Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

26 July 2007

as iron sharpens iron, so one thesis sharpens another

I love logic. It just makes sense!

I want to share with you a method that will save the world. Well, not really, but it's really cool.

Basically, this method consists of the principles behind the Scientific Method. Call it what you will, but it applies to ANY topic - Theology, Philosophy, Physics, Geology, Sociology - ANY topic.

It has to do with making sense of 'things' that we observe in reality (whatever 'things' you may be 'observing' in 'reality'). People have different ways of interpreting and explaining what they observe in reality. The so-called 'law of non-contradiction' (which is about as basic as it gets with logic!) says that two contradicting statements about the exact same thing cannot both be equally accurate.

Anyway, you start with an observation of a 'thing', then when you explain this 'thing' to someone you do so by means of a statement - your 'ideas' about it - your 'thesis' (or hypothesis, if you like). A diagram of this would look like this...

Now, the problem with an idea or 'thesis' all by itself is that it could be wrong. Sure, it could be right as well, but you'll never know unless you contrast it with another one. It is really unfortunate that many people never even make this first step. They simply hold on to their precious thesis and never test it to see how strong it is. You need to test your 'thesis' against other ones! The diagram enlarges to show the 2-way dialogue with another 'thesis'...

This is wonderful when this actually happens. It could be a simple mis-understanding between friends. "Oh, I see. I thought you meant 'x', but now that you've explained it, I realise you actually meant 'y'! I'm no longer upset anymore!" Of course, this could play out in an endless number of scenarios. Either the 'thesis' or the 'anti-thesis' could become (or appear to become) more correct or less correct.

What happens (if an agreement or 'middle ground' is reached) now, is that something emerges from the conversation. This 'something' is one of a few things: a) it is the original 'thesis' (only now stronger - having been contrasted with another one), b) it is the 'anti-thesis' (having been shown to be stronger than the 'thesis') or c) a mixture of the two - a syn-thesis! This looks like this...

What happens here, is that this stronger idea - this syn-thesis - becomes the NEW 'original' thesis! Which makes our diagram look like this...

At this point, what do we do with all theses (plural of 'thesis)? Remember? We test them against other ones! This is no different here. The NEW, stronger thesis needs to seek yet another 'anti-thesis'.

This is called learning. I hope it is clear that this is an on-going process!

I think we actually can make real progress, but also think we need to remember that as we 'advance' our theses, we may look back and observe that what we thought was an 'advance' in the past was actually a step backward (and yes, even this observation itself could later be seen to be 'wrong' - and so on 'ad infinitum'!).

Two 'theses' in dialogue is a wonderful thing, but it is even better to have 3 or more! The 'synthesis' you emerge with will be all the more stronger! (This is often referred to as the process of 'peer review' - and it's a wonderful thing.)

There are difficulties, too, which we will need patience for. Too many voices in one 'conversation', means that it will simply take longer for each thesis to have its say. It could well be that a mixture of 'smaller conversations' and 'larger ones' could be a great thing, because each would have its own strengths and weaknesses/hindrances.

Another hurdle come because this process has been going on quite naturally for some time now, and in many, many different fields - theology, sociology, etc. It seems that after a time, there can be 'patterns' that emerge. Details that were originally hotly debated are given less and less time and often assumed to be valid in later conversations. This can be antithetical to the process of this method, as the whole point of it is, of course, to expose ALL of a thesis to criticism.

As I suggested earlier, patience is necessary! But we must be about this business of dialogue with other theses! We must grow. We must learn. To not dialogue is to fail to 'advance' at all (whether or not they are real or 'illusory' advances!) To not even attempt to advance is to slip backward.

"Iron makes iron sharp; so a man makes sharp his friend." Proverbs 27:17 (BBE)


20 July 2007

science, faith and the process of Q&A

Science has produced some very interesting theories about reality...

I ask that those partial to the field of science hear me out before crucifying me, but I think there is a reality that we must all put up with, whether we are holders of Ph D's in physics or at the level of simple observation – namely the reality that science (like essentially every other field) is limited by our level of observation.

For example, as is commonly known, we know of many ancient suggestions about reality that have long-since been proven to be... well... silly. The sky has been thought to be a solid 'dome', with the stars being seen to be holes in the dome. The earth was, of course, thought to be flat, or perhaps a square-ish thing held up by four elephants. Advanced scientific opinion suggested that the earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun and other planets revolving around it.

More perspective had led us to better suggestions of reality. This is, after all, a foundational principle of the scientific method. I'm very much a fan of science, myself, so I hardly mean to devalue the great field of science, but simply want to demonstrate the (for lack of a better term) 'fallibility' of science.

Telescopes and Microscopes

As our telescopes and microscopes have gotten stronger, we've been able to have precisely what we've needed to arrive at progressively better theories of reality. But it's an interesting consideration that, for example, as our microscopes have taken us further and further into the detail of our universe, to the atomic level and beyond, more and more questions have arisen! I think it would be fair to say that perhaps some old questions have been cleared up, and new questions have arisen about such things as the nature of matter itself (see, for example, theories such as that of 'quantum physics')!

Also, as our telescopes have grown stronger and taken us further and further away from our seemingly small solar system, you could say that the same result has occurred; some questions answered – other ones emerge (dark matter, black holes, habitable planetary probability, etc.). Considering how off we've been in the past, I often wonder how off we are now, and what embarrassing dogmatic theories we may hold now that may be either confirmed, challenged or de-bunked by later observation.

Almost There, Just Begun or a Bit of Both?

I'm a bit of a skeptic at heart, you could say. I just want to know why. The way I sometimes hear people talk about different theories of reality often makes me suspicious. Theories (including both evolutionary ones and 'intelligent design' ones) are often defended with statements like, “...well, no theory can really be proven, but science has all but proven this one.” Is this really the case?

Now, I'm not suggesting that scientific observation doesn't get us any closer to 'proving' anything, but I have a question about how close we really and truly are to proving such theories as the origin of the universe or life itself.

The “we've-basically-solved-it” way of speaking reflects this diagram, in which 'science' has thoroughly dealt with the major, large questions of reality, leaving us with only a few minor, small questions left...

In this model, theories (again both evolutionary or 'intelligent design' ones) are said to basically have it all explained, save (perhaps) a few minor details. I want to suggest that our pursuit of better theories of reality may not work like that at all. Again, I am not denying that scientific advancements are indeed advancements, I suggest a truer model may well be the reverse of the one shown above. I don't think we've leaped the big hurdles or explained the big questions at all.

In the same way as history gets foggier the further back you look, with science, the further you look (whether through a telescope of a microscope) into things, the harder the questions get. Actually, the fogginess of history spills into science as well. The things we are perhaps the most scientifically unsure of are the things that happened at the 'beginning' of it all; whether that be along the lines of string theory, big-bang theory, intelligent design theory or whatever. The more foundational the question, the harder the answer. This model would look like this...

This model is able to appreciate the genuine advancements of science, while at the same time not presuming that the only questions left are 'small' ones.

Science has taken us a long way, and no doubt will take us many great and needed places. But as it continues to take us places, let us both appreciate the work it has done and at the same time be aware of how truly difficult the big questions are.