Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Faith to the Rescue
If a tree falls in the forest and no wife is around, is the husband still wrong?
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it still make a sound? This is a classic philosophical question. The question deals with epistemology (how we come to know anything) and ontology (what the world is).
But is this the right question? I suggest the following question:
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, have we come to the end of logic's reach?
I believe in logic. But I believe it has limits. I have noticed that when most people observe that a position can't be proven logically, they assume the position to be false. But there is a second option. The position is true, but is beyond reason's reach.
I believe that the tree does make a sound if sound is defined simply as creating air waves that have the POTENTIAL to vibrate an ear drum or be picked up by a listening device if it WERE around. But I can't prove this. I can only suggest that such a world is a simpler world than one where we imagine that events revolve around us. This claim is beyond reason's reach.
A world where sound only occurs when an ear drum (or now a recording device as well) is present, is WAY too complex of a world and thus violates Occam's razor, otherwise known as "Keep It Simple Stupid".
This question shows the limitations of reason.
Faith marches in to the rescue. But I don't let it march in blindly. This is why Occam's razor is my guide when I'm presented with the "fork in the road" choices for my answer, both of which take faith to believe.
G.K. Chesterton, in his book Orthodoxy, says the above differently. Here is an excerpt from his classic book:
THE real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. I give one coarse instance of what I mean. Suppose some mathematical creature from the moon were to reckon up the human body; he would at once see that the essential thing about it was that it was duplicate. A man is two men, he on the right exactly resembling him on the left. Having noted that there was an arm on the right and one on the left, a leg on the right and one on the left, he might go further and still find on each side the same number of fingers, the same number of toes, twin eyes, twin ears, twin nostrils, and even twin lobes of the brain. At last he would take it as a law; and then, where he found a heart on one side, would deduce that there was another heart on the other. And just then, where he most felt he was right, he would be wrong. - Orthodoxy, pg 46
Chesterton goes on to say:
Now, this is exactly the claim which I have since come to propound for Christianity. Not merely that it deduces logical truths, but that when it suddenly becomes illogical, it has found, so to speak, an illogical truth. It not only goes right about things, but it goes wrong (if one may say so) exactly where the things go wrong. Its plan suits the secret irregularities, and expects the unexpected. - Orthodoxy, pg 46
I often hear skeptics accuse religious folks of being irrational. Such a skeptic gives too much power to reason. Reason has its place. It can reveal falsehood by revealing inconsistency. But it can NOT guarantee truth. One can be logical and be wrong. One can win the debate and lose truth. I'm not proposing we throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because a car can't drive me to the moon doesn't mean that it's not a useful mode of transportation.
But perhaps, when it comes to the deepest questions of life, we are satisfied too easily with a rational worldview. Truth is stranger than fiction. Shouldn't our worldview be a reflection of this?