The Beginning of Faith
Posted: 27 March 2005 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]  
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On this forum I see a lot of discussion concerning how one can be sure about who or what to put faith behind. It would seem that, since the many branches of science have become so vast and complex, no one person—no matter how bright and well educated—can possibly know all they need to know with independently-derived certainty. For instance, no one really questions basics such as the sun being approximately 93,000,000 miles from Earth. At least no one I know has ever decided to take it upon themselves to become conversant with every branch of science that would enable them to verify the distance between Earth and the sun. Maybe my example isn't very good, but the point is that it's essential that we take many claims on faith.

From polls I've heard about—if I take the reports of their results on good faith—it would appear that the majority of Americans consider the Bible to be a collection of God-inspired tracts. For instance, according to a recent article written by Bill Moyers (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1-30-05), ". . .59% of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true."

Of course, these same Americans also take plenty of scientific claims as being true when they're asserted with proper authority. It would appear that many people hold conflicting positions in their heads as being "true," without losing any sleep over it. As much as the word "truth" is thrown around these days, few people seem to care excessively about actually discovering it, in a literal sense. I know I don't. I understand that a theory can be validated or invalidated but never properly known as "truth" in much of a literal sense. This was Popper's stance, as I read him.

As to who or what one can put faith behind, I'd say that America—or at least certain geographical regions of America—seems to slightly prefer putting faith behind the local pastor over the local scientist. Why? It's probably a matter of salesmanship.

I choose to put my faith behind scientists' claims, generally speaking, over religion instructors'. Why? Because I don't trust salesmen. I trust historians over pastors, who often ignore history. I trust in the methodologies and self-correcting world of science to the point that I don't even care if theories cannot be proven with absolute certainty. They are useful because they allow us to set up data-collection frameworks designed to predict and manipulate nature. Among other things, they allow our technology to function with reliability.

The strength of scientific theory is its tentativeness. Most pastors I've come across (but not all) are anything but tentative. Jerry Falwell doesn't often use words such as "it appears that," or "I may be wrong here," or I really don't know the answer." But scientists—the smartest ones at least—don't hesitate to use such words when a tentative approach is called for.

Dave

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Posted: 29 March 2005 04:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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I sent the above essay to a friend of mine, who e-mailed me with his Christian point of view. He chooses not to get eaten alive by posting on this board, but I thought his response was nevertheless worthwhile, and he gave me his permission to put it up here   -Dave.

“. . .59% of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true.” Of course, these same Americans also take plenty of scientific claims as being true when they’re asserted with proper authority. It would appear that many people hold conflicting positions in their heads as being “true,” without losing any sleep over it.

You seem to think that one must choose between religion and science.  An “us versus them” mentality if you will.  Many people in the various scientific disciplines choose to see it that way as well.

There is no conflict between science and Christianity as long as people keep the limits of science in perspective.  Science is an excellent system of investigation in the physical realm.  It works a lot better than trial and error.  Science is limited, however, to the physical realm only. It can not be used to test spiritual issues because science is limited to that which can be measured by some physical device.  There are a great many Christians who are educated in, and make use of the sciences.

Science has been siezed upon by some who don’t want to believe in God.  They try to use science to prove more than it is capable of.

Example: I get a grin every time I hear somebody say with great authority that carbon dating has put the date of some item in this or that particular age.  Using scientific methods, the ratios of the carbon isotopes can be measured with extreme accuracy.  From this a guess can be made as to the age, but no certain knowledge can be produced.

The reason that it is a guess is that nobody knows what the carbon isotope ratios were when the item in question was buried in the ground.  As an expediency, carbon daters ASSUME (that would be a leap of faith) that the ratios have always been the same as they are now in living creatures.  They will give you a song and dance about background galactic radiation, solar output, Van Allen’s Belt and a bunch of other stuff that supposedly “proves” that their assumptions are valid.

The fact is that nobody has been making accurate measurements of background radiation for more than about eighty years.  Nobody has been making any measurements for more than maybe a hundred and fifty years (I can’t remeber when the first guy started playing with his charged particles.) But the relevant point is that NOBODY on this planet knows what radiation levels or the carbon isotope ratios were prior to the twentieth century.  This does not stop them from speaking about such issues with great authority.

As much as the word “truth” is thrown around these days, few people seem to care excessively about actually discovering it, in a literal sense.

That was prophesied in 2 Timothy 4:3-4.  Unfortunately, it applies to a great many members of religious clubs just as much as it does to the rest of the world.

I know I don’t. I understand that a theory can be validated or invalidated but never properly known as “truth” in much of a literal sense. This was Popper’s stance, as I read him.

As to who or what one can put faith behind, I’d say that America—or at least certain geographical regions of America—seems to slightly prefer putting faith behind the local pastor over the local scientist. Why? It’s
probably a matter of salesmanship.

Here you are assuming that “faith” is all in the mind of the believer and there is no external influence like the existence of God.

I would also have to say that you must not know many pastors if you think they are using salesmanship to maintain their club membership.  I know that ninety percent of the members in my local religious club would be gone in a matter of two or three weeks if the pastor turned to those methods.  The membership here have joined, and stay, because they know that God exists.

I choose to put my faith behind scientists’ claims, generally speaking, over religion instructors’. Why? Because I don’t trust salesmen. I trust historians over pastors, who often ignore history.

If you think historians pay any attention to historical truth, try reading a history book from any public school. Prove to me out of a school book that there was a holocaust or that General Washington ever said a prayer.  Revisionist history is the order of the day in America.  Do you really trust them?

Next: Some pastors ignore history - But you draw an incorrect conclusion.

The fact that some pastors ignore history, lie through their teeth, steel money, abuse their following, etcetera, proves nothing one way or the other about the existence of God or validity of the Bible.  God said in His Bible that ALL men are full of evil and rush toward sin.  Pastors are a subset of the group called “men” (beleive it ir not, “men” is a gender free word).  You see pastors and other people doing evil things and then conclude that you can’t believe in God or the Bible because you see people doing exactly what God said they would do.  Something here does not compute.

I trust in the methodologies and self-correcting world of science to the point that I don’t even care if theories cannot be proven with absolute certainty. They are useful because they allow us to set up data-collection frameworks designed to predict and manipulate nature. Among other things, they allow our technology to function with reliability.

You are making the assumption that you have been trained to make.  When you write “They are useful because they allow us to set up data-collection frameworks designed to predict and manipulate nature” you are recognizing the essence of what I wrote above about science being useful for measuring and describing the physical realm.  But you are (perhaps unconsciously) making a transfer of validity.  Because science is so good at addressing the physical world, you assume that it can be used to justify a position on spiritual matters.  It cannot.  Spiritual matters are beyond the grasp of science.  You have a better chance of grabbing a hand full of fog than science does of producing useful facts about any spiritual matter.

The strength of scientific theory is its tentativeness. Most pastors I’ve come across (but not all) are anything but tentative. Jerry Falwell doesn’t often use words such as “it appears that,” or “I may be wrong here,” or I really don’t know the answer.” But scientists—the smartest ones at least—don’t hesitate to use such words when a tentative approach is called for.

Most scientists I’ve come across (but not all) are anything but tentative.  (Insert professor’s name) doesn’t often use words such as “it appears that,” or “I may be wrong here,” or “I really don’t know the answer.” But pastors—the smartest ones at least—don’t hesitate to use such words when a tentative approach is called for.

See?  I can make that claim too.

You are observing human nature and selectively ascribing characteristics by profession as is convenient for your point of view.

A large share of the scientists and the pastors who are proud to have a little knowledge in their respective fields speak as if there is no possibility of error.  Those who are truly educated, whether it is in science or Christianity, will recognize the fact that their own understanding is limited and plainly state that they do not know it all. Humility goes with true understanding in any field of endeavor.

There are some truths which are immutable.  No matter what you do, how loud you yell, or how much money you offer, the sun will continue to rise in the east and set in the west, just as it has already done for your entire life.  You can’t change that.  Neither can any other man, or all men working in concert.

In the same fashion, God will continue to exist no matter how hard you work at disbelieving in Him.  He does not need your permission to exist.  A pastor who tells you bluntly that God exists is not being arrogant, he is telling you the truth.  The place where a pastor gets onto iffy ground is when he starts telling you what God meant instead of what God said.

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Posted: 29 March 2005 05:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Now we have an attack on both carbon dating and historical texts.

First, carbon dating. There is some truth to what this person says, but in the reverse order. For example, I once researched what turned out to be a legitimate 9th century BC series of documents which, when carbon dated, came up with a future date. The cause: they’d been heavily contaminated by molds which had been deposited during a period of nuclear bomb testing. This kind of thing happens pretty often. Modern materials such as molds which have attacked old objects will throw off the dates. You have to understand why you’re getting the kind of date you get.

The accuracy of carbon dating itself has been verified by plenty of other kinds of dating methods. For example, there is an extensive record of tree ring data that reaches, by now, far back into historical time and is a very accurate method of dating. Obviously, testing small bits of this tree ring material can verify carbon dating. Also, archaeological materials from excavations invariably have other kinds of materials which can be dated by various other kinds of dating methods found in the same layer. Carbon dating merely confirms the other methods of dating. It’s those stray objects that turn up without any other archaeological evidence, often because they were looted or stolen from grave sites, that need to be carbon dated to determine whether they’re the “real thing.” As for bones and other kinds of carbon based materials, which is probably what the writer is attacking using carbon dating to date, there is always the well-established geological data of various levels to verify the carbon dating. The argument being used is false. A fine example of wishful thinking.

Then there is the attack on historical textbooks used to discredit historical research in general. I find this argument beyond belief, considering that it’s the religious fanatics who are insisting on falsified historical textbooks being used in the schools in the first place! Good grief!

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Posted: 29 March 2005 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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Imagine two people sitting on a porch in front of a road in rural Texas.  There is a telephone repair truck sitting in front of the porch, but the telephone repairman is nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly, a car, with California license plates, crashes into the back of the telephone repair truck at roughly sixty miles per hour.

The crash is spectacular, but, somehow, the driver of the car manages to survive with only minor apparent injuries.  Unfortunately, the driver has no memory of anything before the crash, and seems to be quite confused.

Shortly thereafter, the telephone repairman returns, and wants to know what happened.

One of the people sitting on the porch asserts that the car (and driver) materialized out of thin air, and crashed into the telephone truck.

The other person says that the first account is hogwash, and that it would appear that some foolish Californian crashed into the back of the truck, and is very lucky to be alive and only suffering amnesia.  They go on to speculate that the driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel, especially given the rumpled state of their clothes, which suggests that they may have been driving, more or less non-stop, from California.

The first person is now very irritated, and begins protesting, at great volume, that since nobody witnessed the car prior to the accident, there is no reason to believe that the car did anything but materialize from thin air.

The second person now asks the first how he can possibly believe something as preposterous as a car and driver materializing from nowhere.  The first fires back, accusing the second of believing in a long chain of events (the trip from California) for which there is no direct knowledge, which seems more complex than a car appearing from mid-air.

The repairman says that he needs to file a report, and he would really like to know if the car appeared from thin air, because that would be an act of God, and would affect the insurance claim.  The skeptical porch sitter wonders if an analysis of the car might help support the claim that it had not materialized from thin air.  Upon inspecting the car, he finds that the gas tank is nearly full (and luckily unruptured).  Knowing that there is only one gas station anywhere near, in the direction the car seemed to be traveling in, he calls the gas station (using the repairman’s cell phone, because the land line is still down) to see if they saw the car.  The gas station attendant says that a car matching the description of the crashed car, and bearing out of state plates, was in no more than 45 minutes ago, and left heading the right direction.

The skeptic is now quite confident, but the first porch sitter quickly dismisses this evidence, noting that there is nothing to conclusively tie the two cars together, and that it could be a coincidence, and that he suspects the gas station attendant of being a dope fiend, and thus his testimony is of questionable reliability.

The skeptic, reluctantly admitting that the attendant could conceivably be wrong (although maintaining that it is highly unlikely), decides to look for more evidence.  He searches the driver this time, and finds a California drivers license.  He calls information (still using the repairman’s cell phone) and asks for the town listed on the license, and then gives the operator the name.  After a few rings, a woman answers the phone, and after a brief conversation, in which she says that her husband went missing a couple days prior, asks to talk to the driver.  She talks to the driver for a while, and then the driver hands the phone back to the skeptic.  The woman says that the voice does indeed sound like her husband, but that he does not seem to recognize her.  The skeptic tells her that the driver appears to be suffering from amnesia, so that is not altogether surprising.  The woman procedes to get worried, and asks the skeptic to call an ambulance, and get her husband to the hospital, in case he has internal bleeding or something.

The skeptic hangs up, and calls emergency services.  As he starts to request an ambulance, the first porch sitter angrily snatches the phone from his hand, and hangs up.  The skeptic is now shocked beyond belief, and declares that the driver should be deliverd to a hospital ASAP.  The first porch sitter informs the skeptic, that while he has been on the phone, he has been talking to the driver, and the driver apparently is seeing a variety of colorful patterns and other phenomena which nobody else can see.  This, the first porch sitter asserts, is proof that the driver and car appeared from mid air, and furthermore, the best way to learn more about this appearance is to question the driver about his visions, and attempt to interpret them.

The skeptic is now furious, and begins, with no shortage of harsh languague, to demand that the the driver be sent to the hospital as quickly as possible.  The first porch sitter is unshaken, however, and points out that there are plenty of holes in the trip theory.  For instance, it should not take 45 minutes to get from the gas station to their porch, if traveling at sixty miles an hour.  The skeptic throws up his hands in exasperation, and asks the repairman for help, claiming that, although he might not know every last detail, he is certain, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the driver and car did not appear out of thin air, and that if they don’t get the driver to a hospital soon, he might die or suffer permanent injury.

- - -

Ok, so maybe I shouldn’t give up my day job to become a parable writer.  Still, I think the point is obvious.  Given the crime scene that is our corner of the universe, some of us keep trying to construct an image of what happened that fits the observable facts.  As our observations change, we revise our theories.  Others, however, are sticking to a timeline that was established thousands of years ago.  When new facts arise which might cast doubts on this story, they spend their time looking for possible flaws in the evidence gathering methods, or in the interpretation of the evidence.

The stakes are high here, but let’s cut the crap.  The car didn’t materialize from thin air, and even though we don’t know every last stop it made, we do know that it came from California.

-Matt

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Posted: 30 March 2005 01:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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Thanks for your excellent responses, folks. By the way, if you’d been born back when parables were currently popular, you’d be on the top of the game, Matt.

Dave

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