Monday, March 28, 2011

The Claim that cannot be disproved

I typically have problems with claims that cannot be disproven. Claims that no amout of evidence, logic, etc can disprove. Take the latest hysteria: global warming/climate change/climate disruption, whatever you wish to call it. While I am not qualified to ascertain if pollution has the catastrophic effects as claimed by gw/cc/cd theory, I remain quite skeptical about a number of claims that are made. This is not to say that I think we should continue to pump out noxious and potentally (actual) harmful pollutants. I can't imagine that I'd want to drink some of such pollutants, so I can't imagine that the plants and wildlife enjoy it either. But what particularly bothers me is the "temperature" evidence that supposedly proves this phenomenon that the Earth's temperature will rise to catastrophic levels. Again, not that it couldn't happen. But when defenders claim that rising temperatures prove the theory as well as lowering temperatures prove the theory, one beings to wonder what we would see if the theory wasn't true. I doubt that this idea has occurred to those who wish to warn us. All temeratures prove the theory, nothing can disprove it. It is perhaps that I misunderstand the presentation, but nonetheless I have yet to see a presentation on what would in fact disprove the theory. I think it is always a healthy exercise to to engage in thought experiments regarding our assumptions about life, the universe and everything. In particular, if one can come up with a way to disprove one's assumptions via logic, evidence, etc. I think this is helpful simply because if you assume something and have no way of disproving it, your mind is now trapped. You are stuck with an assumption that can in no way be disproven, and therefore no way of knowing if what you assumed is true or not. The reason why I bring this up is this post by one of the more thoughtful atheists out on the web. I'm told she is by others who interact with her more frequently and whose opinions I trust more or less, so I will simply defer the question. And again I do not wish to pick on her as I find this thinking among intellectuals and atheists quite often. During a conversation with her boyfriend, she asked him the following:
During one discussion, I pressed him to name something that could serve as a disproof of Catholicism. He named the historicity of Jesus as messiah. If convincing historical evidence emerged that Jesus had never lived or that the Resurrection was a scam, he would be forced to give up his faith.
All well and good. The next part however concerned me:
Then he turned the question on me. What would I accept as proof of Christianity?And I paused. And came up with bupkis.I can imagine evidence that would convince me to believe in the supernatural or, that at the very least, human understanding of the laws of nature was deeply flawed, but that's a long way from being able to believe in a personal God who loves me. I've given it some more thought since then, but, for the most part, I'm still at a loss.
This to me is the problem. The boyfriend complied with the request, and provided an example that would undercut one of the core principals of the Christian Faith. When the question was posed to her she not only could not provide a concrete answer, nothing could actually prove her wrong. God could appear in a full blown song and dance number singing "I Am Who Am, Baby" and that would still not be sufficient. Granted it took Saul to be thrown off his horse and stuck blind to come around, but even this would not sway our atheist interlocutor. A theory that cannot be disproved (in this case the non-existence of God) is usually an indication that your assumptions have backed you into a particularly nasty corner. Far from an unassailable positon a theory that cannot be disproved is a prison, an idea that poisons the mind from being able to correct itself. Rather than freeing the mind it is now trapped in an idea that cannot be dismissed. I would encourage the author of the blog to reevaluate the assumptions that lead to this position. When you come to a dead end in the road, the only route to progress is to turn around and figure out where you made the wrong turn.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

History III

One may question the relationship between history and legends. From a purely direct standpoint one could say that one is fact and the other fiction. But if we look at the previous question - why do we study history - looking at legends and fables provides us with a window toward answering the riddle.

Despite our society's best efforts to destroy the family, parents still occasionally read their children bedtime stories. They talk about growing up in their time, what they did and who they formed friendships with. We tell stories to our friends for a variety of purposes. To make them laugh, or to make a point. It is the latter that I believe gets us closer to the purpose of legends.

Perhaps there was no greater storyteller than Jesus Christ. Mountains of literature and study have been written about the masterful parables that Jesus told the crowds during His missionary days. How every detail seems to have something to teach both the original hearers of the story and for the future.

I should warn you dear reader that I have no intention of examining the parables of Jesus Christ as much smarter scholars and much holier men have written much more worthwhile things than I could. I bring them up because there is an unfortunate secret about the parables of Jesus Christ. Brace yourself....they not do have much evidence to support them historically.

Now it is entirely possible for example that a man did in fact have two sons at one point and that one blew his inheritance on a good time in the ancient world's version of Vegas. Or that a farmer did in fact sow seeds (because farmers did such things back then), only to have a criminal sow tares to attack the wheat. Or that there was indeed a shepherd who lost a sheep at one point and looked for a good long time for it. But as for their accuracy of depicting events the parables simply don't have a leg to stand on historically.

Shocking, I know. But perhaps, just perhaps, there was another reason why Christ would make up stories out of whole cloth. I know I'm stretching things a bit, but let's assume for the sake of argument that the point was not to be historically accurate. That in fact the story's aim is not to be historical at all. No, the point I believe, and this is only a theory mind you, that the aim of the stories He told were to present a moral truth of some kind. A truth that, via the events in the stories and the symbols used, impart to the listener a moral lesson or set of moral truths.

Now if truth can be communicated via a historically unsubstantiated story, then what other modes of communication have people throughout time to convey ideas, truths and values? I propose that legends served this purpose. And that various kinds of legends with various kinds of historical dubiousness were used as a sort of mode of learning. And I ask that you be patient, dear reader, as I will come to a point eventually. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

History Part II

If one were to look at history as a whole without any preconceived notions or ideas, my assumption would be that the observer would come to one conclusion: Human beings are an incoherent mess with a propensity toward self-destruction. A morass of chaos and insanity that has no point and no goal. Attempting to draw a narrative or progression from history would only lead one to madness.

Yet almost precisely the opposite happens. Almost to a man history not only has lessons for us but conveniently enough it confirms my particular viewpoint, and yours, and a variety of others such as PHDs (but they are always wrong, that's why we label them with PHD. It's a warning label). In fact the more one stands to benefit materially from one's perspective of history the more likely one is hideously wrong. But that is a subject for another day.

But one thing we all agree on implicitly, that history has something to teach us. It is a remarkable axiom given the chaos that is human history. Regardless of religious, philosophical, cultural, or ethnic background we assume that looking at the successes and failures of our forebears has some sort of transcendent value. Something to teach us, even if the only lesson is "whatever we did, do the opposite." I do not hold this as the only lesson history can teach us. Mostly for selfish reasons. I would hate to think future generations would look upon myself and think, "What an oaf!" Not that they would be wrong, but I am counting on the passage of time to muddy the waters of memory a bit. And it would be such a waste of time if my history was obscured only to have the future oafs assume I was one with no evidence anyway.

In any event it is almost taken for granted that history has something to teach us. Yet it seems very often that rather we have something to impart to history. Meaning. Shockingly, even atheists who insist that there is no meaning in any objective sense insist that history shows such truths as religion is the root of all evil and there were no scientists before Darwin.

What exactly is going on here? Why attach such profound importance to yesterday's news? In order to understand this I think the best way to start to answer the question is to move away from history into another realm entirely. One which "sensible" people laugh and cough with mild embarrassment when asked to take it seriously (and which the aforementioned PHDs regard with disdain).


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've often heard that phrase "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." However it has occurred to me that if you were to look at human history randomly I'm not sure what exactly you would learn. Athiests for example believe that the Church suppressed science and technology out of some fear of the truth. Protestants (in some circles) likewise believe that the Church suppressed the "True Faith." Even a cursory glance at history would reveal these to be laughable, but nonetheless these ideas continue to thrive in our so-called "advanced society". Present evidence to these views, such as Issac Newton being a Catholic monk(apparently this is not the case, though Newton's belief in God is without question his full beliefs are more colorful than that), the university was originally a Catholic invention, or the founder of modern geology was a Jesuit, and such evidence is dismissed with a wave of the hand.

What I find interesting is this idea of "versions" of history. History by nature implies a judgement call. Like any other form of information we must decide what is important enough to warrant our attention. But if we do that, we may miss the "lessons" history is actually trying to teach us. But then again such an idea assumes that history is some kind of teacher, that we can actually glean truth about mankind from seemingly unrelated and chaotic events. So which is it? Are we learning from history? Or are we imposing our view of the world on the events of history to create a "narrative" to support our own framework?

It is an interesting riddle to solve, even more so now because our access to information grows exponentially everyday. How does one evaluate and filter information? Is modern man even capable of evaluating information that does not meet preconceived notions as worthwhile? In order to answer this question in my opinion we must ask a more fundamental question. What are we trying to accomplish in the first place?