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