship of any gospels that didn't fit their idea of Jesus or how they wanted to portray him. So how can you trust anything it says at all? I would trust the Dead Sea Scrolls maybe, at least they might provide a wider picture and then one could start to try and discern the truth from made-up stories.

Dennis: We have very good early manuscripts for the New Testament, and the modern translations are based on these early manuscripts. Many of these manuscripts pre-date the ascendancy of an organized church with any power of censorship. There is no evidence of corruption. Anybody can examine the original Greek in those manuscripts (and the original Latin and Coptic of equally early copies) to see that the translations are accurate. There is no evidence of corruption in modern Bible translations. Alternatively, I can show explicit coruption in high school biology text books where provably false "scientific" information that is pro-Darwinist has been left in the book when modern science has repudiated it.

Jen: Even though it's supposed to be the Word of God, it was written, interpreted, and edited by PEOPLE. Corruptible people.

Dennis: Our entire email dialogue is written, interpreted, and edited by corruptible people (us!). However, we can discuss issues and facts with respect and dignity and without imputing malice on the writer. What's wrong with using the same starting point when examining the ancient texts? If they are corrupt, it should be pretty easy to see evidence of it like we can in biology text books. (I'm specifically talking about the "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" nonsense promoted by the wishful drawings of 19th century German biologist Ernst Haeckel. These drawings still tend to show up in modern biology texts, and that is just one example of Darwinian propaganda, manipulation, and corruption of the truth.)

Jen: Hmm, you're right the GR is one theory that certainly most people don't always follow, and perhaps it is culturally attached. But this is where the conflicting instincts come in, and also human adaptability to different environments. Perhaps harsh weather and limited resources make it so that certain cultures can't follow the GR. I know you'll probably call this relativism, but it's not really. It's just a deeper more complex understanding of humans and how adaptable we are to our surroundings.

Dennis: Okay, let's look at a specific example. The weather in England is far more harsh than the weather in sub-Sahara Africa or southeast Asia, and the resources are also more limited. However, the GR and Christianity dominated England for centuries. This theory you propose does not compute.

Jen: Ok... PLEASE don't tell me you don't believe in evolution. PLEASE!!! I don't think I could ever take you seriously if you don't believe in evolution.

Dennis: Okay, I won't -- on one condition: that you find ONE research scientist with a terminal degree in his or her field doing peer-reviewed research who can show you how his/her own research supports Darwinism better than the alternatives. Just one, anyone. I have a friend with a Ph.D in information science who has been asking this question for over 20 years, and nobody has been able to answer it. You hit the nail on the head when you wrote "believe in evolution." Darwinism is an atheistic belief system based on 19th century science. Your statement is akin to me saying, "I don't think I could ever take Jen Koontz seriously if she doesn't believe in Jesus." However, I would never say such a thing.

Jen: It has tons of evidence to back it up, it is a sound scientific theory that has been tested and supported again and again, and that actually produces results if one applies it in a practical manner (unlike religion, who's only practicality is to soothe people's minds, which can be accomplished other ways as well).

Dennis: I could say the same thing about the Darwinian religion soothing the minds of atheist scientists since Darwinism has no primary evidence. Now, before you start howling about that statement, let me define some terms. Darwinism is the idea that rocks turn into reptiles which turn into monkeys which turn into human beings. Life from non-life. One species turning into another. There is no evidence for this sort of macro-evolution. Finch beaks and the variety of dog breeds (micro-evolution) are another story. I have no problem with variation within a species. I do have a problem with rocks turning into human beings. Life from non-life (Darwinism) has ZERO scientific support. It even violates the 2nd law applied to the information domain. Unfortunately, all the propaganda in our public school systems has indoctrinated most of us to believe otherwise. It took me a while to unlearn the bad science that is promoted under the guise of Darwinism.

Jen: Entire fields of study are based upon it. I've actually done experiments with fruit flies where natural selection and evolution happened before my very eyes.

Dennis: When you show me a fruit fly turning into a rabbit, I'll believe in Darwinism. Until then, I stand by my position that is it an atheistic religion. Knowing how you feel about religion, I'm surprised you are so devoted to one. :-)

Jen: I can accept (well not believe in, but at least understand) the theory that God started the universe, which led to humans evolving from cells to primates and so on, and perhaps even guided that evolution along.

Dennis: Not only do I not believe in that, I can't even understand it because it has no basis in science. Darwinism violates the 2nd Law when applied to information science. You can't get life from non-life, and you can't get information from non-information. (i.e. DNA is a program, and you can't get a program that good without an Intelligent Programmer.)

Jen: But that God just dropped us in, fully made as we are?!! UTTERLY RIDICULOUS, and can be disproven immediately. Like, if he made us as we are... then why do we have an appendix, a useless organ?? Huh!? That is clearly a byproduct of evolution. And why do our chromosomes 99% match a chimps'??

Dennis: This is getting quite a bit off the J-man topic, but I'll go with it for a moment. After googling both the creationist postings and the stuff the evolutionists put up to answer them regarding the human appendix, I found neither side particularly convincing. A vestigial appendix is certainly not as much of an argument for evolution as it was 140 years ago, and even then it suggests that monkeys are descended from rabbits with no other intervening mammals. That is, if it's really vestigial from an evolutionary ancestor. I could just as easily argue that your fingers are proof of evolution because they are known to be completely useless. Amputating a finger has no known loss of viability, and people do it all the time in modern socially evolved societies (such as Islam). Do you believe that argument? Of course not! Modus ponens is a logically correct form of reasoning, because it gives correct answers regardless what data you use. The vestigial organ argument gives patently wrong answers when you plug other data, so obviously the argument is flawed.

Jen: I attribute [my good character] to social evolution and my huge genius brain. ;) Oh yeah, and my parents' raising in general (but they taught me plenty of things about how to survive in this world and get along with my neighbors politely that had nothing to do with church, religion, or God).

Dennis: Actually, the relationship is (ahem) vestigial. Getting along with your neighbors politely is taught by church, religion, and God. There is no social evolution at work. It is merely parental Christian values being passed along to a 1st generation atheist whether or not you give credit where credit is due.

Jen: Like I said before, I think it's longing to feel connected to something larger than oneself. Which makes sense, when you look at socialness and being friendly with our human peers as having evolved as a way for us to survive better.

Dennis: I have a better explanation for it, but until you move to agnosticism and we get into the J-man topic, it won't make much sense in the context of your present world view of atheism.

Jen: [re: worshiping the Truth] Well, it's not like you would pray to, or make offerings to the Truth in some sort of ceremony. But that's not the only way to worship I guess. If by worship you mean striving to achieve it and respecting it, then I guess one could worship the Truth.

Dennis: Buddhists don't pray to their non-deity either. The function of religion is to explain:

1. Who am I?
2. Where did I come from?
3. Why should I do anything in particular?

Jen: [re: Liberal vs. Libertarian] Well, let's see, here's the definition of liberal: "a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties." I'm libertarian in the sense that everyone should pretty much be allowed to do what they want, but the "as long as it doesn't interfere with other people's happiness" is the liberal catch. So I'm definitely not libertarian when it comes to regulating corporations and stuff like that. I think gun rights fall under civil liberties. Alright so I'm gonna read some Bible (blegh!!) wearing an aluminum hat to protect me from being brain washed ;) and maybe you can expound upon some of your beliefs and philosophies and why Jesus is the man for you. ;) Gimme some of this evidence you've been talking about. Catch ya later!!! :)

Dennis: Start reading the source texts and you'll see the evidence. However, you'll have to think of this like a court trial rather than a scientific experiment. Scientific proof is based on showing that something is a fact by repeating the event in the presence of the person questioning the fact. However, the scientific method is not directly applicable in proving a historical event or claim. We'll have to approach the question of "Who is Jesus?" using legal-historical methods. When legal-historical proof is used, as in a court case, a verdict is reached based on the weight of the evidence. The Gospel accounts are eyewitness testimony, so start reading and you'll get the evidence you seek. I look forward to hearing from you again soon.

Click here to read the next part of this dialogue with Jen Koontz.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Are Disagreements Honest?

In my "Nature of Truth" essay from my 9 part truth treatise that launched as a blog, I originally wrote: "We may disagree on some of the particulars, but hopefully we can just agree to disagree in those areas." I was wrong. Agreeing to disagree is a dishonest way to proceed in truth seeking if we share common priors.

The title of this blog entry is from a technical paper I googled by Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson with the same title: "Are Disagreements Honest?" These authors have some interesting comments in their paper such as: "Most people fundamentally accept not being a truth-seeker" and "few people have truth-seeking rational cores." It is a fairly challenging read, but the conclusions are interesting. The authors state this in their conclusion:
We have therefore hypothesized that most disagreement is due to most people not being meta-rational, i.e., honest truth-seekers who understand disagreement theory and abide by the rationality standards that most people uphold. We have suggested that this is at root due to people fundamentally not being truth-seeking. This in turn suggests that most disagreement is dishonest.
In their conclusion the authors give some consideration on how one might try to become more honest when disagreeing, and as a truth seeker I'm bound by my integrity to at least investigate the truth-claims of something like that.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Part 2

The following is the second email exchange with Jen Koontz regarding the question, "Who is Jesus?" You can read the first exchange in my blog entry titled, "Being a Truth Seeker - Part 1."

Jen Koontz wrote:
Ok, so we both agree religion sucks. Good. But I guess religion is different than believing in God or Jesus as an immortal? See usually I equate that stuff with religion. But I guess you don't so... ok. I'll go with a stricter definition of religion.

Dennis Elenburg responds:
I'm a theist, and I also believe Jesus really was who he claimed to be. You seem to be committed to a Darwinist belief system, but not all Darwinists are consistent rationalists (i.e. they don't see the rational conclusion for Darwinism is atheism). I guess I'm still not quite sure where you fall on the spectrum from theism to agnosticism to atheism. Have you totally rejected your Catholic roots of theism?

Jen: [re: C.S. Lewis block quote in first exchange] What, so people can only tell the truth or lies? People mix it up all the time! Perhaps he was a megalomaniac who really thought he was the "son of God"; that doesn't necessarily discredit his stories or morals, as long as you take them with a grain of salt. Maybe all that God stuff is a metaphor. But whatever, the point is I can appreciate his stories and learn morals from them without having to accept that he's the son of God or immortal or supernatural. But if I do look at it your way (he can either be crazy or the son of God), then fine, he's crazy.

Dennis: Your logic is broken, but what you're basically saying is that it doesn't matter if Jesus was crazy because Jen Koontz is perfectly able to pick and choose what is true or false.

Jen: I still think one can discover all of the positive morals that he teaches by oneself.

Dennis: Exactly my point. This is essentially a post-modern relativist position in disguise. The rationalist ("truth is outside myself") position turns that around and says, "I can only recognize Truth provisionally based on logical principles like the Law of Non-Contradiction and Modus Ponens, etc." So, if the J-Man is a demonstrated loony, you cannot learn anything at all from him. C.S. Lewis was a rationalist. I try to be a rationalist. You claim to be a rationalist. The best any rationalist can do with a loony Jesus is say "it doesn't matter what he said." You cannot respect him as a "great moral teacher." That was the point C.S. Lewis is making in his argument. Jesus did not leave that option open.

Jen: Alright, since we both agree the church sucks we can just focus on the J-man. :)

Dennis: That is what I hoped to do, but based on your blog profile I thought I was dealing with a rationalist. Before we proceed, it would help me to understand where you're coming from. If you're a theist, then how do you reconcile that with Darwinism? Are you *really* a rationalist, or a post-modern relativist posing as a rationalist? I'm trying to find a coherent belief system in there somewhere. :) I'm always trying to hone my own belief system in order to root out incoherence and illogic, so don't take this as a slight. As a committed rationalist, I struggle when trying to understand and communicate with people who relate to the world in a post-modern relativistic manner. It would help me if you'd explain what you mean when you claim to be a rationalist. Maybe we just have different definitions on what it means to be a rationalist.

Jen: [re: my offer to send Jen a copy of "More Than A Carpenter" by Josh McDowell] I don't know about the book. Hmm. I'm a voracious reader, but only of pulp-style fantasy/sci-fi stuff (I know, it's awful! My guilty pleasure! And hey, I try to go for the GOOD fantasy writers. ;) Maybe I will read the Bible, as you suggest later. I've been meaning to anyway, just to sharpen my ammo, hehehehe. :) Ugh, but it's so incredibly DULL.

Dennis: It will be hard to focus on the J-man if we (a) don't have a common understanding of who he was and what he claimed, and (b) are unable to discuss this as rationalists using common definitions on what the words mean, including what it means to be a rationalist.

Jen: We'll see, maybe when I finish my current book. I don't like talking about things I don't know about, so I probably couldn't continue this discussion without reading something else anyway. :)

Dennis: Good point. Here's a place to start reading: John 1. My offer to send you the little easy-to-read (not dull) book by Josh McDowell still stands too.

Jen: [re: the Golden Rule as "natural law"] Hmm, I disagree here. First of all, it is most definitely NOT natural law. I believe Darwinism, and survival of the fittest and all that. If everything followed the golden rule, then we would all starve! So it's most not natural. [Natural law] applies only within our own social species. And even within our own species, it's only a "rule" because we have evolved to a point where we can AFFORD to do it. If we had more limited resources, we would not be able to follow it. Would that make us "evil"? Is a lion evil for eating another animal? No, this is how we survive. Since we're not competing for territory or resources as much anymore, it's in our best interest as a social species to follow the golden rule. But it's certainly NOT natural.

Dennis: I think we are saying the same thing from different directions. When I said the Golden Rule (GR) is Natural Law, I didn't mean to imply that human beings are inherently good and naturally follow the GR. In fact, it is just the opposite. It goes against human nature to follow the GR because human beings are inherently selfish. The GR goes *against* human nature. As you pointed out, the GR and Darwinism are incompatible. (So, why do you think they are both true?)

Jen: This reminds me of some philosopher I learned about in my History of Western Philosophy class. I forget his name, but not his point. In the period we were studying, all of the philosophers were trying rationalize the Bible and religion and all that (you can't, of course! They all failed miserably.) But anyway, this guy was talking about "miracles" and "acts of God" and how they didn't really prove God's power or strength at all. His basic argument was that if God created nature and natural order, why would something going AGAINST that order (as miracles do) prove his strength or power? Wouldn't it prove the weakness of his original design, and therefore his power and all that?

Not at all. When a miracle suspends or overcomes the laws of nature, then perhaps that is just God's way of showing us his transcendence over his creation. He created the rules, and he can change or suspend them at his pleasure. The topic of miracles is also interesting when you consider what Jesus said about them in John 5:36.

Jen: Of course, this was all based on the assumption that God is perfect and therefore everything he makes must be perfect or at least the most perfect possibility.

Dennis: God's original creation *was* perfect, but the world we live in today is corrupted. That is why Jesus is so important.

Miracles were just things people couldn't explain through their normal empirical evidence, so they attributed it to "God." Which leads us back to the point that God just simply represents the unexplained or unknown. Which is not truthful at all, especially when people are personifying him!

So, would you agree that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics is "unexplained or unknown"? I didn't think so. Well, the 2nd Law *requires* some kind of kick-start on the universe *outside* the system. As far as science is concerned that kick-start is "unexplained or unknown." However, we do have evidence that supports the idea that this "unexplained or unknown" may very well indeed be the God who reveals himself in the Bible. If some people have seen such evidence and Jen Koontz has not, that does not prove those who believe in God are wrong. What a rationalist truth-seeker such as yourself should do in such a case is keep an open mind and analyze the evidence as it is encountered. I will show you the evidence, if you're willing to examine it.

However, I know that you've mentioned God and his "design", but you haven't explained what your perception of God is (if it's not the normal old-man-sitting-in-the-sky crap, which I have to assume it's not since you are smart). So we'll see what you have to say about that...

You can rest easy. The old-man-sitting-in-the-sky idea is absurd albeit common. We must be careful not to impose our limited notions of perfection on a presumably infinite Creator. That leads to all kinds of silly contradictions, like the supposed impossibility of miracle. My perception of God is that he is the Creator of the universe, that "unexplained or unknown" jump-starter who has infinite intelligence, power, and presence. I also believe God reveals himself to those who seek him. That is why we have evidence that he does indeed exist.

Yeah, my knowledge of Jesus all stems from my Roman Catholic upbringing, so I suppose it's probably twisted. I'll see about reading that Bible...

Most protestant denominations encourage their adherents to read the Bible more than the Catholics, so if you were raised at least nominal Catholic it isn't shocking that you haven't read the Book. You really ought to give it a shot, though. After all, it is the most widely published book in all of history. For someone who wants to be "well-read" is only makes sense to read the #1 best seller of all time! :)

Not sure what "God's general grace" is, but ok. However, I think that if someone thought of the Golden Rule to begin with, then we can certainly think of it again. And I don't accept that the original idea came from God- it's part of the social structure of our species that has enabled us to survive.

Earlier you mentioned that the only reason we can "afford" to practice the Golden Rule (GR) is because we've evolved. I don't think the facts support that conclusion. Most of the wealth in the world is concentrated in Christianized western cultures. We can afford the GR now only because enough people followed the GR in the past to make it so. Modern western prosperity is a product of the Christianized western culture. Just look at what communism (atheism) did to Russia. Look at the rampant poverty in Islamic and Hindu nations. The wealth you claim makes the GR possible came about because of 2000 years of people practicing the GR, and not the other way around. There doesn't seem to be any GR in Islam, nor in pagan (3rd world) cultures. Nor among atheists, except 1st-generation atheists who got it from Christian parents and who didn't reject it when they rejected its logical basis.

But of course I don't accept that God created us either... so I guess you could say that he created that need in us or whatever. But not back when we were primates!

I have no comments on your primate ancestry. :)

I do agree that children need a good upbringing to help them learn morals. And punishment and rewards help us learn the appropriate responses. But once you get to a certain age and know enough about our society and how we work together, you shouldn't need this vague threat of hell to make you be a good person. You should be a good person because you see the benefit it brings to society and ultimately, ourselves. Yes, it is ultimately selfish. I truly believe that.

My view on hell is that the only people who will be there are those who wouldn't be happy in heaven because God is there and evil is not allowed. Hell is a place away from God where his general grace and blessings do not exist. Atheists have it easy in this world because they benefit from God's general grace even though they deny his existence.

I donate to charities because I would want someone to do the same for me if I was in the same position. I don't think that's wrong or selfish, it's just social. Good social behavior evolved to ultimately benefit the individuals and therefore the whole.

Your Catholic upbringing has inculcated a sense of God's general grace into your character, and that is admirable. However, I find it a bit sad that you attribute your good character to social evolution instead of your mother's good job in raising you with some solid Catholic values. [Way to go, Jen's mom, if you're reading this!!]

Maybe we should define "worship". I don't think feeling connected to something larger than oneself and worshipping are the same thing.

I believe the need to worship is built into the soul of human beings by the Designer.

Worshipping can fill that need, but it is false, because worship to me involves some element of the unknown. Once you understand it, it's not worship anymore. It's just the truth.

Worship is reverent love and devotion accorded a deity. If that deity is the God of the Bible, then I agree that finite human beings cannot understand an infinite God. So, your definition of worship involving "some element of the unknown" makes sense in that context. What's wrong with worshipping the Truth?

Hmm, maybe we can get into the gun control issue another time. I'm pretty liberal, so I am of the opinion that everyone should pretty much be able to do what they want... as long as that doesn't interfere with someone else doing what they want. And unfortunately, it's all too easy for any bozo to get a gun at a moment's notice and kill someone whenever they're peeved (which definitely counts as interference!) I think if you want to own a gun you need to take classes on how to use it and gun safety (for more extensive then what you need now, if anything!), and be put on a waiting list, and be researched for criminal history and all that. If you're going to be able to kill me by only moving one finger, then I want assurance that you're not a loony and will only do so for a very good reason!

You sound more Libertarian than Liberal. Look, I'm enjoying the dialogue, but I set out to deal with the J-man question. I'd love to get into these other topics, but let's try to focus the discussion. Let me know when you get in some reading on the source texts, and I'd love to continue this dialogue by focusing on the J-man question. Until next time...

[For the next installment go to "Being a Truth Seeker - Part 3"]

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Being a Truth Seeker - Part 1

I've received a couple of comments on my little truth treatise, one from a fellow blogspotter Jen Koontz. (See her comment at the bottom of the Jan 26 post.) Jen also sent me a detailed email. I'm not sure if she ever got my reply. She said she has many email accounts, so maybe my response got lost in a spam folder somewhere. She put so much thought into her message that it seemed a shame to keep it to myself, so here it is with my inline comments:

Jen wrote:
First of all, just let me thank you for this opportunity to discuss religion in a rational level-headed way. I find that's not possible too often! :)

Dennis replies:
I couldn't agee more. However, I'm somewhat anti-religion, depending on what you mean by religion. (I'm big on definitions since in email all you really have to go on is the meaning of words.) In general, religion is used as a tool to manipulate and control people. The book of James has a couple of points on religion (chapter 1), but other than that the Bible and particularly Jesus' message was not too kind toward the religious. In fact, it was the religious Jews who had Jesus killed.

Jen: So I'm sorry if my comment was a little abrasive, but I was peeved because I was reading all this great philosophical stuff you were laying out about the truth and getting really into it, then I saw your reference to Jesus and alarm bells immediately went off in my head. I was like, "Oh no... is this where he's heading?"

Dennis: I'm headed to the truth, of course! :-) Your comment was hardly abrasive. In fact, I was cracking up when I read it. It was quite humorous.

Jen: Don't get me wrong... Jesus and his teachings are great, and for the most part I agree with them. But I hate religion in general, especially raving fundamentalists.

Dennis: I couldn't agree more about the "fundies," depending on how you define "fundamentalists." If by fundie you mean a red-faced bible-thumping you're-going-to-hell spittle-spraying preacher who has no sense of grace, then I agree. :-)

Jen: I think Jesus should be viewed as a teacher/philosopher with some great stories and advice on how to live, nothing more and nothing less.

Dennis: Have you ever read any C.S. Lewis? I'll respond to the above point on "Jesus as a great moral teacher" with a quote from Lewis, an Oxford professor of medieval literature (who by the way started out as an atheist):
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either he was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."
The option of "Jesus as a great moral teacher...nothing more and nothing less" makes no rational sense at all. Since you fancy yourself as a rationalist (based on your blog self-description), I would challenge you to think through this a little deeper.

Jen: The way he's been turned into this immortal icon, and the way the Church interprets the bible and totally contradicts itself, and yet still has this huge following- I just think it's all a huge lie, that causes more hate and pain in the world than any benefit it gives (if any).

Dennis: Okay, that's a good starting point. However, you've tossed a lot into that mega sentence. If I mailed you a book (really short, also written by a former atheist), would you read it so we at least had a common starting point for discussion? The Bible is 66 books written by 40+ authors over 1400 or so years. The Christian "church" however you define it is also a rather enormous institution and many-headed topic. Those together are a bit much to tackle in an email discussion thread (or blog debate) unless we plan to go at this until we're senior citizens. If we can just focus the discussion on "Who is Jesus?" in the context of seeking the truth, I think that would be an interesting and doable discussion. It would even give me some material to continue on in my blog entries (...and here it is!)

Jen: In my opinion, religion is an antiquated way of explaining the world around us to ourselves and why it's that way. Now that we have science, we shouldn't need religion anymore.

Dennis: Interesting topic, but we'll never reach any conclusions if we open too many boxes without looking inside and carefully examining the contents of each. I'd love to engage on this topic because my college degree is in physics, so I *love* talking about science. Still, I don't have enough time to tackle a discussion on "Who is Jesus?" and "Science vs. Religion" at the same time.

Jen: Science explains everything religion does, except better and more truthfully. And the things science can't explain yet... at least it's not pretending it has the answers when it doesn't.

Dennis: As someone trained as a scientist (physicist), I couldn't disagree more unless you're a materialist and deny the existence of the supra-natural. If that is the case, we'll have to start the "Who is Jesus" discussion at a much more fundamental (not fundamentalist - there is a difference) level.

Jen: Everything that Jesus taught, I think any intelligent being can figure out for himself. It all basically comes down to the golden rule- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Dennis: That is why we call it "natural law" (see our Declaration of Independence). It is built into the fabric of the created order. God made it that way.

Jen: What more do you need than that? So that's why although I respect Jesus, I don't see him as anything that special, really.

Dennis: I think you're missing some critical information that would greatly influence a rational conclusion on the person of Jesus of Nazareth. My offer to snail mail you a book still stands. If you're willing to read it, I think this could turn into a fascinating discussion. In fact, we could also run "dueling blogs" and do it in public. (...and here it is!)

Jen: Of course, I have the benefit of being aware of the Golden Rule from an early age- perhaps I'm taking it for granted.

Dennis: Most people who live under God's general grace take if for granted.

Jen: Maybe people COULDN'T figure that out on their own before Jesus. But I highly doubt that! I think it's ridiculous that people need the threat of hell to be good people. Why?! Isn't being good for it's own sake enough?!

Dennis: Interesting point. Having three children (boys ages 8, 11, and 14) gives me a bit of a different perspective. The threat of punishment is frequently required to encourage good behavior, at least until the child has the maturity to make good choices on his own. This also begs the question of whether or not human beings are inherently good or inherently bad. I had a much different perspective before I had childen than I do now. :-)

Jen: I understand that people have a spiritual need, and want to feel connected to something larger than themselves. I feel this is why religion is still so popular, because it fills this void we have in our society now.

Dennis: Great insight. Yes, human beings have a built-in need to worship. Millions attend weekly worship in sports stadiums across the country. Millions more worship the almighty dollar. Millions worship youth and vitality. Some people believe religion is antiquated and worship at the altar of science. Some people worship themselves. The void in society is the collective void of individuals trying to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives with anything and everything. Some try to fill it with drugs and alcohol. Others try to fill it with romantic love and relationships. There is only one thing that fills the God-shaped hole in a human life, and it took me 30 years to find it.

Jen: I feel connected to the greater humanity, and the universe, and am thankful that I'm lucky enough to be here. I feel like my education and understanding of social sciences has pretty much filled that void for me.

Dennis: Oh yeah, I forgot to include "knowledge and education" in the list. Some people stuff that in the God-shaped hole. I know from experience. I studied physics in college because I figured if knowledge and education would fill that hole, then I was going to go for the full-monty. Didn't work. However, I do commend you on your attitude of gratitude. Do you thank God for that, or just "greater humanity"?

Jen: This is why I don't need religion, and feel pretty enlightened about it. I think it's fine if people want to get together once a week to feel connected and a sense of community and all that. I just wish there was an answer for everyone other than religion.

Dennis: Even Christian religions won't fill the God-shaped hole. Tried that too. Didn't work.

Jen: In my opinion, religion causes far more pain and strife than filling this void for people. People exploit it as a tool to dictate how other people should live their lives, and that's not cool at all.

Dennis: Couldn't agree more.

Jen: If they didn't have this tool which many people regard as the "ultimate authority" or whatever, then they wouldn't be able to exploit it. That's why I think religion should be abolished, the same way guns should. Or at least controlled.

Dennis: I live in Texas. I own guns. We'll have to agree to disagree on the gun control issue. :-) However, I couldn't agree with you more on religion frequently being a tool to control and exploit. God hates that. He says so in the Bible.

Jen: Well anyway, I think you get my point and where I'm coming from by now! :) I would love to hear what you think of my reasoning here... (that's why I posted this in my blog)

Dennis: I'm not pulling any punches. I think you're missing the boat on a few points, but I'm not saying that in a condescending way. Heck, I've been exactly where you are and had almost the same identical thoughts. Over time, reality just refused to let me stay there. Seeking truth changed me. I'm convinced that if you pursue it with a passion, you'll change too. It has been said that when an honest man (or woman) is confronted with the facts that prove s/he is mistaken, s/he either ceases to be mistaken or s/he ceases to be honest. My challenge to you is to passionately seek the truth and determine if you are mistaken or not. I commit to you that I will do my best to be honest with you at all levels, and if you prove to me that I'm mistaken, I'll change my views. Are you willing to do the same?

Jen: ...and how it relates to truth. I didn't get into that too much, but I think you can guess that I don't think religion is truthful, not at all. Maybe Jesus and what he says is truthful, but the way he's represented by the Church and through religion is not.

Dennis: Okay, other than reading the book I'd like to send, how about we ignore everything the Church and religion says about Jesus and just go to the source texts. Almost everything we know about Jesus is contained in the four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). And, in order to discuss this intelligently, I would suggest that you might want to read those four short books. Start with John. It is 21 chapters. Read just 3/day, and you're done in a week. The book I am willing to send to you (unless you want to pick up your own copy) is by Josh McDowell. It is called "More Than a Carpenter." I'm sure it it on Amazon and in most major book stores (unfortunately, you'd have to look in the religion section most likely - aacckk!).

So there you have it folks. I'll leave the next step up to Jen. She is an articulate and interesting young lady. I think this would be a fascinating dialogue if she chooses to continue, but you can't force someone to seek the truth.  That is up to her...

[Jen did choose to continue. For the next installment go to "Being a Truth Seeker - Part 2."]

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Value of Absolutes

Read the prior message in this series: "The Nature of Truth"

Until our conscience is informed by truth based on absolutes, we are destined to wallow around in the quagmire of post-modern relativism and situational ethics. Unless we operate from absolutes, we'll continue to be distracted and divided by preference and conviction. Without absolutes, there is no measure for right or wrong. Without absolutes, all opinions are morally justified.

In a world of absolutes there will still be differences of opinion, differences in convictions, and differences in culture that impact how and why we choose to believe and behave the way we do. There may also be passionate disagreement on what the true absolutes really are. This is why the most important question after "What is truth?" is "By What Standard?"

Read the next message in this series: "By What Standard?"

[Aside: The comment below by JRae led to an interesting exchange of ideas which is posted as a 5-part set of linked blog entries on "Being a Truth Seeker."]

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Nature of Truth

Read the prior message in this series: "What is Truth"

If truth is defined as conformance to reality, it assumes an objective reality "out there" with which to conform. My truth seeking adventure is all about discovering this objective reality, both the natural and supra-natural. (Methodological materialists un-necessarily rule out the supra-natural by definition. This is an arbitrary and mistaken approach to seeking Truth.)

Rene Descarte's famous cogito ergo sum ("I think, therefore I am" in Latin) expressed his methodology of following the path of doubt all the way down to the bottom. He systematically doubted everything until he got to the end of the line. The one thing he discovered he couldn't doubt was that he was doubting. After hitting this bottom he proceeded to build up an entire worldview starting from cogito ergo sum. DesCarte started from the basic axiom that he was a rational being capable of logic and perception.

Being a bit of a skeptic myself, I start here too. We can go a long way from this point on just two basic axioms. My friend Dr. Tom Pittman eloquently outlines his logical path in his essay on "What's Really Important." As Dr. Pittman points out, moral absolutes provide a compass to truth. Without such absolutes we pretty much lose hope of knowing anything at all. Perhaps this is why atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche declared God dead and eventually went insane. Once you give up absolutes, nihilism is the logical outcome. At least Nietzsche was being consistent with his (mistaken) beliefs. Apart from moral absolutes, life is meaningless. (Read the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes for a great treatise on the meaninglessness of life.)

Unfortunately, even if we agree on the necessity of absolutes, we run into trouble past this first step. All of us have our own perspectives and opinions. We each interpret reality through our personal experiences and beliefs. That is the best we can do alone. This is why I say the quest for Truth is not a solo venture. We must work through this interpretation of reality problem in community with other truth seekers.  We may disagree on some of the particulars, but if we have the same basic assumptions we should be able to find unity in the truth. If we agree to disagree we either have different basic assumptions, or we're not being honest.

Absolute truth is offensive to many people because tolerance has supplanted truth as the highest virtue in our post-modern society. My intent is not to offend. I hope to prove that absolutes are not only necessary, but the only rational path to discovering truthful answers on the meaning of life. I hope to persuade you to reject relativism and embrace Absolute Truth.

Read the next message in this series: "The Value of Absolutes"

Monday, January 24, 2005

What is Truth?

Read the prior message in this series: "Introduction"

"What is Truth?" Pontius Pilate asked Jesus this question in John 18. It may have been a rhetorical question or even a dismissive retort, but ironically Pilate was looking in the face of Truth Incarnate. What a missed opportunity!

Pilate may have been too worried about his own predicament to carefully consider the answer to his own question. The Jews had him in a pickle. If he let Jesus go he would be accused of disloyalty to Caesar, but if he gave in to the Jews clammoring to crucify Jesus, he would be condemning an innocent man. He tried to wash his hands of the incident, but church tradition tells us this event plagued him the rest of his life.

I hope to learn from Pilate's mistake. I never want to be too busy or too caught up in my own problems to miss the Truth like Pontius Pilate did. Too much is at stake. And, I hope to convince you it is worth your time and effort to slow down long enough to really ponder the answer to this deceptively simple little question.

So, what is truth? The best and most concise definition I've heard is "conformance to reality." But what does that really mean? Is this just philosophical mumbo jumbo? How does this little philosophical question of "What is Truth?" make any difference in my life? Well, that's what I'm hoping to show you as this blog progresses.

Read the next message in this series: "The Nature of Truth"

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Welcome to the Blog

Welcome to the new blog format for I started this web site in February of 1999 before blogging was really a thing. The blogosphere had not yet fully developed, and if you wanted to participate you had to do it yourself. But it wasn't long until blogging services emerged, and being a Google fan, I moved a lot of my content to Blogger in 2005 because I was tired of maintaining my own web site. I've had hosted with Blogger ever since.

As you might expect from the blog title, discovering truth is an essential part of my life. You might even say discovering truth is the most important part of my life. I strive to discover truth, apply truth, and live by truth in every area of my life. It is my highest value. Discovering truth is not a solo venture. I value my community of family and friends who join me on this life-long journey of seeking and discovering truth. I invite you to join me in this quest by reading along and engaging with comments in this blog format.

Read the next entry in this series: "What Is Truth?"

If we know the truth, the truth will set us free!