iSoul In the beginning is reality

Faith that works

Is this a dispute about words? It could be but these are key terms and so much is bound up with them that it is important to get their meanings right.

What is this faith that works? In the first place, this faith always leads to some action, and such action is always more than saying that one has such a faith. However, the Apostle Paul affirms that verbal confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ accompanied by belief in the heart is sufficient to ensure one’s salvation. Rom. 10.9.

We can begin to see a difference between the confession of faith in Romans and the mere claim that such faith exists in James’ letter. Here is a financial analogy: One person has money on deposit at a bank and they trust that the bank will return the deposit with interest on request. Someone else owns a financial derivative that is based on this deposit and they believe this will benefit them financially. In the latter case a deposit exists somewhere but the person does not own it; they own something related to it. In the former case the person owns the deposit although they can’t see it except in documents they trust. In the analogy, these documents are like the Bible which provides assurance that salvation is ours to possess. The derivatives are like an assertion that such faith exists but are not personal possessions.

So we see the danger of a derivative faith, which is mere assent without conviction.

There is another aspect of saving faith: follow through. Jesus gave a parable about a farmer planting a seed and not knowing how it grows but trusting that it does. This is implicitly contrasted with someone who plants a sees and doubts that it is growing so they dig it up frequently to check it out. Such a seed doesn’t mature. The former is saving faith that follows through and the latter is faith that is undermined by doubt and doesn’t follow through. As Jesus said in another context, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”

While the formula “sola fides” is rejected by the scriptures as a formula, it expresses scriptural truth when accompanied by further explanation. What is the scriptural formula? Why do we need formulas? The scriptural truth is clear enough: salvation is by faith and saving faith confesses the lordship of Christ and follow through with corresponding actions. The particular actions are not specified; the content of the faith is specified: Jesus is Lord. Believe it and act accordingly.


The necessity of philosophy

The contemporary world is characterized, among other things, by the cult of the expert.  It is widely and officially accepted that the expert and only the expert can speak authoritatively on a given subject.  So extensive is this cult that once someone has become a certified expert in one field, they are often assumed to be experts in other fields, whether or not they actually have the qualifications.

How do we know who is an expert on what subject?  The experts tell us!  As long as the experts support one another’s claims to expertise, they constitute a closed system and everyone else is supposed to accept them all.  But if some experts disagree with other experts, no end of problems can result.  This is such a disastrous possibility that it is often suppressed.  If an expert disagrees with the predominant expert option, their expert status must be taken away.

So the cult of the expert becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.  Either one accepts all the certified experts or one rejects the whole idea.  And this basic proposition must be decided by people who are not experts.  That is the irony of the cult of the expert.

But it was not always this way, nor must the cult of the expert necessarily continue.  Let us briefly consider what life would be like without the cult of the expert.  That is, what if people were encouraged to think for themselves?  Would civilization crumble?  Or would it flourish in ways that no-one can predict?

The starting-point for this project must be something that is available to anyone that is close at hand, that is within the grasp of anyone who wants to think for themselves.  There must be no expertise required!  Sometimes it is called “common sense” although that is an ambiguous term.  I prefer to all it high-level thinking in contrast to the detail-level thinking that requires special education or experience.

One of the problems that experts are prone to is seeing the trees but not the forest – missing the larger picture because they are focused on details.  Of course, they can retort that the amateur sees the forest but not the trees, meaning they make mistakes by overlooking important details.  Agreed; there are potential problems either way.  In taking a high-level approach, we shall have to take care to avoid hasty generalizations and mistaken identifications.

This is the task of philosophy.  With nothing more than a love of wisdom and a curious mind, we launch out to gain sufficient understanding to live wisely – that is, to gain wisdom.

One method to approach a question is to look at extreme answers in order to frame the issue.  In common experience, extremes are rare so we make expect to find answers somewhere in between.


The descent of mind

Darwin initiated a rhetorical strategy of minimizing the difference between species — or what is the same thing, of maximizing the difficulties of delineating one species from another. He made the species concept suspect, although he continued to use it where it suited him. The implication was that larger taxonomic categories were also suspect, and the difference between amoeba and man was one of degree rather than kind.

One result was that the mind, with its long history of philosophical reflection, was reduced to mere matter. Material complexity replaced the non-materiality of mind. The mind descended into mindlessness.

In an age of vigorous philosophy, such mindlessness would have been exposed immediately. However, it was an age of science and the philosophers had to bow. Indeed many of them were materialists, cheering from the sidelines.

In addition to weak philosophy, a weak Christianity bowed to the new mindlessness. Its institutions were weak, its leaders were weak, and many adherents were weak, too. Once the new mindlessness took a tenacious hold, it was too weak to mount much of a challenge. Christianity acquiesced to the authority of the scientist, the priesthood of materialism.

How could minds resort to such mindlessness as to ignore themselves? The air of objectivity seduced them. Without mind, there is no subjective mind to argue about. The ultimate hole-in-the-wall objectivity was achieved. This mental camera obscura filtered itself out except for a tiny subjective hole and then defended that hole tenaciously.

Is objectivity really the mind minimizing itself? Yes. Where there is mind, there is subjectivity because mind is attached to a subject. The idea that subjectivity could be harmonized with objectivity was excluded. The object was everything, the subject nothing.

What is the pinhole that shows no essential difference between amoeba and man? What invariant is permitted in the midst of an ever-changing world? It is the invariant of mindlessness, the mind that empties itself of itself. Sound like eastern religion? It is.

But in the West it goes back at least to Galileo and the early scientists. They divided experience into primary and secondary and promoted the primary as the more authentic. What is this primary experience? It is experience that can be measured – that is, objective experience. This they argued did not change from subject to subject.

But, as we certainly know now if we didn’t know then, primary experience does in fact change from subject to subject. It depends on the position and velocity of the observer. It depends on the calibration of the measuring device. It depends on the mind ignoring a thousand things in order to focus on a few things, as if it has certain knowledge of what is significant and what is not.


Approaches to origins

Let’s distinguish three approaches to the study of universal origins:

Philosophical naturalism with natural science

Biblical creationism with creation science

Philosophical creationism with universal history

Autonomous Humanism: naturalism with natural history and science

Definitive methods are based on the primacy of nature, hence philosophical naturalism, because it is systematic empiricism and the introduction of the supernatural throws in a wild card which undermines this.

The weakness of this approach is that it excludes non-naturalistic possibilities and overplays the “uniformity of nature” card.

Methodological naturalism is equivalent to philosophical naturalism if only naturalistic methods are considered definitive.  A method (or class of methods) is definitive if applications of the method may only be critiqued or superseded by other applications of the method, that is, all methods other than the privileged method (or class of methods) are rejected.  A definitive method (or class of methods) is not only methodological; it is also philosophical because a philosophical commitment is entailed by the rejection of other methods.  If approach #1 were replaced by methodological naturalism but other methods were not rejected, then how would the application of different methods be judged?  It is virtually certain that one method (or class of methods) would predominate.

Biblical Supernaturalism: creationism with creation history and science

Definitive methods are based on the primacy of the Bible, hence biblical creationism, which is the Bible as Scripture understood in its historical sense, because it is the Word of God, the very source and ground of all truth, including truths about the created world.

The weakness of this approach is that it is not persuasive to unbelievers (by definition) and makes knowledge of the universe subject to theological controversies.

Should one believe that the 12 census numbers given for the tribes of Israel in the first chapter of the Book of Numbers sum to 603,550 because Num. 1.46 says so or because of arithmetic addition?  It is certainly the latter because if Num. 1.46 were omitted we would still know the total number.  The point is that bringing in Scripture is overkill in this case.  Similarly for an outline of creation history one does not need to play the trump card of Scripture.

Universal Humanism: ‘medialism’ with universal history and science

Definitive methods are based on the primacy of humanity, both divine and created, hence philosophical creationism and humanism, because all knowledge possessed by humans is humanly mediated knowledge.  Humanity is the universal mean, “the measure of all things,” the key to understanding the universe.

This leads to the primacy of human history for the study of creation history.  Human history provides an outline for creation history; such history of humanity and creation is called “universal history.”

Definitive methods are based on philosophical creationism, that is, the original and continuing existence of the universe in general and humanity in particular is a result of divine action, because that is the biblical truth and universal mean.

The weakness of this approach is that it discounts the possibility of non-human-centered knowledge.  While it may be appealing to Christians who believe that divine truth is manifested in the person of Christ, it may be unappealing to non-Christians who allow truth to arise from an Absolute Other.  Its retort is that it is a form of humanism which should be accessible to all.

For universal origins one needs the right genre of knowledge, the right extent of history, and the right place of humanity.

The right genre of knowledge is historical knowledge so the right methods are historical methods, that is, methods which preserve the uniqueness of actors, actions, events, and things.  The right extent of history is the extent of humanity, which traces its history to the beginning of the universe.  The right place of humanity is as the crown of creation, the key to understanding the entire universe.


History and science

Authentic eyewitness testimony carries more weight than physical evidence concerning events in the past – particularly the distant past. Artifacts of the past are always open to interpretations that contradict one another whereas the ambiguities in testimony are minor in comparison. If the testimony is recorded, then the transmission of the recording needs authentication, preferably with testimony from those involved in the transmission.

The situation is exactly like testimony vs. circumstantial evidence in a court of law. The former is far more significant than the latter. Indeed, the rules of evidence require that all exhibits be introduced by a witness. The prosecutor can’t just show the jury a photograph without a witness testifying about when and where it was taken or found. So history, which compiles and synthesizes testimonies and artifacts of the past, is superior to any physical science of past events. Creationists could argue this point to put evolutionists and uniformitarians in their place.

“Pre-historic events” are by definition unattested by eyewitness testimony. They may simply be dismissed since they are unknown to history. Various myths have suggested pre-historic events but these are not taken seriously anymore. But extrapolations of current physical laws and processes into the indefinite past are taken seriously. The reasons for this seem to be (1) the success of physical laws in covering events dispersed in space and time, (2) the prestige of the physical sciences in explaining phenomena and contributing to new technology; and the spread of materialistic ideas that presume everything is covered by currently known laws and processes.

The result is that many give greater credibility to physical sciences than history in studying past events. The testimony of reliable witnesses is set aside or dismissed when they seem to contradict processes and laws that are presumed to be universal in space and time. One thing that creationists can do is show how reliable witnesses do not contradict the physical sciences. But beyond this creationists should emphasize that history trumps the physical sciences in the study of past events.


Histories and stories

If all entities were completely identical, they could not be distinguished from each other so there would be only one entity.  If all things were completely unique, they could not be identified so there would be no knowledge.  Since neither of these extremes is the case, we conclude that entities contain sufficient similarity to be classified and sufficient differences to be identified.

Classification calls out similarities among entities and groups them together.  Identification calls out differences among entities and separates them from each other.  Entities in some classes will have much in common and differences will be few or low-level.  Entities in other classes will have some properties in common but differences will be many or high-level.  Call the former kind of class homogenous classes and call the latter kind of class heterogeneous classes.  Broadly speaking, histories are about heterogeneous classes and sciences are about homogeneous classes.

The greater the heterogeneity of a class, the greater the difficulty is in making a prediction about members of the class that are yet to be identified.  Predictability in this case comes down to the question of whether a class is homogeneous or heterogeneous.  It may be doubted whether there are any absolutely heterogeneous classes because in order to be a class, there must be some commonality.  However, one could also say that there are no absolutely homogeneous classes because in order for the class to have identifiable members, there must be some heterogeneity.

Lawlike propositions concerning homogeneous classes that make successful predictions about members of the class not yet identified constitute scientific theories.  There are two basic kinds of such theories, depending on whether or not the predictions are about individual members of a class or about aggregate properties of members of a class.  The former are natural sciences and the latter are statistical sciences.

“Storylike” propositions are storylines or the like that connect members of heterogeneous classes.  These differ from lawlike propositions in that they focus on differences rather than similarities.  The criterion for a successful storylike proposition is meaningfulness.  They connect diverse entities in a meaningful way.  The more meaningful a proposition is, the more successful it is.  One way to determine meaningfulness is via how many and how varied are the entities that are connected.  The greatest storylike proposition would connect the most diverse entities; indeed it would connect the whole universe in one storyline.

There are two kinds of histories depending on whether individual members of classes are connected or whether aggregate groups of members are connected.  The former are individual histories and the latter are aggregate histories.  Social, political, and economic histories are types of aggregate histories and biographical histories are types of individual histories.

Are histories and sciences dichotomous or is there a way to combine them together?  They are essentially different and so should not be expected to be integrated into one.  However, they may be compatible so that the lawlike propositions of sciences do not interfere with the storylike propositions of histories and vice versa.  In fact, it should be a criterion of success that lawlike propositions are compatible with histories and storylike propositions are compatible with sciences.  However, if there is incompatibility, one should not be allowed to dominate the other, as has happened with sciences dominating histories.  This puts too much of a premium on similarity at the expense of diversity.


Who’s on first?

Before the 19th century natural science was part of philosophy. It was called ‘natural philosophy’ (usually) or ‘experimental philosophy’ (Newton). Philosophy provided the background and justification for the development of empirical methods to study the world. Natural science pre-supposed and depended on philosophy.

By the 19th century the discipline matured so that it could be considered separate from philosophy and the word “science” was coined. The methods of science were different from the methods of philosophy. Many scientific societies arose that regulated the growing body of scientific activities. Science became more like mathematics, a discipline organized by its practitioners around its own methods and criteria and not accountable to outsiders.

Science studied “nature” and devised “explanations” whereas philosophy talked about “what exists” and “reality” (metaphysics) as well as “what is knowable” and “truth” (epistemology). Increasingly, the question of what science has to do with truth and reality was not addressed by scientists except to say “science works”. An anti-philosophical attitude arose among scientists who contrasted their discipline and its widespread agreement and practical results with philosophy which led only to useless wrangling.

By the 20th century every discipline aspired to be “scientific”, to emulate the methods and successes of natural science. Philosophers tried to make philosophy scientific, focusing on a narrow range of problems amenable to systematization or declaring that “there is no first philosophy” (Quine). Philosophy pre-supposed and depended on science, the exact opposite of the historical relationship.


Science and theology

Some people try to exclude arguments about theology from science. This is part of a strategy that goes like this:

Science is the only reliable source of knowledge about the natural world.

Science excludes all arguments about theology.

Therefore, wherever science goes, theology must retreat.

Also, theology has no knowledge to contribute to science.

If Charles Darwin thought that science excluded theology, he would have ignored natural theology in his scientific works. He didn’t. He engaged the natural theology of his day and argued for his own natural theology. In his award-winning book, “Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil,” Cornelius G. Hunter examined Darwin’s natural theology in detail.

Since Darwin argued about theology in his scientific writings, an argument for evolution has no business presuming that science excludes theology. On the other hand, if science does exclude arguments about theology, then The Origin of Species is not science. If The Origin of Species is not science, this article would be even shorter.

Newton also included something about theology in his Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, often considered the greatest scientific work of all time. So science may in fact include arguments about theology and we are free to consider such arguments when discussing the merits of a scientific theory. By the way, the same argument applies, mutatis mutandis, to the inclusion of philosophical arguments in science.


Social libertarianism

The term “social libertarian” is an ambiguous term.  Some have used it to mean a political philosophy that is socialist on most issues except certain matters which are considered private (e.g., a candidate for Minnesota Governor, Scott Raskiewicz).  That is a primarily socialist position.

Here the term “social libertarian” indicates someone who is primarily libertarian but who acknowledges the importance of social institutions and the role that government can play to strengthen them without controlling them.  It might be called social framework political philosophy.

Libertarianism is considered the opposite of political authoritarianism.  Its basic principle is “the obligation not to aggress against anyone.”  This is the Harm Principle of J. S. Mill.  It is a purely negative principle that says little about what libertarianism would do in practice other than repeal laws.

The social framework position says that the purpose of government is to establish and maintain a framework for society.  This framework consists of legal structures, judicial rules, and policies designed to promote the welfare of the society as individuals and as a whole.  The state should not usurp the functions of society; it should support them.

There are only a few roles that are proper for the state: justice, defense, and diplomacy.  Beyond that the state should develop frameworks that society can use.  For example, instead of the state directly building and operating schools, the state should provide a framework in the tax structure so schools can afford to exist and parents can afford to send their children to school.  Instead of the state directly building and operating health care facilities, the state should provide a legal framework so hospitals can afford to exist, health insurance companies can stay in business, and people can afford to pay for health care.

Here is another example of this framework approach, this time concerning a very contentious issue: the state and marriage.  In the U.S. and other Western nations a religious dispute is taking place about marriage.  The focus is the issues of same-sex marriage but it also has to do with divorce.  It is a mistake for the state to step in and “solve” this religious dispute.  It will only exacerbate a religious conflict and undermine political cohesion.

The solution is for the state to step back from deciding who is married and who is not and let religious and social organizations take care of that.  Apart from minimal requirements of age and not being married to another person, the state should merely be the official recorder of marital status.  The marital status is condition of being single, married, or divorced and, if married, the person to whom one is married to.  It also includes the disposition of children and property if there is a divorce.

The transactions of marrying and divorcing should rest with religious and social organizations recognized by the state who have basic characteristics such as these: (1) they have written criteria and procedures they follow for making changes in the marital status of anyone; (2) they notify the state within 10 days if they make a change to the marital status of anyone; (3) they obtain if possible the consent of all parties involved to make a change in their marital status.  All changes in marital status include the disposition of children and property if there is a divorce.

Every time the state is informed by a recognized organization that they have made a change in the marital status the state records the change and the organization that informed them of the change of marital status.  This gives that organization jurisdiction over the marriage should there be any issue that arises.  If a married couple wants a different organization to have jurisdiction over their marriage, they may do so at any time if there is mutual consent.

The state does not recognize a marriage which involves anyone already married unless the state has been informed that there has been a divorce.  If the state is informed of a divorce by a different organization than the one that informed it of the marriage, the state informs the first organization of the change in status and the change in jurisdiction, too.

If both spouses want a divorce, the organization with jurisdiction is available to determine the matter.  The organization must follow its own written procedures but apart from that is under no legal obligation to grant a divorce.  If only one spouse wants a divorce, the organization with jurisdiction is available to adjudicate the matter.  If and only if the written procedures of the organization at the time the couple were married allow for contested divorce, may the organization perform a divorce and then only by following said procedures.  There is no appeal of the organization’s decisions unless there is flagrant disregard of their own written procedures.

The purpose of all this is (1) to get the state out of the business of deciding who is and who isn’t married, and (2) to strengthen the role of non-governmental organizations in society.


Science qualified and unqualified

Science is about public matters that do not require prior philosophical or religious commitments beyond acknowledging the existence of an orderly world and the possibility of understanding that order.  Historically, science did receive impetus from beliefs about the orderliness of the world and human abilities for understanding that order, beliefs that were based on Christian or classical teachings.  But now the possibility of scientific knowledge is widely held without reference to such teachings (how long that can last is another matter).

Science is sometimes considered secular but that implies a way of life which excludes or ignores matters beyond this age/world or concerns about ultimate matters, which are the focus of religion.  Science should affirm the importance of ultimate matters no matter what age or world or religion but deny itself the answers, or skepticism about the answers, and not promote secularism, or anti-secularism, as a way of life.  Science should be respectful of whatever answers people believe and practice about ultimate matters.

Science is sometimes considered agnostic but that implies a degree of skepticism or unbelief about ultimate matters.  But the strength of science is in its reasonableness to people with a wide variety of beliefs about ultimate matters.  Science should be self-limiting in this regard; it should not take a prior position on ultimate matters, nor should it give the impression that ultimate matters are not important or that science has answers to ultimate questions.

Science might be called “mesognostic” because science per se does not have access to ultimate answers.  Thus science should not require the exclusion or inclusion of prior commitments to any ultimate answers.  Science works in a limited domain of questions and provides a limited range of answers.  Ultimate questions and answers are beyond science.

It is possible that the results of science may lend some credence to particular beliefs about ultimate matters.  That does not rule against the scientific validity of such results.  That’s just the way it has turned out at this point.  Also, it may depend on how the results are interpreted.  Wait a while and science may change and lend credence to different beliefs.

Science is about middle matters, not ultimate matters.  Those who look to science for answers about ultimate matters are seeking to turn science into something else, namely, scientism.  They would push science beyond its limits.  They should be resisted for they undermine science.  The place of science is in practical and empirical questions, not ultimate questions or answers.

Several positions on ultimate matters have been advanced by many as required for science, notably, naturalism, materialism, and atheism.  A contrary requirement has been advanced by a few under the heading “creation science.”  While it is certainly possible to engage in scientific research and teaching and have prior commitments, it is a mistake to exclude those who do not have the same commitments from science per se.

It is often said that naturalism (or materialism or atheism) is part of the methodology of science.  But if naturalism is false, why should it be part of the methodology of true science?  Does truth follow from falsehood?  No.  Are the conclusions of such science qualified by the disclaimer, “assuming that naturalism is true”?  No.

A science that depends on a prior philosophical or religious commitment is not a public science.  It is a science only for those who accept the prior philosophical or religious commitment; those who do not are excluded.  Naturalistic science, materialistic science, and creation science are not science tout court.  They are science qualified since they are only for part of the public.  It is deceptive to pass off science qualified as science without qualification.

It may well be that adding prior philosophical or religious commitments to science enables such qualified science to investigate or answer more questions, even concerning ultimate matters.  But such science should always be qualified.  “Naturalistic science” is one thing; science is another.  Science should keep itself in the middle ground between philosophies and religions.