Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Religion, Philosophy, Mathematics, and Science

Sometimes, I wish that I'd taken broader studies in school. As the only engineer in my "Argumentation" class, I successfully convinced the professor that Computer Science (CS) 101 should be part of every well rounded liberal arts education. (If you aren't a student of CS, please note that CS101 has nothing whatsoever to do with how to use a personal computer. It's a class on logic and programming theory.) At times, I find myself wishing I'd taken more classes in philosophy, psychology, and anthropology, though -- not to mention theology and religion.

Times very much like the past two days. A gentleman by the name of Daniel Slack, from New City Fellowship church in Chattanooga, TN, forwarded some blog posts that's made on the nature of faith, belief, doctrine, truth, and what is required to be Christian.

I'd like to take a minute to expand on some conclusions I came to from reading this post on The Algebra of Peace. One of my challenges in reading this article was the definition of "truth," hence my desire to go back to school and study philosophy a bit more. In lieu of another $40,000 in student loans, I relied on the Wikipedia discussion on truth. Very interesting.

In Daniel's blog post, he posits the following definitions:
Fact is a piece of information about circumstances that exist or events that have occurred.

Truth is not only a fact that has been verified, but also has an unconditional agreement with doctrine, with absolutely no contradiction that could be disputed in regard to translation or evidence.

Belief is an impression: a vague idea in which some confidence is placed

Faith is loyalty or allegiance to a cause or a person

Doctrine is a code of beliefs or "a body of teachings" or "instructions", taught principles or positions, as the body of teachings in a branch of knowledge or belief system.

I tried to understand those definitions in light of how I personally tend to think through what I do and don't believe about faith and religion. Here goes:

First, beliefs are creations of humanity, entirely of our own conception and choosing. I come up with an idea or hear something someone else says, and I can choose to believe it or not. As such, the collection of my experiences drives the beliefs I evaluate for selection into my personal doctrine. That is, based on my personal experiences, there are lots of things that I could choose to belief. My personal doctrine is defined by those things that I choose to believe.

An important thing to remember is each of is constantly imagining, evaluating, and either selecting or rejecting various beliefs into our own doctrine.


Second, facts are irrefutable observations about the past or ideas that are such simply through logical definition. "A circle is round" is a fact entirely because a circle is defined as a shape which has the property of being round. We could define a circle differently, but we don't. It is logically irrefutable. Likewise, "I woke up this morning" is also a fact because I wouldn't be writing this post if I had not woken up.

An important thing to remember about facts is that they are also always being created as time move on, as every event that happens represents a concrete fact.


Therefore, to say that "truth is not only a fact that has been verified, but also has an unconditional agreement with doctrine, with absolutely no contradiction that could be disputed in regard to translation or evidence" suggests something about the nature of a doctrine the hopes to be regarded with the attribute of truth. Remember that we've defined a doctrine to be a collection of beliefs. If we strive for doctrine founded on truth, then any beliefs that refute a known truth have to be eliminated from our doctrine, or set of beliefs. That is to say, we can't hold to beliefs that are contradictory to facts.

The fact that we can always imagine and create new beliefs as our experiences change, and we also continue to experience and understand new facts... it seems logical to conclude that doctrine is under continuous change. It can include beliefs that we choose to evaluate against the facts that we experience and understand; and must reject beliefs that are refuted by truth.

My conclusion is that life is all about the journey of new beliefs and facts straining against each other to define who a person is. It isn't about who you are, but who you were and will be.

6 comments:

Daniel Slack said...

I know the article I wrote covers a broad range of definitions. But I often feel that sometimes we forget the actual meaning of the words we use.

For example, there a was truth that the world was flat. That truth was believed to be fact. The problem with that statement is that it takes the ability to objectively look at the situation in some manner, without outside influence.

We all have opinions and truths that belittle the facts. As a Christian, I feel it is our responsibility to no only ourselves, but also GOD, to insure that we seek the facts in our religion and align them with our "truths."

It is funny to think how many facts have been hidden, or swept under the table because of they contradict belief. From basing racial discrimination based on biblical principle to misinterpreting scientific data because it "shakes our faith."

Faith is to be tested. Not to destroy it, but to strengthen it. If we find something that makes up uncomfortable, we need the courage to realign our truths with the facts, and not the other way around.

Viola Larson said...

Hmmm, interesting. This feels like a philosophy class on epistemology.

All kinds of thoughts are swirling around in my head. For in stance the statement, “A circle is round" is a fact entirely because a circle is defined as a shape which has the property of being round.“ It seems to me that is a tautology which must always be true because the definition is in the description. And I think the truth is in the thing itself we have just chosen the word circle to describe what we see in the shape.

But something that is missing here is revelation. That is something that is made known to us outside of our known world. Christians believe that Jesus Christ the living Word and the Old and New Testaments, the written word, are revelation given by God. That means while they describe human experience they nonetheless are truths given by God so that we might know who he is. They are unchanging.

Calvin would say we can only know the truth of God’s word and Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit opens the truth to us. We may not shape our believes about God on our experience but instead listen to the word as the Holy Spirit opens it to us. But now I have turned the philosophy class into a theology class.

Great post.

Doug Hagler said...

The thing that strikes me here is the belief that you consciously select your beliefs. I think this is occasionally true, but the problem is (and the strength is) that we're connected to each other. A salesperson can convince you to believe something. You can be raised to believe a certain way with no conscious decision.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the majority of a person's beliefs are unexamined, even in the case of people who threw away money studying religion and anthro and philosophy (in my case it got me a great career in food service). I don't agree that we select our beliefs. In some cases, our beliefs select us. In many cases, we believe things for unconscious, unexamined, and irrational 'reasons'. Occasionally we select a belief or refine it, but I don't think it is every this pure process of looking at column A and column B and making a rational selection.

At least, that isn't how it is for me, and I need a lot more evidence before I 'believe' it is the case for the people in general.

Doug Hagler said...

"Calvin would say we can only know the truth of God’s word and Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit opens the truth to us. We may not shape our believes about God on our experience but instead listen to the word as the Holy Spirit opens it to us. But now I have turned the philosophy class into a theology class."

Viola (and Calvin) bring up the opposite extreme, which poses different problems. A person can say that believe anything via revelation (case in point - the psych ward at the hospital where I work). There are even other religions with their own revelatory holy books which contradict ours. All of these revelations pose a big problem - they all involve a process internal to a person or community that we can't possibly measure or even understand unless we experience it ourselves, and even then, it tends to be beyond words by most accounts. It is an opaque territory.

For me, the way I have dealt with this very deeply felt problem (especially having studied other world religions) is that I judge revelation by behavior - because that is what I can see and try to evaluate about a person - what they do and say.

There's also something about a tree being known by its fruit - so I'm not quite making this stuff up.

For me, the truth of a revelation is its affect on people. Until there are some actual, verified magical claims to use as evidence, its all I've found to go on.

Viola Larson said...

Just for reference this is Calvin:
“For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted.” Institutes, book 1, chap. VII (4)

On the other hand, I know that a good apologist uses proofs and evidence. I don't think Calvin would argue with that, but he would insist, as I do, that the final certainty can only come by the Holy Spirit.

One might use such books as Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham. And I think that is important, but just as no one can give a certain proof for or against the certainty of the existence of God I don’t think the truths of God’s word can be made by proof alone. Of course Anselm came very close to the perfect proof of God’s existence, his ontological proof. The only way you can disprove it is to say that existence is not an attribute.

Stushie said...

I also love what Calvin has to say about nature and creation: they are the attestations of God's wisdom and power.

God reveals His nature to us, but makes it dramatically manifest in Jesus Christ. I have absolute faith in His Truth, which may not fit our finite facts.