Foundations of Proof
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Foundations of Proof • Posted: Sep 06, 2008 19:00:09Comments WelcomeVote CoolPhotoblogsPurchase a PrintShare

Was listening to this guy on Faith and Family Christian Radio an evening or so ago, a guy named Charles Colson. He was expressing his desire to argue before the United States Supreme Court that "Christianity is the only rational world view". He made that statement within the context of a discussion on the prospect of "Intelligent Design" prevailing over Darwinian theory. He was hopeful that "Intelligent Design" would prevail because he lamented the "moral chaos" that would result if it didn't, believing Darwinism implies survival to be the highest moral principle and that people in pursuit of survival would be free to adopt any rules for behavior they please. For him, a very disturbing thought.

One can sympathize, but one need not succumb to the same fallacious reasoning. Consider the meaning of the word "rational". It implies a conclusion reached by reasoned thought. The tenets of philosophical rationalism hold that all truth can be reasoned from first principles. Colson takes the Bible as first principle and reasons that Darwinism is false. He begins with the tenets of Darwinism and tries to deduce from it the principles within the Bible. He cannot and therefore concludes that Darwinism is false. But his reasoning is tautological and circular. It merely restates the same idea in different language. There is no outside information lending evidence for any proof. He also totally misunderstands what a theory is.

Science, of which Darwinian theory is a part, also uses reasoning. But scientists reason differently. They reason from evidence, not from principle or story. Darwinian theory is a story, but a story suggested by analysis of evidence. It is not thought to be perfect. As more evidence is discovered, the Darwinian story is modified and augmented.

The philosophical point of view being employed by scientists has been labeled "empirical". The empiricist's point of view assumes the existence of a world outside our thoughts, a physical reality, that both envelopes us and behaves according to very strict rules, rules that can be discovered and learned. The task of scientists is to discover those rules, rigorously investigate them, and teach us about their workings. Our choice is to either listen, learn, and participate in the process or to make up our own rules for behavior and see if in the long run they enhance our prosperity any better.

Colson believes his first principles to be perfect and that if only we legislate and enforce that everyone think and behave similarly there would be no strife in the world. Strife, he reasons, results entirely from failure to adopt his point of view. Another circular tautology. The truth is that there is a great deal of variation in the way people think and hence behave. Many inconsistent ideas work to a certain extent. And one is hard pressed to argue with those that yield overall pleasing results. But, with the possible exception of mathematics, very few humanly conceived ideas work under all conditions and that includes those presented in the various holy books. Strife arises when ideas don't work.

As an empiricist, I'd suggest to Colson and similar minded rationalists that if one were interested in truly knowing a God whose rules you could trust, one might assume the best place to look would be at the real world, the universe in which we live. It is not a capricious place. It is not ruled by fickle and irrational human emotions or desires for hegemony. It is a simple, safe, and comforting place with room for all if one learns its rules. Yet it is dispassionately crushing if one does not. A better strategy for eliminating strife would seem to be: investigate, learn, and adapt to the rules of reality that apply to the conditions in which you live. The methods of science have certainly proved useful in this regard. Wars, genocide, beheadings, torture, castration, rape, jail, execution, book burnings, excommunication, curses, restrictive legislation, and ridicule have not.

If you are wondering what all this has to do with the image above, consider the two methods of construction. One is rigid, orderly, homogeneous, and not dissimilar to like-minded rationalist ideologues closing ranks shoulder to shoulder in patriotic defiance of the natural world's crushing dynamism. The other is an interestingly functional collection of diverse elements whose integrated coordinated effort presents a strong but flexible adaptation to the demands of a specific niche within the overall dynamism of nature. You judge which strategy has a better chance of prevailing in the long run.

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
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