as iron sharpens iron, so one thesis sharpens another

I love logic. It just makes sense!

I want to share with you a method that will save the world. Well, not really, but it’s really cool.

Basically, this method consists of the principles behind the Scientific Method. Call it what you will, but it applies to ANY topic – Theology, Philosophy, Physics, Geology, Sociology – ANY topic.

It has to do with making sense of ‘things’ that we observe in reality (whatever ‘things’ you may be ‘observing’ in ‘reality’). People have different ways of interpreting and explaining what they observe in reality. The so-called ‘law of non-contradiction’ (which is about as basic as it gets with logic!) says that two contradicting statements about the exact same thing cannot both be equally accurate.

Anyway, you start with an observation of a ‘thing’, then when you explain this ‘thing’ to someone you do so by means of a statement – your ‘ideas’ about it – your ‘thesis’ (or hypothesis, if you like). A diagram of this would look like this…

Now, the problem with an idea or ‘thesis’ all by itself is that it could be wrong. Sure, it could be right as well, but you’ll never know unless you contrast it with another one. It is really unfortunate that many people never even make this first step. They simply hold on to their precious thesis and never test it to see how strong it is. You need to test your ‘thesis’ against other ones! The diagram enlarges to show the 2-way dialogue with another ‘thesis’…

This is wonderful when this actually happens. It could be a simple mis-understanding between friends. “Oh, I see. I thought you meant ‘x’, but now that you’ve explained it, I realise you actually meant ‘y’! I’m no longer upset anymore!” Of course, this could play out in an endless number of scenarios. Either the ‘thesis’ or the ‘anti-thesis’ could become (or appear to become) more correct or less correct.

What happens (if an agreement or ‘middle ground’ is reached) now, is that something emerges from the conversation. This ‘something’ is one of a few things: a) it is the original ‘thesis’ (only now stronger – having been contrasted with another one), b) it is the ‘anti-thesis’ (having been shown to be stronger than the ‘thesis’) or c) a mixture of the two – a syn-thesis! This looks like this…

What happens here, is that this stronger idea – this syn-thesis – becomes the NEW ‘original’ thesis! Which makes our diagram look like this…

At this point, what do we do with all theses (plural of ‘thesis)? Remember? We test them against other ones! This is no different here. The NEW, stronger thesis needs to seek yet another ‘anti-thesis’.

This is called learning. I hope it is clear that this is an on-going process!

I think we actually can make real progress, but also think we need to remember that as we ‘advance’ our theses, we may look back and observe that what we thought was an ‘advance’ in the past was actually a step backward (and yes, even this observation itself could later be seen to be ‘wrong’ – and so on ‘ad infinitum’!).

Two ‘theses’ in dialogue is a wonderful thing, but it is even better to have 3 or more! The ‘synthesis’ you emerge with will be all the more stronger! (This is often referred to as the process of ‘peer review’ – and it’s a wonderful thing.)

There are difficulties, too, which we will need patience for. Too many voices in one ‘conversation’, means that it will simply take longer for each thesis to have its say. It could well be that a mixture of ‘smaller conversations’ and ‘larger ones’ could be a great thing, because each would have its own strengths and weaknesses/hindrances.

Another hurdle come because this process has been going on quite naturally for some time now, and in many, many different fields – theology, sociology, etc. It seems that after a time, there can be ‘patterns’ that emerge. Details that were originally hotly debated are given less and less time and often assumed to be valid in later conversations. This can be antithetical to the process of this method, as the whole point of it is, of course, to expose ALL of a thesis to criticism.

As I suggested earlier, patience is necessary! But we must be about this business of dialogue with other theses! We must grow. We must learn. To not dialogue is to fail to ‘advance’ at all (whether or not they are real or ‘illusory’ advances!) To not even attempt to advance is to slip backward.

“Iron makes iron sharp; so a man makes sharp his friend.” Proverbs 27:17 (BBE)

science, faith and the process of Q&A

Science has produced some very interesting theories about reality…

I ask that those partial to the field of science hear me out before crucifying me, but I think there is a reality that we must all put up with, whether we are holders of Ph D’s in physics or at the level of simple observation – namely the reality that science (like essentially every other field) is limited by our level of observation.

For example, as is commonly known, we know of many ancient suggestions about reality that have long-since been proven to be… well… silly. The sky has been thought to be a solid ‘dome’, with the stars being seen to be holes in the dome. The earth was, of course, thought to be flat, or perhaps a square-ish thing held up by four elephants. Advanced scientific opinion suggested that the earth was the centre of the universe, with the sun and other planets revolving around it.

More perspective had led us to better suggestions of reality. This is, after all, a foundational principle of the scientific method. I’m very much a fan of science, myself, so I hardly mean to devalue the great field of science, but simply want to demonstrate the (for lack of a better term) ‘fallibility’ of science.

Telescopes and Microscopes

As our telescopes and microscopes have gotten stronger, we’ve been able to have precisely what we’ve needed to arrive at progressively better theories of reality. But it’s an interesting consideration that, for example, as our microscopes have taken us further and further into the detail of our universe, to the atomic level and beyond, more and more questions have arisen! I think it would be fair to say that perhaps some old questions have been cleared up, and new questions have arisen about such things as the nature of matter itself (see, for example, theories such as that of ‘quantum physics’)!

Also, as our telescopes have grown stronger and taken us further and further away from our seemingly small solar system, you could say that the same result has occurred; some questions answered – other ones emerge (dark matter, black holes, habitable planetary probability, etc.). Considering how off we’ve been in the past, I often wonder how off we are now, and what embarrassing dogmatic theories we may hold now that may be either confirmed, challenged or de-bunked by later observation.

Almost There, Just Begun or a Bit of Both?

I’m a bit of a skeptic at heart, you could say. I just want to know why. The way I sometimes hear people talk about different theories of reality often makes me suspicious. Theories (including both evolutionary ones and ‘intelligent design’ ones) are often defended with statements like, “…well, no theory can really be proven, but science has all but proven this one.” Is this really the case?

Now, I’m not suggesting that scientific observation doesn’t get us any closer to ‘proving’ anything, but I have a question about how close we really and truly are to proving such theories as the origin of the universe or life itself.

The “we’ve-basically-solved-it” way of speaking reflects this diagram, in which ‘science’ has thoroughly dealt with the major, large questions of reality, leaving us with only a few minor, small questions left…

In this model, theories (again both evolutionary or ‘intelligent design’ ones) are said to basically have it all explained, save (perhaps) a few minor details. I want to suggest that our pursuit of better theories of reality may not work like that at all. Again, I am not denying that scientific advancements are indeed advancements, I suggest a truer model may well be the reverse of the one shown above. I don’t think we’ve leaped the big hurdles or explained the big questions at all.

In the same way as history gets foggier the further back you look, with science, the further you look (whether through a telescope of a microscope) into things, the harder the questions get. Actually, the fogginess of history spills into science as well. The things we are perhaps the most scientifically unsure of are the things that happened at the ‘beginning’ of it all; whether that be along the lines of string theory, big-bang theory, intelligent design theory or whatever. The more foundational the question, the harder the answer. This model would look like this…

This model is able to appreciate the genuine advancements of science, while at the same time not presuming that the only questions left are ‘small’ ones.

Science has taken us a long way, and no doubt will take us many great and needed places. But as it continues to take us places, let us both appreciate the work it has done and at the same time be aware of how truly difficult the big questions are.

love the world?

I love this quote from Bishop Tom Wright…“The Christian calling is to know the world with a knowledge that approximates to love. And the point about love – the epistemology which love generates – is that love both affirms the other-ness of the object (objectivity) while remaining in deep, rich and close subjective (subjectivity) relationship to it. Love transcends the objective-subjective divide.

Indeed. Love – true love – is a beautiful marriage of objectivity and subjectivity. It is not merely objective. That kind of ‘love’ would be distant, detached, indifferent and irrelevant. Also, it it not merely subjective, either. That kind of ‘love’ would be spine-less, scared, watered-down and weak.

Objectivity can’t handle interactions with things that are not like ‘it’. Objectivity remains detatched and protects its own ‘other-ness’, lest it become ‘corrupted’ from interaction with the alien ‘other’. Because it remains detached, it will never make a difference. It either escapes altogether, or watches from a distance.

Likewise, subjectivity will never make a difference. It is so interactive with the ‘other’ that it takes on the very nature of the ‘other’ and is therefore no longer itself, and therefore no longer able to influence or change. It is either enveloped-into or itself invelops the other.

God is often described in some of these ways. On one hand, God’s holiness and un-changing nature certainly seems in-corruptible and ‘objective.’ But is God so ‘objective’ that He remains detached, dis-interested and removed from reality? Most certainly not! The Scriptures testify to God dwelling among and being active in His creation – supremely so in Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, God’s gentle care and sacrificial love seems to point to a more ‘subjective’ quality of God. But is that to say that God is a push-over or that He compromises His own nature? No way! The Scriptures are clear that God is not mocked, He does not change and there is none like Him!

Not only do we mis-understand the nature of God in these ways, we also can mis-represent Him in these same ways. We can seek to be so pure and undefiled above all else (not ‘of’ the world, but unfortunately also not ‘in’ it!) that we have little or no effect on it. Purity and holiness is vital and important, but that purity and holiness needs to be seen by the impure and un-holy world we live in. This means we cannot retreat into our ‘Christian’ corner of the world.

Also, we can seek to be so ‘relevant’ in the world (‘in’ the world, but also unfortunately ‘of’ it), that we end up being just like it, and therefore have little or no effect on it once again. We must speak in the world’s language and meet them where they are at, but all the while taking care that we are imitating Christ, not the world. How can we expect the world to care about our hope when we dream, plan, spend and consume just like the rest of the world?

I think of two verses that could be seen as contradictory, but aren’t – especially in this light. The first is the ‘objective’ 1 John 2:15; Do not love the world, nor the things of this world.” The second is the ‘subjective’ John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” It’s not either/or. It’s both.

May we love God as God loves the world. In objectivity, may we see the ‘other-ness’ of the ‘world’ not as a threat to escape from, but as a field to work in. In subjectivity, may we seek interaction with the world not in order to imitate it, but in order to influence it.