Tuesday, February 25, 2014

WHAT IS TRUTH? - 3

(The following is my response to the previous post with John's permission.)

John:

I found your "3 important questions" quite significant though my answers disagree with yours.  I suppose we could write off most of our differences as merely semantic, but I think we both agree that definitions are important, as the first 2 questions indicate.  So I'll try and give my answers as well as my reasons for disagreement.

First, what is truth?  For some reason, though you asked this question first, you didn't answer it first.  Of course, you were responding to my post WHAT IS TRUTH?.  I still haven't changed my thinking on this, even though I posted this nearly 8 years ago.  Truth is simply that which is, those statements which correspond with reality.

It appears as if you, however, believe that there are two totally different kinds of truth, "physical truth" which, though it does exist, "cannot be known in a fixed and immutable way," and what I suppose you'd call "theological truth," that which "is exempt from challenge and improvement."

I disagree!  Though there may be many differing categories of truth statements, truth itself does not change its definition depending on its subject.

Though much of physical truth cannot be known with certainty as you state, there is quite a bit that can be known.  It is the truth for instance, that I got out of bed this morning; this is a known fact.  It is also a truth that the earth rotates around the sun and that if I jump off my roof I will fall in an earthward direction and so forth.

In the same manner, there are theological truths that can be known, that are "fixed and immutable."  But there are also many that, as in the realm of science, we cannot be certain of.  Centuries of theological debate certainly demonstrate that.

So then, there are truths in whatever category we may choose.  While some of these can be known with certainty, many cannot.  And all truth statements are open to challenge, though if they are truth they are not open to change.  Our faith or "belief" (or unbelief) in these statements in no way affects their truthfulness.

What is science?  You define it as "the construction and refinement of mathematical and conceptual models of observed physical phenomena; where the validity of a model is measured by how accurately the model predicts future events."  I wasn't sure exactly what this means.  I confess that I am not a scientist.  However, I am familiar with what is known as The Scientific Method, though as John C. Lennox states:  "Contrary to popular impression, there is no one agreed scientific method, though certain elements crop up regularly in attempts to describe what 'scientific' activity involves:  hypothesis, experiment, data, evidence, modified hypothesis, theory, prediction, explanation, and so on.  But precise definition is very elusive."  He quotes also the view that "science 'by definition deals only with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law.'"  (God's Undertaker, page 32.)  Such definitions would rule out many fields such as cosmology as science, as he explains.  I would add that history and archaeology would also be ruled out.

Lennox gives "another way of looking at things" which he refers to as "the method of inference to the best explanation (or abduction ...").  He admits, however, that the previous method would "carry more authority."

Now to question 3:  "What point of view does the Bible come from in the field of science?"  Here it seems that while we both seem to end up in nearly the same place, we get there by different routes.

The Bible is not a scientific book; it is "pre-scientific."  The New Testament was completed 1,500 years before the birth of modern science; most of the Old Testament was completed even before the observations of the ancient Greeks; the Torah preceded them by 1,000 years.  So to speak of "early scientific models" is an anachronism, which

if Moses had used (to use your words), "he would have been ignored as a crazy person."

The biblical language, however, was not unscientific.  It simply referred to various phenomena as they were perceived.  Thus Moses would have perceived the sun as rising and setting (the same way we do).  The biblical writers also used figures of speech freely, such as metaphor and hyperbole.  I strongly suspect that the various creation accounts were just that.  (See my post:  SOME THOUGHTS ON CREATION.)

Of course, I'll also publish your response to my response.

(Now a few remarks as to some of CA's comments on your post.)

Yes, Galileo disagreed with the Church's teachings on cosmology.  But as I seem to recall, the problem was not that the Church had a biblically based view, but that the Church had adopted the "scientific" views of Aristotle, which had been around for two millennia.  Many -- both theologians and scientists -- of his day were opposed to him.  Scientists can be as conservative as theologians.  As you may know, the current "big bang" theory of the origins of the universe was opposed not only by 6-day creationists but also by scientists who held to a steady-state universe.

As I said above, faith doesn't determine truth; one's believe  in a truth claim does not make that claim true.  This goes for Atheists' beliefs as well as Christians' beliefs.  Atheists accept many unproven things by faith: how life emerged from non-life by natural selection; how mind evolved from non-mind.

Despite your claims to the contrary, there is evidence for the truths of Christianity, which if you really desired to, you could examine for yourself.

I would also recommend, John, that you do the same.

9 comments:

Canadian Atheist said...

Hello Bill. I've missed your blog.

I agree with much of what you said to John. I look forward to reading any response he might give.

However...

You said: "As you may know, the current "big bang" theory of the origins of the universe was opposed not only by 6-day creationists but also by scientists who held to a steady-state universe."

Yes, but the evidence must win out. That's what science is all about.

You said: As I said above, faith doesn't determine truth; one's believe in a truth claim does not make that claim true. This goes for Atheists' beliefs as well as Christians' beliefs.

You had me with this bit, Bill. I absolutely agree with you. But then you went off the rails.

You said: Atheists accept many unproven things by faith: how life emerged from non-life by natural selection; how mind evolved from non-mind.

Um, no, Bill. Atheism doesn't say you must believe anything in order to be an atheist. I accept evolution because that's what the mountains of evidence points to. I do not need to believe anything without evidence in order to be an atheist. I merely need to not believe in a God. Yours among the many others I don't believe in.

You said: Despite your claims to the contrary, there is evidence for the truths of Christianity, which if you really desired to, you could examine for yourself.

I desire to and constantly look, which is what drew me to your blog in the first place, my friend.

Unfortunately, no evidence exists for the Christian God, just like there is none for the thousands of other gods. At least so far. If there were, I'd not be an atheist.

Bill Ball said...

Thanks Mike, I appreciate your comments. I wasn't disputing evolution by natural selection, but was saying that there are things that natural selection can't account for, such as how life emerged from non-life. To credit this to natural selection seems to me to require a Kirkegaardian leap of faith.
If you are really interested in examining Christianity's truth claims I'd suggest that you read The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel. But read it with an open mind.
By the way when Uni read your comments she quoted Jesus'words to a perceptive scholar: "You are not far from the Kingdom of God."
:^)

John Kulp said...

Bill:

As usual, you stimulated my thinking.  I sincerely apologize in advance for the length of this response.  It will probably require 2 posts because of size limits.

First, I like your definition of truth;  “Truth is simply that which is, those statements which correspond to reality”. 

The primary world of observable reality is the physical world, the world of time, space, matter and energy.  There are two aspects which we can study in the physical world.  The first is physical science, the real-time behavior of time, space, matter and energy.  This is the world of discovery by recognizing and modeling repeatable observed phenomena, confirmed by experimental measurement of how well the models predict future behavior.  This is the world of the scientific method. 

The second aspect of observable reality is in the fact that the entire history of the universe including the history of man was a series of many real events occurring in real time.  The universe and the earth contain historical artifacts of those real events, and those artifacts can be observed and studied.  These can be artifacts of natural events (the uncovering of a fossil), or artifacts of the events and thoughts of man. (discovering the pyramids or the dead sea scrolls)  This is a more difficult reality to define with certainty because the observations cannot in general be tested by the scientific method.  Random events are not repeatable, and long period repeatable events are difficult to test in a laboratory.  As you quoted from Lennox, the previous category would “carry more authority”.

There is another world which is not defined by time, space, matter and energy.  That is the world of thought and ideas.  (Plato’s theory of forms)  This is the world of language.  The world of philosophy.  The world of mathematics.  The world of the models of science.

So, in the above context “truth” would exist when a concept or model in the world of thought (the world of ideas) is in exact correspondence with the reality of a natural phenomena or a historical event.  

The difficult part of this simple sounding idea is confirming that a concept or model is actually in correspondence with reality.  Even in the world of physical science where controlled experiments “cary more authority”, it is difficult.  The difficulties are primarily in experimental design, observation, and measurement.  An experiment must be complex and broad to produce a valid picture of how well a model predicts future events.  Observation is never without the influence of the pre-conceptions of the observer, and measurement error is never zero.  These problems fog the validity of data.  The circle of error is viewed as strong evidence.  Each experiment has a circle of error, the summed standard deviation of experimental and measurement error.  If the result falls within the circle of error of the result predicted by the model there is a reasonable probability that the model is valid at the condition observed.  As the experiment and measurement capability improve, a result that remains within the new tighter circle of error is considered to be a very positive sign of correspondence of the model to reality.

The data is analyzed by a statistical T test to give a mathematical probability of the model being correlated to reality based on the experiment.  The probability is never 100%.  95% is a good probability of correspondence.

Trying to confirm correspondence of concepts or models to reality where that process is based on historical artifacts, with no ability to test the ability of the model to predict future events in an experiment, is even more difficult.  I think this is why the Darwinian model of evolution has been more controversial than physical science.  It can not be fully “tested” in a laboratory.

I think that I may see less truth than you do because my definition of correspondence is more strict than yours.  I see truth as a very high standard.  I think a concept or model must correspond exactly to reality to reach the level of truth.  

(to be continued)

John Kulp said...

John Kulp response -2 (continued)

The three “truths” you listed are very good examples which may explain my view of correspondence.

TRUTH - “I got out of bed this morning”.  The correspondence of that statement to reality for you is easy.  You were there.  You did it and you observed it.  You can accept it as truth because you have physical evidence.  For me, it is very different.  I was not there.  There are no videos.  I have no physical evidence that what you say corresponds to reality.  All I have is your word.  And, based on my great faith in your honesty I accept it as truth.  My belief that there is correspondence between your statement and reality is not based on physical evidence, it is based on faith.  If someone presented me with physical evidence (a video) that proved that you stayed in bed, I would reconsider my faith.  But, short of that evidence I will trust your word as being absolutely true above anyone who calls you a liar simply because you don’t have physical evidence (a video) to prove your statement.

TRUTH - “If I jump off my roof I will fall in an earthward direction”

  The reality of that jump based on more advanced models of motion is very different than your statement.  As the earth spins, you are traveling at approximately 1,000 miles per hour eastward as you sit on the roof.  When you jump off you you don’t actually fall straight down, you fall primarily eastward in the arc of an ellipse.  The earth below you is also traveling 1,000 miles per hour eastward, so It appears to you (in your earth centered universe) that you have simply dropped 15’ down.  The reality is that you will land about 1/4 mile east of, and about 30’ below the point in space you jumped from.  This model is a different and more accurate description of reality than your observation.
  A more precise understanding can be achieved with more information to define a more complete picture of the reality of your jump.  The mass of the sun will impact your jump.  If you jump at sunrise you will land very slightly to the east, and if you jump at sunset you will land slightly to the west.  Any wind will impact your path in space.  The temperature and humidity and barometric pressure will change your movement pattern.  A model including all of these factors will be a different and more accurate description of reality than #1.
  A complete understanding of the reality of the jump event would include an answer to the un-answered questions of “why do physical objects experience a force of attraction proportional to their mass?”  Does mass create a curvature in space-time as Einstein suggested, and how does it do that? 

At which step does the correlation of the statement, or the model, to the full picture of the reality of your jump reach the level of truth?  Your answer will be earlier and simpler.  Mine will be later and more complex.
 
(to be continued)

John Kulp said...

John Kulp response -3 (continued)

TRUTH - “The Earth rotates around the Sun”.  This is where our view of correspondence may really diverge.  My view of correspondence in science is closely related to the old concept of physical laws.  Historically, when a physical principle was modeled in a very detailed and elegant way, and experimentation confirmed the ability of that principle to predict future events, it would be given the title of “law”.  The earth’s rotation around the sun was too naive to ever be considered a “law”.  Newton’s laws of motion which defined the motion of the earth around the sun in a precise and elegant way were “laws”.  They were viewed as the “truths” corresponding to the reality of motion which told us why the earth rotates around the sun.   Einstein later challenged the correspondence of Newton’s laws and  viewed both your earth/sun statement and Newtons laws as not corresponding to reality.  He proposed that the earth is traveling in a straight line past the sun, and that the straight line in space-time has been curved by the mass of the sun.  My brain has still not really grasped that model.

I am not saying that your softer view of correspondence is any better or worse than my more rigid view of correspondence; only that they are different and that we should recognize that to communicate clearly.

I must also respond to your challenge for me to seek and acknowledge evidence which underpins my faith.  I agree that there is significant evidence for the validity of my faith.  For me, that would include 1) the lack of scientific myth in the bible when compared to other historical religious writings.  As I have already said, science in the bible is in my opinion reasonable early scientific modeling based on and consistent with the observation capability at the time of writing.  This is in stark contrast to stories like the earth on the back of elephants in all other ancient religious writings.  2)  The close connection to the time of events recorded.  A fragment of a copy of the Gospel of John carbon dates to 125AD, just 30 years after it was written.  John’s authorship and the authenticity of his gospel was confirmed in the writings of Eranaeus (a student of Polycarp who was a student of John) in 170AD in the city which is now Lyon in France.  3)  The number of writings about the life and existence of Jesus is greater than any other first century figure.  The writings include both Christian writings and historical writings like the historical writings of Josephus. I will do more investigation in this area due to your challenge.

However, I believe that none of the above evidence in either science or theology is an absolute confirmation of correspondence between a concept or model and reality.  I believe that acceptance of truth (“not open to change”), although based on strong evidence, is always in the end an act of faith.  I used scientific principles by faith, as if they were true, in my career as an engineer and scientist; even though I always viewed them as open to challenge and change.  My christian faith, though based on historical evidence, is in the end also something I accept by faith.  

Lastly let me correct myself.  As you, I do welcome and consider people’s challenge of my faith, especially when that challenge is based on evidence.  However, it is truth to me, by faith, verified by my life experiences as a christian.

God is the rewarder of those who seek him.  

John

Bill Ball said...

John, this reminds me of a (true) story:
Once, to illustrate my definition of truth to a Theology class, I stated that 2+2=4 was a truth. I was immediately challenged by a bright student. I asked him to show evidence and in the next class session he presented a long mathematical treatise demonstrating that this was not the case.
I held up two fingers on my right hand and two fingers on my left and said that if you ask any four year old he could tell you that "if you got dese many and dese many and if you put dem together (which I did) you'll have dese many."

John Kulp said...

2+2=4 is valid for counting fingers or sheep. But your student was right, it is not always true. Adding errors in the scientific experiments we have been discussing is done by root mean square. 2 units of error from one source plus 2 units of error from another source equals 1.414 units of error.

If you live in the world of counting fingers or sheep, the above difference is meaningless. If you live in the world of leading edge science the above difference is absolutely critical.

Our friend Phil talks about small "t" truth and capital "T" Truth. I never liked that, but I am coming to see a need for a word to describe 2+2=4 basic, limited truth and a different word to describe precise and complete correspondence to a fully understood reality, unlimited Truth.

John Kulp said...

Oops! 2 units of error from one contributor plus 2 units of error from another contributor equals 2.828 units of error, not 1.424. Sorry.
John

Sherry Ball Schoenfeldt said...

Yikes!
I used to think I was smart. I wonder whether or not that's truth now.

My first comment is that whether or not I know something or agree with it does not determine whether something is true. It is true whether I understand it or not.

We decide based on evidence as we perceive it whether or not something is true. This decision it's true does not make it true any more than the decision it is not true makes it false.

When deciding on matters of faith, our perceptions of the "evidence" are influenced by a host of things including our experiences & feelings, our needs & desires, our understanding of the world around us.

For me to mock someone's faith becuz I believe differently or don't believe at all, is to totally dismiss the entirety of their life. On the other hand, to believe something that has been disproven is to be in denial of the truth.

The Bible isn't a history book or a science book but the story of redemption as told by different people with different views & experiences, speaking to different audiences. The Holy Spirit did not write it & have people sign their name to it. He did not dictate it. He did not reveal to them all the truths of science or even their faith. Each storyteller had their own purpose in the greater purpose of relaying a story about grace. It's unfair to expect more of them -- an expectation largely caused by teachings of the church.

I can tell you the evidence I consider, the things I've seen in my life and the things that I wrestle with. Those things won't prove anything to anyone else but they shouldn't be discounted. Likewise I shouldn't discount those who have decided differently or never felt a decision was needed.