Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Nature of Truth

If you want to understand how something works, ask an Engineer:
He designs a thing and tests out his theories until he produces a prototype that
works the same way nearly all the time...

I say "nearly" because we know of very few things that work the same way every time,
without fail and without even the possibility of some degree of failure...

Ask a satellite Engineer if it's possible that his design will fail and (if he's honest, and
humble enough) he will say, "Sure, I suppose it's possible that my design may
fail -- there are, in fact, a number of variables inherent in the design --
but I've put the prototype through just about every testing scenario anyone can
think of, and my colleagues have done the same, and the result is a product that is
reliable enough to 'prove' my theories and to establish it as Fact"...

A great deal of what we would say we "KNOW" falls into this category, a category
whose methods are sometimes called "the Scientific Method": develop a theory, test
its many variations, make modifications, and test again, repeating the process over
and over... The end result is to (hopefully) arrive at validation...

Some truth is "demonstrable": Test "2 plus 2" and, unless you are a fool, you will
ALWAYS and every time arrive at 4; but most of the Truths that guide our minds and
our lives don't meet this criterion. When we speak of "Truth", we most often mean
philosophical Truth: You would probably smirk a bit if someone said
they "believe" that 2 plus 2 is 4 (because it is so easily demonstrable); but if
someone said they "believe" that their spouse was having an affair, they would not
seek "demonstrable" Truth, in the same sense, but EVIDENCE. And with that evidence
they would hope to prove one "theory" or its opposite, namely, that an affair has
or has not taken place...

The courts have a phrase that guides most legal proceedings where a jury is
involved: "Beyond a reasonable doubt". And the lawyers use (among other things)
two of the primary tools for arriving at truth -- Logic and Reason -- to establish
Reasonable Doubt in one direction or the other...

Logic has to do with the structure of an argument, and Reason has to do with the
content and arrangement of arguments so as to reach a conclusion. If I say
"All A's are equal to all B's, and all B's are equal to all C's", the logical
conclusion of that syllogism is that all A's are equal to all C's; but when I use
Reason to assign values to those variables (A, B, and c), I may get Truth and I may
get nonsense: "All white people are rich; all rich people play golf; therefore,
all white people play golf."

The structure of the argument is sound but of course the conclusion is
false because the values assigned to each of the two premises are clearly False:
Not all white people are rich, and so on... So the "theory" breaks down immediately,
and would convince no honest thinker (or jury) because there is reasonable doubt...

There are two more elements we most always include when discussing matters of Truth
that we (most of us) care about: Authority and Experience. If the authorities tell
me that the electrical wire connected to my house carries 120 volts and "X" number
of Amps, I don't question it because I accept their Authority on the subject; and if
I am careless when I do renovations on my house, I may arrive at Truth about
electricity based on a very unpleasant Experience...

So it would seem that certain criteria for arriving at Truth are a part of nearly
every important topic we might assign that word to: Reason (and Logic), Authority,
and Experience.

Christians add one more category to the search for Truth: Divine Revelation.
Either (what we mean when we say) "GOD" is a) completely incomprehensible to
man, or b) completely comprehensible to man, or c) partially (perhaps mostly)
incomprehensible to man and yet partially comprehensible to man. If (A), then
all our talk about "God" is mere babble; if (B), then "god" is merely the highest
of human intellects and qualities; but (C) must be true (if you believe in any kind
of "god" as we normally use the term), since, in contradiction to (A), we don't
usually believe we're "babbling" to talk about God, and since, in contradiction to
(B), no human person that any of us have ever met has claimed to actually BE the
transcendant "god" we typically have in mind when we use the term...

And because He is, by definition, Transcendant, and could therefore completely
conceal Himself if He chose, we can only know Him if He chooses to REVEAL Himself to
us, in however finite a fashion might be required in order to keep from completely
overwhelming us. This is not hard to imagine: If an Ant farmer wanted to reveal
himself to the ants in the colony, he would have to "dumb himself down" to a degree
that the Ants would know that he is A) enough like us for us to even comprehend him
at all, and yet B) so vastly UN-like us that we can be very sure that even our "best
and brightest" ants are not HIM...

I moved immediately to the "God" question in this post about Truth because I can
think of no greater subject for the feeble mind of Man to ponder than God's existence
and what that existence might mean for us...

So the search for Truth is, many of us believe, the search for God, and everything
else PALES by comparison. In future posts, I'll talk a bit about applying these
"tools" to the question of God's existence, and why Relative Truth is the position
of Fools.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Obama Years: Popular Sentiment trumps ALL

It's probably safe, at this point, to just come right out and say,
in plain language, what we have all known to be true ever since
it really began to look like Obama was going to take the election:

The reigning Modus Operandi guiding Obama's decisions, and the
current Democratic party, and apparently many American voters, is
that what we might call "popular sentiment" will TRUMP common sense,
wisdom, and reason whenever any important subject comes up.

Anyone who did any SERIOUS reading of Obama's positions, views,
orientations, and circles-of-friends in the 15 or so years prior to
his presidency learned what an out-right, extremist, left-wing
Liberal he is; but whether or not those Facts were considered, we
are all now seeing just what a Radical Leftist would do if he/she
became president...

... but all this was apparently ignored by enough people to get
him elected (though surely not even Obama-circle-sticker-toting Democrats
are HAPPY about the fiscal train wreck he and his Democratic disciples
are creating as fast as they can???)... What carried him into the
presidency -- let's be honest -- was a combination of
several things that appealed to POPULAR SENTIMENT more than anything else:

    He's black
    He's the polar opposite of absolutely anything Bush-like
    He -- like any good snake oil saleman -- is a smooth talker
    He looks good on TV (some say)
    He's young
    He's into computers and techie stuff (and he uses them well)
    Let's face it, McCain was just too "old school"... and Old...
    He's black

Americans are free to do whatever they choose with their one single vote;
that's part of the beauty of this type of electoral system; but it's the
WHY that I'm interested in here... I have yet to have ONE SINGLE
PERSON who voted for Obama give me a SINGLE reason for their choice
that does NOT fit into one of the above SENTIMENTAL categories...

And now we have a major milestone in the news, for this presidency:
Obama has named Sonia Sotomayor as his pick for a Supreme Court spot.
Right off the bat, a SIGNIFICANT comment made by Ms. Sotomayor comes
to light:
    "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness
    of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion
    than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

As I pondered this radically biased comment this morning, it dawned
on me that THIS IS, indeed, WHERE THIS PRESIDENCY IS; THIS is the kind
of statement that not only does not bother them but one that they
actually agree with!

Newt Gingrich's response was succinct and right on target:
    "Imagine a judicial nominee who said 'my experience as a white man
    makes me better than a Latina woman.' Wouldn't they have to withdraw?
    New racism is no better than old racism."

But that kind of common sense, practical WISDOM, that basic sense of
FAIRNESS, is lost on this administration. Obama is riding the wave of
Whatever-We-Feel-Like-Doing, and he is finding out -- like a spoiled and
bratty teenager -- that he can break all the old rules right in front of
our eyes and nobody's going to do anything about it. He's going to put
a Racist on the Supreme Court, and he knows that nobody is going to
stop him, because he has Popular Sentiment on his side.

It's truly "Alice in Wonderland" in D.C. these days, and Obama does seem
like the Cheshire Cat, grinning into the TV cameras...