Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cynicism Sees a Fallen World.

Microsoft dominates the computer market. One thing that they do very well is design their operating systems in such a way that they can be used by anyone. But it is because of this all too inclusive approach, that the serious computer person often uses Mac OS X or Unix/Linux derived systems. From the geek's perspective, those systems are superior to Microsoft.

One great reason is because the way Microsoft made
their OS's spread the "widest net" was to prevent extreme customization and "tweaking under the hood". Computer geeks, however, like and want to tweak "under the hood". So they use Unix, Linux and Mac systems. It is indisputable that these Non-Microsoft alternatives are superior as far as security.

You can call it cynicism if you want, but I believe that this phenomenon is indicative of what Christianity calls "the curse of sin" in that the more popular (hence the wider the net is cast) something is, the more watered down it generally becomes.

In other words, there is an inverse proportionality between quality and appeal. This is exactly what my Christian worldview informs me to expect.

If Wisdom was as common as "common sense", it wouldn't be valued. It is valued because it is uncommon. I see this effect in commercialization.

Just compare popular music to what music schools study. In other words, the music that the pop culture values is dramatically different than the music that educated musicians tend to value.
I'm not trying to be a snob nor am I casting judgement on people's preferences. Believe me, there are plenty of three chord pop songs that I love (the latest is Celine Dion's "What Do You Say"), but from an educated musician's standpoint, I recognize them for what they are. They are great for getting my toes to tap and putting a melodic hook in my head, but they are far from bastions of creativity or musicianship.

The more creative music becomes, and the greater the displays of excellent musicianship are present, the less popular the appeal of such music tends to be.

If all of this is indicative of a "fallen world" then who can catch us?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ideology's Bad Rap

In his recent state of the union speech, President Bush stated that the secret of America's strength "lies not in our government, but in the spirit and determination of our people."

I am not a historian, but I understand that the founders of our great country were influenced by ideals that they gleaned from Greek writers, the Protestant reformation and Judeo-Christianity, and enlightenment philosophy.

John Adams, believing in the values of a republic as the best form of Government, said, “They define a republic to be a government of laws, and not of men.”

So I disagree with the platitude expressed by the President. Determination is not a virtue if one is misinformed. "Spirit" is too vague for me to even comment on.

My point is not to dive into political ramblings, but rather to point out that I believe that ideology has gotten a bad name. I think this is because ideology has become misassociated with dogma. One can hold to an open-minded ideology. Such an ideology is exemplified in the humility of the idealist.

In fact, any expressed belief that rejects ideology is an ideology by definition.

I believe in an ideology that has been birthed from the questioning of an objective open-minded person who loves the truth over being right and who sees that truth as a liberating force to set one free.

If one believes only in empiricism, you won't be able to say you can know anything, because none of us can read all of the books written on a given subject. And even if we could, what about all of the wealth of knowledge on a subject that is NOT contained within books, but is contained within conversations with knowledgeable people and empirical research? As finite human beings we just don't have the ability to know anything comprehensively. However, we can know the world meaningfully...

It is ideology that has the infinite ability to see beyond our finite eyes and hear beyond our human ears. I am not a psychic, but it is my simple ideological view, informed from my limited empirical experience, that tells me that if I get a treat for my cats out of the kitchen cabinet, they will both come running to the kitchen in anticipation.

It was from a well informed ideological worldview that believed in the fallen state of man as taught in Christianity, that formed the basis for our system of Government, that has proven to be the most successful in the world.

In one of the Federalist papers, one of our founders expressed this ideology this way in support of our system of checks and balances. "If men could be angels, or if angels could govern men, we would not need our form of Government..." - Greg Jones paraphrase.

They turned out to be wisely informed by their worldview. And thank God they had an ideologically informed worldview. Although empiricism supported their claims, our founders didn't have a good historical example of the Government that they forged.

I am convinced that the successes and threats to any successful Government, are a validation of the Christian "Fall of Man" ideology.

When I wrote of the "humility of the idealist" above, do you see the connection between belief and the character of the believer? There is an intrinsic relationship between our character and what we believe. This is often called objectivity or subjectivity. I have discussed this in previous blogs....

In the old t.v. series the X Files, the main character Moulder had signs posted in his office that read, "The Truth is Out There" and "I Want to Believe".

What do you want to believe?

How Should We Think?

This is really a blog that tries to emphasize HOW to think vs tell anyone WHAT to think.

Maybe I'm naive, but I believe in the dialectic process of reasoning. I'd summarize this process as looking at pros and cons on any issue, weighing/evaluating both and then developing a synthesis to deduce the truth.

Of course, this approach is based upon the notion that the truth is absolute and transcendent (a topic for another blog). But in a previous blog post, I already referenced the law of noncontradiction, which is at the heart of my belief in such absolute and transcendent truth.

The evaluation stage of the dialectic process is dependent upon our ability to reduce the pros and cons of an issue down to their presuppositional levels.

I have found that as finite human beings that presuppositions usually end up having to be embraced or rejected based upon faith. When I say faith, don't think simply in terms of religion. Here's an example that illustrates this process. I will have to oversimplify the example to illustrate the point within a reasonable blog space, but a more elaborate representation will still support my position:

Pros and Cons of being a vegetarian in order to uphold animal rights

Animals are life too and are to be valued on the same plane as human life, therefore they shouldn't be killed for food any more than humans should

Animals are life, but their lives don't have the same value as human beings. Meat can therefore be eaten.

The above listing of Pros and Cons is at a superficial (non-presuppositional) level. This is where we all start our thinking. The problem is that most people stop thinking at this superficial level.

But the process of asking "Why" takes us deeper.

Why does each side believe in its values expressed in these Pros and cons?

Pros' answer
Human beings evolved from animals. We are descendents from animals. Animals are our ancestors.

Cons' answer
We didn't evolve from animals. We're not "monkeys' uncles." Creationism is the best explanation of our origins.

Again, I am oversimplifying for the purpose of illustration. However, the bottom line is that when you go deeper into the presuppositional levels of argumentation, by asking the "why" questions, you'll find philosophical and theological underpinnings to any political and social argumentation.

Granted, there are plenty of evolutionists who are NOT animal rights activists, at least not to the extreme of practicing vegetarianism. However, those evolutionists are simply not living their lives consistently with their evolutionary presuppositions. They can be dismised as not holding rational arguments. Their presuppositions do not connect to their conclusions.

Incidentally, there are also creationists on the Pro's side who might practice vegetarianism for other reasons....

But at this level, reasoning can be used to reinforce an argument or show a lack of correlation between "cause" and "effect".

But what are we left with when BOTH sides are logically consistent and empirically adaquate? What do you do when you have a logically consistent creationist on the cons side, and a logically consistent evolutionist on the pros side of this issue?

Now, an argument that once appeared to be about the pros and cons of the ethics of vegetarianism has moved to an argument on the subject of origins.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this debate on origins is a huge can of worms that has so many levels of complexity and branches of argumentation.

But in the end, both sides have a level of faith in their basic presuppositions. I say this because neither side was there to observe the origins of the universe. This is not to discard or mitigate the scientific arguments made for either side, it is only to point out that at some degree, both sides require faith.

The goal of each side is to show that the other side needs MORE faith to hold to their position. But the bottom line is that both sets of presuppositions are ultimately unprovable. To prove either side, one would need to have a time machine to go back to the origin of the universe and watch what happened.

To even try and recreate the exact conditions of the origins of the universe in a lab (if such a thing wasn't a virtual impossibility) would only prove that it can be done under a set of conditions TODAY. It would not necessarily prove that those conditions existed in the past and caused the universe that we know.

I have to simplify because of an attempt at brevity, but the bottom line is that epistemologically, we want axioms, but end up accepting presuppositions with a level of faith.

As I have said before, and will attempt to "sell" in subsequent posts, I believe that faith, once it has passed the smell tests of "logical consistency" and "empirical adaquacy", is volitional.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Marriage of Creativity to Propositions

With the advent of the internet, computers have become dynamic machines, equipping us with the ability to communicate to one another in the forms of blogs, instant messenging, e-mail, video telephone, and the list goes on.

Computers have really empowered creativity. With the popularity of Youtube, and other similar sites, anyone can create a video or movie and post it to millions.

The computer has empowered musicians like myself to distribute my music to a worldwide audience without having to funnel it through the over-exclusive corporate suits known as the record labels. Not only this, but thanks to computer technology, the hardware costs of recording a high quality project has been greatly reduced from studios of analog equipment amounting to six figure budgets, down to around a thousand dollars.

Yes, computers can be said to clearly stimulate our senses. They speak to the visceral sides of our humanity. Anyone can relate to a computer with their left-brain.

Now if one were to "open up the hood" of a computer, at its base it is driven by binary logic. Computers work in absolutes known as 0’s and 1’s. You could think of the 0's and 1's of binary as being equivalent to "black & white". Without "black & white" logic, you have no computer.

Without the absolute, we can not enjoy all of the existential entitites that we come to think of the computer as bringing us.

I want to suggest that this paradigm is not limited to the computer. A computer system, like any system, is only mirroring the very essence of life itself. Life is to be experienced in the visceral. But at its base foundations, it is absolute.

It is at this absolute level, where we should expect to find something, immutable, and transcendent. It is at life's very foundational core that I expect to find an unchangeable anchor to which all of life is tied to. And it is not so much that I expect to find something, but rather someone.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Power of Volition

In yesterday's blog, I attempted to establish the limitations of rational thought, while at the same time affirming its validity and the necessity of truth to conform to it.

If we think of the exploration of truth in terms of a mining expedition, then I am suggesting that there is a hierarchy in the "truth mining process"

I would summarize these levels from lowest to highest as:

1. The establishment of objectivity
2. The test of empirical adequacy
3. The test of logical consistency
4. The test of experiential relevance

1. The establishment of objectivity
At the lowest level, we attempt to find objectivity by questioning ourselves.
We start with humility. Without it, we learning nothing.

Do I really want to know the truth or do I merely want to support my preconceived notions of life? Am I more interested in winning an argument and being right or do I love and seek the truth more than my very pride and self-respect.

I don't really believe in the clinical and sterile definition of objectivity as presented in the halls of academia or in what passes as journalism. Instead of seeing objectivity as simply NOT having a bias towards any one argument, I see objectivity as being totally BIASED... That bias is a bias towards truth at all costs.

Anything short of this is summed up by the quote from the movie "A Few Good Men", "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"

2. The test of empirical adequacy
The next test is empirical adaquacy. How does a worldview line up with observation and personal experience? At this level, you'll often hear debaters on both sides of an issue pointing to studies, surveys, research and the like to support their sides and tear down the other sides.

This level of argumentation is suited best for assertions made at shallower depths. Assertions made at life's deepest questions asked by philosophy, theology and religion can often fall into a realm that is beyond the reaches of empiricism. But because (as established in yesterday's blog) we DO live in a world that is independent of our own minds, we believe that things do exist outside of our own minds' ability to empirically verify.

This brings us to the third level of evaluation....

3. The test of logical consistency
See Wikipedia's article on the dialectic process at for more information, but basically logic connects cause and effect. It attempts to connect a person's presuppositions with their conclusions. Any argument that fails to make the connection is suspect. Logic is a great lie detector but it cannot confirm the truth. It is possible for two arguments to be logical but only one to be correct. In this regard, logic might be a truth detector, but a more sophisticated lie can get under its "radar".

4. The test of experiential relevance
If the argument gets beyond these first three levels, we might be left with two contradictory systems which are both logically consistent and empirically adequate (or empirically unverifiable).

The experiential relevance test asks how does the application of either worldview affect how we live as human beings?

As C.S. Lewis once said:

"If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it that you don't feel at home there?"
--Encounter with Light

In Christ, I have found a worldview that is not only logically consistent, and empirically adequate, but is also meaningful, providing a sense of purpose that not only makes me a better person in how I treat others and myself, but fuels my life with a passion endued with a sense or meaning in everything that I do and in every breath that I breathe. This is the essence of worship itself. C.S. Lewis was right to suggest that we are not at home in a materialistic universe. I have found my home in the arms of God Himself.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The validity and limitations of reasoning

Imagine living your whole life in a virtual reality. Like the holodeck in Star Trek, your entire world is created for your senses by a computer generation. Physically, your body might be lying in a bed, while your mind lived out its days in a heavenly illusionary world.

If this sounds far off, maybe your imagination can easier wrap itself around the idea of living in a medicated state created by doctors always feeding you hallucinogenic drugs.

These images that I am painting beg the question, "Does the world we live in, only exist in our minds?" Descartes came to the conclusion of "I think, therefore I am."

Solipsism is a philosophical idea that suggests that the world that we experience only exists in our minds. What is it in you and me that finds an incongruity in living such delusional lives? Is it simply because the thought experiment informs us that while we'd be medicated, lying on the doctor's bed in our hallucinogenic bliss, we'd be ignorant of the physical world going on around us? Is it the thought that we'd be isolating ourselves from others living in the physical world?

One thing can be said about sopipsism. It is logically consistent with itself. Any of you reading this blog could say that the world you experience only exists in YOUR minds. You could deny my experience that suggests otherwise. No matter what I said to convince you of the reality of my experience, you'd be able to conjure up a logically consistent counterargument.

Interesting enough, lunatics in insane asylums AND conspiracy theorists have this same potential. G.K. Chesterton suggests in his book Orthodoxy, that it is not that the lunatic has lost his/her ability reason. It is that the lunatic has lost everything BUT reason.

I think that many people, as a result of this philosophical diving, come away concluding that all truth is relative or that the world is not logical.

The statement "all truth is relative" is an absolute statement, thus rendering itself to be illogical. But what about a worldview that says the world is full of contradictions that are true?

While we can't always make sense of the world around us, our life experience does force us to conform to reasoning every time we cross the street, drive in our cars, choose a vocation, or go about even the most banal of daily tasks. So we can conclude that reality BEGS conformity to reason at its most basic level. When things appear to be illogical, we must assume that there IS a logic consistency beyond our ability to connect the dots.

Reasoning, like a blender, can only work if you feed it. Sometimes when we have nothing to feed it, we tend to blame the blender and are tempted to throw the blender away instead of just accepting that we don't have anything to put into it.

To summarize thus far, I am affirming the validity of reasoning, affirming the existence of absolute (and may I add transcendent) truth, yet allowing for the idea that two logically consistent, yet contradictory paradigms can co-exist as arguments. But only one can be true.

I believe we are uncovering the validity, yet limited reach of reason. To say it another way, reason necessitates its own limitations. Reason draws its own boundaries. There are things that exist outside of empiricism (this is where faith comes in). There are things that exist outside of our own experiences. The world DOES exist outside of our own minds.

When a tree falls in the forest it makes a sound whether or not WE hear it.

Now, just because I am suggesting that reason is limited doesn't mean that it is not a valid tool. A power drill is limited but it is a valid tool. Every time I need to drill a hole, I will reach for it, but I will discard it in favor of a hammer when I need to place a nail into the wall.

So when I am participating in debates, I do use reasoning as a tool to point out logical inconsistencies on the other side. But there are times when both sides are logically consistent.... Then what?

I should have been a lawyer in a sense that I can often conjure up an air-tight argument for or against something. I have to be sensitive to not confuse the strength of a position's argument with its veracity.

This is why ultimately (and at a higher level of argumentation), I believe worldviews need to pass existential tests. Given two logically consistent worldviews, I ask "Does the belief make you a better person?", "Does this belief bring happiness, fulfillment and meaning in the long-term?"

Ultimately, I'm finding the key to WHY I believe is tied directly to my being a worship leader, not in a narrow music sense but in the sense that worship is ultimately giving every breath of our lives to God. I fail at this, but when I am succeeding, I am most fulfilled, most happy and living the most meaningful life no matter what my circumstances are around me. Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free"

Friday, January 25, 2008

Faith and Christianity Misunderstood

I have been in some 'discussions' with some skeptics and critics of Christianity as of late.

I am continuously frustrated by having to tear down the straw men and 'clear the bushes' to show people a clearer presentation of what Christianity is.

G.K. Chesterton once stated that it wasn't that Christianity had been tried and found wanting, but rather that it had not been tried.

Not only am I convinced that so many of these skeptics and critics misunderstand Christianity, I'm becoming increasingly aware that many people who bear the name of Christ share some of those misunderstandings. As a result, those of us who call ourselves Christians share some of the blame. Christianity is getting largely misrepresented by Christians themselves.

I blame this phenomenon largely on a belief, held both by the religious and non-religious alike, that faith is throwing out your brain. The media often casts this in terms of "faith vs. science" themes in what is passed as "reporting". Many Christians, having bought into this same thinking (how ironic), seeing their faith as an opportunity to disengage their minds.

I reject this notion that faith and thinking are antithetical. I bring one illustration to support my point. Before I proceed, I note that there are numerous illustrations, taken from everyday experience that I could draw from. I believe the multiplicity of these examples gives further witness to my point.

When I get into a car to drive to a destination, I don't KNOW that I will arrive safely. In fact, statistically, automobiles are one of the most dangerous forms of travel. However, I hedge my bets. Life requires risk (faith). We can't live in a bubble and I need to travel. But I don't hedge them to the degree that I would be willing to sit in the passenger seat while a totally inebriated drive took the wheel (critical thinking).

This is just one of many examples of where critical thinking and faith converge. The Pendulum effect swings from the extreme of advocating critical thinking at the expense of faith, or advocating faith at the expense of critical thinking. I see life's espistemology as a collaboration between analysis and faith.

As a Christian, I believe the stone was rolled away from Christ's tomb, not so that Christ, who in a resurrected and glorified body could get out, (the Bible reports that He walked through walls with this resurrected body) but so that the world could see in.

Christianity, whether you agree or disagree with it, bases its faith claims in part on historicity. Incidentally, this separates it from many other religious faiths and traditions....

But there is a second straw man that the skeptics fight. That straw man is manifest in confusing what is done in the name of Christianity with the beliefs and creeds of the teachings of Christ.

A person who might call themself a Darwinian who doesn't believe in evolution is no Darwinian or evolutionist. A bicycle should not be mistaken for a car just because it might be parked in a garage.

As Augustine said, "Do not just a belief by its abuses."

Many awful things have been done (and said) in the name of Christianity. If you are a skeptic, you can point to the inquisitions, the crusades, the Salem Witch trials, modern-day neocons and televangelists as evidence that *religion* has problems. But you won't be able to connect these abuses with the teachings of Christ (which is true Christianity). Christ never taught that the good news of the Gospel was to be proseltyzed through coercion, legislation, military force, judgementalism, capitalism, socialism or the like.

To sort of 'clear the bushes' as we engage in these discussions in the forms of blogs, email and old fashioned face to face interaction, I challenge these antogonists of Christianity to judge it on its own merits, not on the merits of those who hypocritically or ignorantly shame its name.

I can only hope to exemplify a model that might bear some sort of imperfect resemblance to Christ's teachings....

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Pendulum Effect of Human Nature

It seems that human nature tends to move from one extreme to the other in a sort of pendulum. We often see these extremes as being opposites. While I am not advocating an abandonment of the law of non-contradiction, ( and in fact, I firmly uphold it, I am advocating a synthesis of thought or approach.

I can best illustrate this from a Christian theological perspective. There are two mindsets that I am seeing within the church. One is to approach God as a systematic series of propositions. While this perspective affirms absolute truth, (affirmed by the law of non-contradiction) it sublimes the relational aspect of God’s revealed absolute truth. You can’t relate to God, any more than you can relate to people by reducing that relationship down to a formulaic recipe of propositional truths.

The second approach is a visceral approach that often moves to the extreme of emphasizing feelings, emotions and experience over analytical thought itself.

I am a musician. As a musician, I have found that the best way (not the only way) of being a good musician is to think of music with both the right (analytical) and left (visceral/creative) sides of the brain. A really good musician can take the systematic rules of music theory (propositional truth) that give us key signatures, modes, time signatures, chords, intervals, arpeggios, scales, etc., and can apply them with creatively (left brain) in ways that produce fantastic music. This is what I mean by advocating a synthesis in approach.

I believe that music (as well as any other system) reflects truths found in the deepest questions of life itself. If I am right, than this would mean that we live in a world designed for us to interact and relate to it in a dynamic way (left-brain). But at its deepest core foundations, we should find truth that is propositional, and absolute, and the ultimate absolute is God Himself.

The question is, do people bury their heads in the sand, doing all they can to be diverted from asking the deepest questions of life because they inherently know that at life’s deepest cores, God is there?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Afraid to ask "Why"

Every day, I become more and more convinced that people are afraid to ask the “Why” question once it takes them beyond a certain level of depth. Why? Well, many of us were told as little children, "Because I said so." when we asked our parents these questions. But even those that don't carry such baggage, or those who rebel against such mindsets still seem almost satisfied at only getting their “How” or "What" questions answered. I suspect that the “why” questions challenge us too much, requiring us to change who we are and to acknowledge another “who”.

I see this in the national discourse on social, political, ethical, religious and other controversial issues.

Take the abortion issue for example. It is framed in terms of “Pro Life” and “Pro Choice”. I hear the discourse sounding like “Abortion is my right. Its my body.” “No, abortion is immoral. It is killing an innocent life.”

What I don’t hear is WHY is abortion your right or WHY is abortion the taking of an innocent life. If one goes deeper, the real issue is that the “Pro Life” groups think that the fetus is a life because of theological, philosophical and even scientific reasons. The “Pro Life” thinkers see a conformity of their worldview with a tangible reality. On the other hand, the “Pro Choice” people seem to view the question of whether or not the fetus is a life to be on the same plane as religious/spiritual issues. They see faith issues to be issues not to be discerned through the dialectic ( process, but to be chosen based upon utilitarianism ( or worse yet, what feels good. They see faith to be purely volitional (, hence their emphasis on the word “choice”.

As a result, both sides speak past each other. The “Pro Lifers” keep talking about the fetus being a life, but the “Pro Choice” folks don’t care because of this post-modern view on matters of faith.

If the debate could get at this deeper epistemological ( level, a true polemical ( discourse could occur.

My point is not to defend my Pro Life perspective, but it is to propose the idea that so much of our discourse and thinking doesn’t get down to the suppositional ( level.

"Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men." - Martin Luther King Jr.

"Knowledge is a deadly friend when no one knows the rules." - King Crimson - 21st Century Schizoid Man

Our technological and scientific understandings of the world are advancing, but the philosophical and theological worldviews necessary to frame these advances seem to be stagnant or even regressing. If we don’t understand the very purpose of our existence, we become like a person who buys a guitar, but never learns how to play the instrument. Or worse, we become like a child given a gun.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, only the right questions. I believe that philosophical and theological advancement can occur only when are hearts are right (humility) so as to equip us with seeing the truth as opposed to winning the argument. This is the nexus of character and education. Until we are right with ourselves, we can never be right with the world.

On the T.V. show American Idol, during the early rounds, we see so many people who are deluded into thinking that they possess a talent that they do not have. In every instance, I have seen people who let their desires, agendas, dreams, ‘I believe I can fly’ mentality, obscure reality.

‘Believe In Yourself’ is the mantra of post-modernity, however as G.K. Chesterton pointed out in his book “Orthodoxy”, the people who believe in themselves are in insane asylums. Hitler also believed in himself.

Looking for logical inconsistencies on the other side of our arguments might be a good way to prove that someone is not a rational thinker, or a way to show that the argument is flawed, but don’t mistake logical consistency as a truth detector. One can be logical and be wrong.

I have seen logical consistency prop up both sides of conflicting arguments. Holding to Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction, I cannot conclude that both sides are right within the same context.

No, truth seems to be found at a deeper level. Truth is not obscured so much because of what we think, it is obscured by how and why we think it. Furthermore, how and why we think anything, is determined by who we are. When are hearts are pure, it is like looking through prescription eyeglasses that have just been cleaned. A world that was formerly out of focus, becomes clear.

As I have attempted (and I fail more times than I succeed) to go through this objectivity process, I find that I’m driven by the question of “why”? I have found that if I ask the question of “Why” enough, I eventually get to the question of “Who”. And the “who” that I have discovered is God himself.