Thursday, August 12, 2010

"It takes the dust to have it polished... life is wonderful!" Life is Wonderful by Jason Mraz

Picture this scene: the tune of La Cumparsita (tango) is wafting through the room as I work, and Irony is chasing an ant, complete with precise little jumps and steps, unintentionally and perfectly in time to the song.

Irony can tango! But that's not the point of this blog.

I had a wonderful conversation with some girls recently, and it reminded me of my love for philosophy. Today I sat down and clarified a few thoughts that are a very basic necessity to my understanding of the world (basically, my worldview) and specifically, my understanding of the character of God, particularly His sovereignty. Here is my intro to continued discussion, friends, for your amusement/examination. (Please note--one example below is of a fairly explicit nature and might not be appropriate for all temperaments and age groups.)

I realize that as I talk about the sovereignty of God and my views on that topic, there is a basic assumption underlying my whole argument, namely, that I believe in the absolute veracity of Scripture (obviously within context--things like parables are not literally true stories, but what the Bible claims to be historical facts, I believe are, in actuality, historical facts, etc. I reserve the right to clarify here, but within reason, take this as you find it.)

Contrariwise is the belief that there is probably value to be taken from the Bible as a book (for example, moral guidelines like the golden rule), but it is not the inspired word of God, and therefore it is subject to the same limitations and flaws of any text--e.g., self-contradictions, historical inaccuracies, personal opinion masquerading as fact, and untruths, to name a few.

Clearly these two assumptions would make any argument about the philosophy and theology discussed therein (within the Bible, I mean) and derived therefrom, and especially about the character of the supposed Author, would bring the arguers to an impasse--for basically everything would be tied to that foundational idea. (Indeed, since the most specific facts we can hope to know about God would be those revealed--as I would see it--in His Word. But if those facts and that Word cannot be trusted, we can hardly base an intellectually honest argument on anything from the Bible, which sets our argument on very uneven ground.) Hence, our discussion must be taken to level where we can agree, so that we at least start out on an equal premise, and work to a point where we disagree, at which point we can properly discuss the philosophy instead of stumbling over the very structure (assumptions) of our beliefs.

So in the interest of maintaining a lifestyle of intellectual honesty, and open examination, how do we begin?

It reminds me of Descartes, and his exercise in original thought--how basic a truth can he find that takes no assumptions? "I think, therefore I am!" is his conclusion, but of course more modern philosophers have taken issue even with that (though I must admit, I find his innocently convoluted and self-referential discussing terribly endearing--I wrote my philosophy term paper about Descartes, so I am biased. I tend to agree with him. But I digress).

My question remains. At what level can we agree, and where do we begin to differ? We must pinpoint the initial deviation to give proper credence to either philosophy and allow for a decent debate.

O modern american philosopher, I have two questions.

1. Do you believe in absolute truth?

2. Do you believe in the law of non-contradiction?


1. I am not referring to what many people call THE Absolute Truth, meaning God, but rather to a perspective of universal reality. Is there, in all senses of actuality, a yes and a no; a right and a wrong that we can discover and, at some level, comprehend? Even if that something is as basic as, "raping an 8-year-old is always, under every circumstance and without exception, always morally wrong."

I assume, if you value science as a means of understanding reality (as I do) that would mean yes--for if there is no truth (i.e., no absolutes--ideas that are "there" in a meaningful sense of existence) then the very facts of the universe, upon which we base the scientific method, would unravel by definition (literally).

2. What I mean by "the law of non-contradiction" is, "a thing and it's opposite (contradiction) can not both be true at the same time in the same place." To use the classical logical symbols: "A and ~A cannot both be true a the same time and in the same place." Obviously this question depends on your answer to the first (concerning absolute truth). If truth is not discoverable and actual (and absolute) then opposites do not exist in any meaningful sense and cannot, obviously, BE true. In fact, questions 1 and 2 are completely co-dependent and interrelated. But for definitions' sake, I ask both.

If truth does exist, then not-truth also exists. Irony is either a cat, or she is not a cat. Irony cannot both be a cat and not a cat at the same time in the same place (though it is possible for her to be a cat displaying not cat-like qualities, and extraordinary musical abilities while maintaining her cat-ness).

Again, I assume that if you believe in science as a means of understanding reality then you will believe in both the existence of absolute truths and the law of non-contradiction. In this universe in which we live, these are virtually unavoidable if one would attempt to maintain any semblance of sanity and certainty, which I find necessary for every-day life. Definitions and meaning itself (words) depend on these two assumptions.

If we were to take this discussion back much further, we would have to butt heads with the likes of Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle, and the question of existence itself (like Descartes)--but I think we may safely skip that discussion, being of sound mind and relative certainty of existence, and being 21st-century intelligent human beings with a massive history of philosophical thought behind us, allowing us to skip ahead and comfortably acknowledge the idiocy of following that line of reasoning. Those battles have been fought, and fought well, and I would like to (eventually) bring the discussion up to a less primary issue, namely, the discussion we began above, about the character of God. (Though certainly not in this conversation! Even typing, I have limits, after all! :P)

It is necessary that this (the underlying assumptions on which we agree) be acknowledged in the interest of finding the point of deviation in our thinking. It must be beyond the structural level, or we can never get to the specifics of our philosophies and theologies, which depend inherently on truths being real. It is vital to ascertain whether the very structure on which we base our ideas are sound. If we already have a problem, then let us thrash those out here and now, before we attempt any further understanding of God, religion, or any other specifics in either of our worldviews.

So that's the extent of our discussion so far. What do you think?

And a special shout out of thanks to the people who have participated in my education, allowing me to take part in this kind of discussion that I love so much--Mom and Daddy, Mrs. Finney, Dr. R., Holly-Berry, Bob (as in, "what about Bob"), and The Thinker.


1 comment:

MagistraCarminum said...

Good thoughts, Em! :-)