iSoul In the beginning is reality

Tag Archives: Dialectic

Being and becoming

Evolutionism is a philosophy that looks to science to fill in the details.  It is based on putting becoming before being, contrary to the classical and Christian assertion that being precedes becoming.  We have to know what or who something is before we can understand how it got that way, or what we’re even talking about.  But evolutionists reverse that and say that knowing how something came to be tells us what it is.

So evolutionists do not begin with a taxonomy except to criticize its shortcomings.  Taxonomy for evolution means populations over time, not something with being that is trans-temporal.  Louis Agassiz saw this immediately and completely rejected evolution in the 19th century.

Many who are not evolutionists are following their lead in emphasizing how life and the universe as it is today came to be rather than focusing on what life and the universe are from beginning to end.  We are trying to understand creation as becoming rather than as being as created by God.

How God created life and the universe are less important than that God created them and that what they are is what God created them to be.  We should emphasize questions of what and who rather than how and when.  If we do this, we will find ourselves in a philosophical debate more than a scientific debate.  I know that makes some people uncomfortable but that is where we should be.

January 2015

Reductionism and kinds

Reductionism goes beyond naturalism to say that biology is reducible to chemistry which is reducible to physics.  The acid of reductionism turns fixed kinds into temporary kinds and differences in kind into differences in degree.

The paradigmatic example of differences in kind is the periodic table of elements.  This structure is fixed and unchangeable.  But it is problematic because it can apparently be reduced to the physics of atoms.  This is considered to reflect the maturity of chemistry — that it can be reduced to something else, that its limits are known.  But that undermines the reality of kinds.

Can we get rid of reductionism?  No, in some ways it reflects what is there.  Instead we have to counter reductionism with its opposite.

Reductionism says the universe is constructed from many simple entities.  That is not untrue but it is not the full truth.  The universe is also reconstructed from one complex entity, called the earth in Gen. 1:2.  The division of light and dark, of land and sea, of land and sky, and of creatures in these various divisions are a testimony to this.

Modern science began with a turn away from explanations in terms of the “metaphysical” causes of teleology and design to the “empirical” causes of efficient/temporal and material explanations.  The former are top-down explanations, the latter are bottom-up explanations.  We need to bring both of these together.

To do this requires a dynamic method — a dialectic that allows these two halves to work together without either replacing the other.  This means seeing them as complementary rather than conflicting.  That would be new in Western culture, where a fixed method or contradictory dialectic has dominated.  This would also be consistent with the Genesis mandate to be stewards of nature rather than the modern mandate to command and control nature.

September 2014

The dialectic of extremes and means

The dialectic of extremes and means is a method of reasoning whereby one begins with extremes and reasons to means or vice versa.  If one begins with means, these are considered as unanalyzed entities, attributes, propositions, etc.  The goal is to work out the implications of them as principles or to analyze them into their constituent parts as a combination of extremes.  If one begins with extremes, these are considered as unsynthesized entities, attributes, propositions, etc.  The goal is to synthesize them into their fullness and completion as integrated means or to work from partial truths toward full truths.

We live among means, that is, we live in the middle ground, a mesosphere where things are muddled and messy but familiar and common.  Philosophy is often said to begin here, with what is commonly known rather than with specialized knowledge.  Whatever we find must come back to the middle ground where we live or else it is like a dream unrelated to our lives.

Classical deductive logic works from truths to their implications while preserving truth.  It assumes that truth is known at the beginning, that truths are known in the middle ground of life.  They may be known because they are axiomatic (worthy of assent) or because they are self-evident, or because they were given by a trustworthy source.  The outworking of such truths leads toward extremes.

The dialectic of reasoning from extremes to means is focused on the end, not the beginning.  It does not follow from truths; it leads toward truths.  One does not usually begin with truth.  One usually begins with something at hand, something muddled and messy.  Truth is something that must be sought.  This dialectic begins with partial truths and reasons toward full truth.

Extremes express simple but partial truths.  Proverbial statements often express extremes – that’s why there are often contrary proverbs.  For example, the Book of Proverbs includes these two:  Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.  (Pr. 26.4-5)

There are many pairs of entities, attributes, propositions, etc., which express contrary extremes and are partially true.  For example, a preference for simplicity leads to extremes:  in classification and typology, the extremes are all elements in one class and every element in its own class.  Some people (called lumpers) tend to combine elements into fewer classes and others (called splitters) tend to split elements into more classes.  Who is right?  They are both partially right.

Reasoning from extremes to means may be deductive or inductive.  The deductive form works via a form of backward chaining.  It starts with a mean which is a hypothesis or goal and works backwards from the consequent to the antecedent to see if the extremes will support this or any of these consequents.  Instead of reasoning from truth, it is reasoning from partial truths.  The result is a combination of partial truths, which together form a complete truth.

As an illustration of reasoning from extremes to means, consider arithmetic.  Start by defining numbers recursively: if x is a number, then f(x) is a number.  For example, if x is a number then x+1 is a number.  (Addition could be left undefined at this point but let’s assume it is ordinary addition.)  Next, consider the extremes: what are the first last numbers, if they exist?

Answer A:  There is a first number; call it 0.  There is a last number; call it 2, where 2 is 0+1+1.  This is arithmetic modulo 3.

Answer B:  There is a first number.  Call it 0 (or 1, if you prefer).  There is no last number in the sense that there is no unique last number (the sequence must not converge and one can stop at any number arbitrarily).  We conclude that 0+1 is a number, as are 0+1+1, and so on in sequence without end.

Answer C: There is no first number in the sense that there is no unique first number.  There is a last number which depends on the recursion and the arbitrary first number (called the seed number).  The sequence must be convergent.  For example, let the seed number be 1 and the recursion such that if x is a number, then the reciprocal of x+1 is also a number.  This leads to the sequence 1, ½, 2/3, 3/5, 5/8, and so on.  The last number of this sequence is (-1+√5)/2, sometimes called φ (or 1/φ).  Notice that other seed numbers could lead to the same last number.

In these examples the numbers formed by the recursions are the means.  The extremes (those directly stipulated as numbers or used as seed numbers or formed by sequences) are not really numbers.  From ancient times a number has been defined as a multitude so the first number is the second member of the number sequence and there is no last number.  The extreme numbers are the limits of ordinary numbers.  Ordinary numbers are analogous to partial truths, and extreme numbers are analogous to full truths.

These examples lead to the observation that sometimes the extremes may be contrary in different and multiple ways.  First and last are natural extremes but other attributes may be contrary, too:  definite and indefinite, arbitrary and determinate, convergent and divergent, etc.

Conjecture: convergent and divergent sequences may be put into one-to-one correspondence.

November 2013