Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Probable Impossible

"What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."- Christopher Hitchens.
Although Mr. Hitchens and I both come from polar opposite perspectives, we can both agree on the above statement. Many people hold to faith without reason. But I would contend that you can't have faith without reason, nor reason without faith.

So why do I believe in Christianity? There are many reasons, but here is one simple argument.

I believe in Christianity because I believe in the collective accounts of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (the Gospels). The skeptic has no better alternative. It is one thing to naively believe in one account. This is what Muslims do with the Koran. But when you have multiple people saying the same thing, you either have the truth or a conspiracy. One thing that is improbable is a collective delusion.

For the skeptic to say that these books are a conspiracy, belies a reasonable motive. What did these writers have to gain by making up claims that there was a man (Jesus), who was the Messiah? What wares were they hocking?

The skeptic sometimes claims that these books were really written by the church when it came into power in the 4th century. However, we know for a fact that these books were written in the 1st century. The oldest complete manuscript of a Gospel text dates back to the 2nd century.

And what were the motives of such a conspiracy? Were the writers trying to gain money or power? If so, they failed on all accounts. The Gospel writers didn't go on a "book tour" nor did they gain political ascendency. In fact, they risked their lives by their claims.

Many believers gave their lives because they were convinced that Jesus Christ died and rose again and was the Messiah. Why is this any different from religious extremists today who do the same thing? The difference is that these early believers had the evidence to affirm or reject such claims. Many of these martyrs actually saw Jesus, living and walking the same ground He did.

"Always prefer the probable impossible to the improbable possible." - Aristotle
Sure, it stretches the imagination to believe in the claims of Christianity. But the alternatives take MORE faith to believe. In fact, whenever I encounter a skeptic who rejects the claims of the Gospels, I always challenge them to give a better explanation as to why they exist in the first place. I have yet to find a skeptic who can give a better alternative making the improbable more probable in the face of the impossible.

Illusions of Omnipotence in the Face of Hypocrisy

I've never understood the mindset that says, "I reject Christianity because of hypocrites." To me, that is like saying any of the following:

I don't believe in the concepts of laws because of law breakers.

I don't believe in Government authority because of corrupt politicians.

I don't believe in food because of gluttony and food poisoning.

I don't believe in money because of counterfeiting.

What does the existence of a hypocrite Christian have to do with the validity of Christianity's claims? What has happened to the idea of discernment? What has happened to the idea of examining a belief for its claim?

I see this problem in the political arena as well. Someone will make an argument that they are against a particular political idea because of the behavior of individuals who advocate such an idea.

For instance, the Tea Party says that they believe in smaller Government, yet someone will say that they reject this because there might be racists in their midst. I haven't seen the "smoking gun" evidence of this argument but even if it exists, the existence of such racists has nothing to do with one's belief in smaller or bigger Government for that matter.

Why do we confuse personality with ideas?

Is it not because we have bought into "perception is reality" and made ourselves to be gods as a result? The logic flows this way. If perception is reality, then I no longer need to examine truth in an objective world. Instead, whatever I believe is true, despite whether or not it corresponds with reality. So if my perception is that the world is flat, that is what people call "my truth". In such a world, I don't need to test my belief. It logically follows that I will "choose my own truth".

BTW, such a person would make a lousy scientist. The scientific method requires that we test all beliefs before holding them. Science is only acting upon truths that transcend its borders.

Perception is the only reality the non-discerning can ever know.

Isn't the ability to make truth into what we wish limited to someone who would have to have omnipotence? If so, then why do we act like WE are omnipotent in the face of pending death? In the end, we all die. Isn't this truth the ultimate reason to reject illusions of omnipotence?

Do you still believe that perception is reality? Then try living with a belief that you will NEVER die. But I warn you. In the end, life will slap your perception in the face. I attempt to warn you more gently.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

On A Stranded Island Looking For Reason

It is impossible for a man to marry his widow's sister.

Imagine you have made this statement and are confronted with a dissenter. Now imagine your dissenter accuses you of being a bigot, cramming your "family values" down other people's throats instead of actually examining the substance of the quote.

I can't tell you how many times I've been in such arguments. Many times, I find that we bring our own stereotypes and prejudices to the table and react to style instead of examining substance. Why do people fail to examine substance? I see this as the death of reason.

I'm sadly coming to the conclusion that many people do not live by reason. As you can see by this blog, I'm a "why" person. I ask both of others and first of myself, "why do you believe in x?" I believe it takes boldness to ask such questions because the answer could take us to places beyond our comfort zones.

I've been in many, many debates with people and found that when I probed the "why" questions, it didn't take too long before I learned that the dissenter did not have a reason to hold to their position. In some cases, where I might have been successful at revealing this, I would have expected the dissenter to be open-minded enough to consider re-examining their beliefs. And thankfully sometimes this is the case. But more often then not, I have found that the dissenter will persist DESPITE a lack of reasoning for their position and will often accuse me of being defensive because I'm always coming up with reasons for my positions.

Before I proceed further, let me say that I am far from perfect and am wrong more times than I know or would even care to admit. Many times, I'm on the wrong end of the argument. But because I try to follow the truth no matter where it takes me, I have seen growth in my worldview as a result.

I also need to say that I do NOT believe that reason is the end-all, be-all of truth. I am convinced that we need reason coupled with sound presuppositions. At the core, all of our presuppositions are grounded in faith. And because faith is ultimately volitional, meaning that we believe what we want to believe, our hearts must be pure. A pure heart means that we must love the truth more than our pet beliefs or winning an argument. We must even love the truth over our comfort zones.

We don't see the world as it is. We see the world as we are. Anias Nin

With the above said, I am beginning to conclude that the death of reason is the death of communication ifself. When I am in a discussion with a dissenter and discover that they are not deterred if I am successful at exposing their lack of reason and when I see that they lack a curiosity to explore the reasons for my position, the only thing I have left to do is to smile and nod at them. This cuts off the communication. This is why I am suggesting that the death of reason is the death of communication. The death of dialogue is the death of community.
When we lack reason, we vanquish ourselves to islands, stranded from the coasts of truth.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Search for Intelligent Life Amongst Dissenting Voices

Often times, I am disappointed that people so easily dismiss opposing viewpoints as non-intelligent.

One of my favorite blogs (13.7), has an article that although is well-written, does this:

This particular posting implies that one has to be a liberal to be intelligent. But I have also seen conservatives do the same thing. And in light of the latest political spin on the election, I think this topic is especially relevant.

The mistake often being made is that intelligence should be gauged based upon the logical coherence of the conclusions of an argument to presuppositions.

For instance, conservatives generally hold to the presupposition that man should be held accountable to his actions. The religious conservative will usually hold presuppositions that man is "bent" towards selfishness and greed (the idea of "original sin").

As a result Conservatives logically conclude that man's actions aren't excused because of a poor upbringing and social environment. Therefore Conservatives are more likely to support imprisonment and even the death penalty over rehabilitation.

BTW, I know Christians are usually lumped into the right, however I believe that a true grace walking Christian will be a stronger advocate of rehabilitation. I always say, "I'm as conservative as the Word of God and as liberal as the love of God."

Where it gets difficult is that the philosophical presuppositions that give us political, philosophical and religious worldviews aren't usually empirically verifiable. I think religion does the best job of recognizing this by calling it faith. But is it not also faith to ultimately believe that man's ultimate longing is for freedom (Neo-conservative presuppositions) or that man is primarily a product of his environment (liberalism)? I'd love to see equal recognition that these presuppositions are held in faith in politics and philosophy. Even science has this problem. Just look at its speculations on the multiverse theory or even its dogma on the origins of life. The origins issue is a unique event that occurred once. It can't be ultimately tested in a laboratory and repeated. This is a demand of empiricism.

The bottom line is that I have met intelligent and stupid people on both sides of the philosophical and political spectrums. It is closed-minded dogma to dismiss people as non-intelligent simply because they disagree with my worldview.

If a person has consistent reason connecting their presuppositions with their conclusions, we can at least say that they are intelligent. This doesn't make them right or wrong, only logical. BTW, truth does exclude arguments that are logically inconsistent.

Beyond logical consistency, we get into the biases that often shape the faith that undermines our presuppositions. At that point, we are in the territories of volition, the visceral and the heart. This is why it is said, "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth."

Sometimes we believe in our presuppositions because they make us feel comfortable and secure or are otherwise to our advantage. We must have the courage to believe the truth no matter where it leads and the love of it to pursue it at all costs. Since loving an "it" is ultimately impossible (a misuse of the overused word "love"), does it not make sense that a loving God is ultimately the truth we seek?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dangers In Under-communicating

One could argue that I over-communicate. But Eugene Robinson’s article is why:

I’m politically an independent and not interested in pushing my political views on this blog, so please listen to me with an open mind, regardless of your political persuasion.

If you go to the Tea Party’s web site (, you will see that it stands for the following issues:

  • ·         Fiscal Responsibility
  • ·         Constitutionally Limited Government
  • ·         Free Markets 

As anyone can see, these three line items have absolutely NOTHING to do with racism. So why does Mr. Robinson connect the Tea Party with racism?

When the Tea Party makes statements like “we want to take back America” and “we want to return America to the American people”, he speculates that the Tea Party wants to take back America from minorities or return it to a pre-civil rights era.

So if a party legitimately believed in these three bullet points and had NO racial prejudices, how could they communicate these views without getting distracted by the allegations of discrimination?

Let’s put aside those who will shout “racism” and “bigotry” just to muddy the waters and advance their agendas. Those folks are beyond reasoning. Addressing them is like what Jesus called “casting your pearls before swine”.

But what about legitimate misunderstandings like Mr. Robinson’s? I believe that the Tea Party is mis-communicating by under-communicating. If I were a Tea Party member, I’d say something like, “We want to take back America from the big Government politicians.” I’d even communicate disclaimers like, “Belief in a smaller, more responsible, accountable and limited Government, is Constitutional. It is a belief that all of us, White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc., can believe in.”

But such communication is virtually “footnoted” and footnotes can be laborious to read. Thanks for reading.