Benefits of Religion

Given all the problems with religion we have discussed in the previous blogs, why should we take religion seriously?  There are several reasons.

First, the historians Will and Ariel Durant state:  “Even the skeptical historian develops a humble respect for religion, since he sees it functioning, and seemingly indispensable, in every land and age”. [1]  Religion has provided answers to humans about the ultimate questions of life for ages so it must offer something to humans for it to remain such an important aspect of our lives.

Second, the validity of our religious institutions is demonstrated by the experiences of people around the world.  Trueblood states “the only evidence that can stand alone, or nearly alone, is. . .empirical evidence”. [2]  Empirical evidence is defined as: “depending upon experience or observation alone”.  Our observations tell us that our religious institutions crystallize the first hand experience of millions of people over the ages and around the world who believe in the existence of God and the values he wants us to hold.  Are all these people suffering from delusions; are they mentally unbalanced? [3]  It would be absurd to make such a statement.  The truth is that religion works.

Third, C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man makes the argument objective values are built into the structure of our universe, just as certain physical laws such as gravity constitute the makeup of our physical universe.   The religions of the world recognize these natural values and have incorporated them into their teachings.  In the appendix Lewis lists several of these values:  Duties to parents, elders, ancestors, children, and posterity; justice, good faith, veracity, mercy, and magnanimity.  These natural laws, or the Tao as Lewis calls them, provide a common law of action that governs ruler and ruled alike.  “A dogmatic belief in objective values is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” [4]

Lewis maintains there is no example of a person who has acquired power and stepped outside the Tao who has used that power benevolently. [5]  The reason is because if a person steps outside the Tao, they have no basis on which to make decisions other than their own pleasure.  Any one who has studied the human condition recognizes that our tendency is to be selfish and we are not much bothered if our gain is someone else’s loss.  To combat this tendency, all religions teach us some form of the Golden Rule.

Fourth, after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, where did people go to find meaning in these seemingly meaningless and horrific events?  Did they flock to governmental buildings, did they mass at our scientific institutions, did they meet at our business centers, did they inquire at our educational institutions?  Absolutely not!  If people want to know about the ultimate meaning of life, if they need instruction on the values we should hold, they know where to turn and that is to our religious institutions.

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[1]   Will and Ariel Durant, The Lessons of History (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1968), p. 43.

[2]   David Elton Trueblood, General Philosophy (New York:  Harper & Row, 1963), p. 220.

[3]   Ibid., pp. 216-217.

[4]   C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1974), p. 73.

[5]   Lewis, p. 66.

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Religion Is a Human Construct

What the errors we have discussed in the last few blogs demonstrate is that all organized religion is, to a large extent, a human construct.  Organized religion is the attempt of humans to codify a particular interpretation of God’s communication to us.  This is a worthwhile effort because as the human condition tells us we need to work with others to determine the truth of what God is saying.  What organized religion must understand is their doctrines are not the inspired word of God; they are just the feeble attempts of humans to understand an infinite God.

Catholic Church has its pronouncements from its councils and the popes that it claims are inspired by God just like the Bible.  The Jewish religion has its Mishnah and the Talmud and the Muslims have their Hadith and Sunnah.  Certain groups within these two religions also claim these books, which are interpretations of their holy book (the Torah and the Qur’an), are also inspired by God.  Claiming God endorses a particular interpretation of a holy book is the height of human arrogance.

Another example of the fact that organized religion is a human construct is the way religion reacts to threats to its existence—it reacts just like any other human institution or human being.  As Jeffrey Lockwood states:  “. . .all human organizations . . . have as their primary goal the acquisition and maintenance of power, not the search for and reporting of the truth” [1] and we find evidence of that in religion.  The Catholic Church is always criticized for its action against Galileo and the usual take is that this contest was religion against science.  That might not be the case.  The Catholic Church was in power at that time and it was very involved in the science of astronomy.  The Church did not dispute the observations made by Galileo and in fact they made the same observations.  What they disagreed about was the interpretation of those observations.  At that time the Church decided what was accepted as the truth and when this power was threatened by a young upstart called science, it reacted in very human ways to preserve its power.

Now that science has obtained a considerable amount of power in our society, we see science reacting in a similar fashion when its power is threatened.  It’s version of excommunication is to deny grants, deny scientists time on scientific instruments, deny tenure, and to prevent publishing research that is critical of its tenants such as the Big Bang theory, Darwinian evolution, and human caused global warming.  (For an example, read Seeing Red by Halton Arp.)

What all these problems and faults of religion tell us is if religion was the unadulterated message of God to us, we should see more God like actions by religious groups instead of the fallible human actions we have noted in the last few blogs.  Therefore, we can only conclude that organize religion is very human and should not represent itself as the infallible message of God.  To assert that we know exactly what God meant in his word to us is to ignore all we have learned about the human condition.  It is pride that causes religions to assert they know precisely the mind of God and to maintain they are the one and only true religion.

When Job and his friend were discussing the religious beliefs of their time (how God relates to people on earth and why Job had suffered so much calamity), God ends the discussion with the question:  “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?  (Job 38:2).  While God did seem to side somewhat with Job and against his friends (Job 42:7), God still took Job to task for his beliefs (Job 38:1-2).

Job and his friends are no different than us today.  Each of us believes that we know exactly how God is working with everyone on this earth but because of our human condition, can we really claim to know the mind of God?  Our response should be like Job who stated:  “. . .Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  (Job 42:3).

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[1]   Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Six-Legged Soldiers (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009), p. ix.

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Coercion of Belief

In the last blog, we started our discussion about the various faults and problems organized religion has.  We will address three more of those problems in this blog.

Another fault of religion is that it has used and does use coercion to obtain belief.  Religion seems not to understand the concept of human free will and that violating someone’s free will is evil.  The Inquisition by the Christian religion is one example of this violation.  The Muslims who kill those who convert to another religion is another.  If God chooses not to force us to follow his teachings, why do the religions of the world feel they must do so?  Can we trust an institution that must coerce people to believe in its tenants?

One reason why religion used coercion to obtain belief and another error of religion is that each religion, denomination, and sect believes it is the one true religion and the ultimate source of truth for humans.  In the Christian religion we have the Protestants, the Catholic Church, and the Greek Orthodox Church to mention a few.  Within the Protestant branch there are a multitude of different denominations.  These different belief systems have arisen because people interpret the Bible differently and each believes their interpretation is right and everyone else is wrong.  However, they cannot all be right because of their conflicting belief systems.  Other religions have their sects and divisions as well.  God must look with amusement at all the different religions and denominations, each claiming to speak for him.  God must look with sorrow when, in the words of Mark Twain, he observes humans making “a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven”. [1]

The various scandals that have erupted in religious groups cause us to question the validity of religion.  How can they claim to speak for God when they act like the devil?  Leonard Pitts, Jr. lists several instances of scandal, hypocrisy, and even violence by religious groups. [2]  Now some will say that we all are sinful and people of faith will make mistakes.  The problem is when major elements of the church condone or do not speak out against sin or questionable practices, something is wrong with that institution.  Why did the Catholic Church try to hide the fact some of their priests were abusing children?  It is apparent many in the Church did not follow the teachings of Jesus when he stated that if one caused a child to sin it would be better for that person to have a millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea (Matthew 18:5-6).  There is something very ungodly in an entire organization to let this sin continue for years and to try to cover it up.

We have Christian leaders flying around in expensive business jets.  Christians were first called Christians because they imitated Christ.  Did Jesus purchase the latest chariot with a matching team of horses so he could better get around Palestine to spread his word?  Now most people would not have a problem with the use of a jet to further one’s ministry; a jet is just another tool like radio or television.  The problem is when we see TV evangelists “living like lords on the largess of the poor”. [3]  Does not the Bible say we are to help the poor?  Where in the Bible does it say it is alright to con the poor into supporting one’s lavish life style?  How many Christian leaders did you hear speaking out against such practices?  Why was the Christian church so silent?

Christians often speak of the power of God to change one’s life.  If that is so, why do we see so much corruption in organized religion?

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[1]   Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth (Greenwich, Conn.:  Fawcett Publications, 1962), p. 180.

[2]   Leonard Pitts, Jr., Wake-Up Call for Organized Religion, March 14, 2009.

[3]   Pitts.

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Religion and Science

In the past couple of blogs, we have chronicled the fact that science is not always a reliable guide when we search for what is true.  In the next few blogs, we will turn our attention to religion.  That religion has its problems and faults is without question and we will discuss four of them:  religion has not been a reliable guide of knowledge about our natural world, religion has a history of coercing belief, religion is dogmatic in that each religion believes it is the one true religion and all others are wrong, and religious groups do not always practice what they preach.

When it attempts to explain our natural world, religion has not always proved to be a reliable guide.  If religion has been given to us by God, why is it not?  I agree with Christians that the Bible is accurate in the science it describes but the problem is in how we interpret what the Bible says when it discusses scientific issues.  The prime example of this is the argument that erupted between Galileo and the Christian faith when he proposed the theory that the earth revolves around the sun instead of the sun revolving around the earth.  At that time, Martin Luther stated:  “The fool will turn the whole science of Astronomy upside down.  But as Holy Writ [Joshua 10:12-13] declares, it was the Sun and not the Earth which Joshua commanded to stand still”. [1]  Luther was right in what the Bible said, but by interpreting what the Bible said to fit in with his limited scientific knowledge, he provided generations of critics of Christianity an opportunity to condemn it for its backward thinking.  Luther was not alone in his thinking; the Catholic Church also used its heavy hand to stifle this new scientific revolution.  Christians should learn from this error when they propose any scientific theory they believe is taught in the Bible.  The Bible’s main aim is to lead us to God and God uses language that relates to humans and their imperfect nature.  God does not necessarily use the technical terms of science.  If Christians desire to prove a scientific point they must utilize the methods of science.  The Bible can give them guidance in deciding which hypothesis to test just like secular scientist use their belief system to guide them, but Christians must test that hypothesis to obtain scientific proof instead of just relying on what the Bible says.  That is the best way to determine if our interpretation of the science in the Bible is accurate.  Any other way is lazy and prone to errors.

Religion, of all our humans institutions, should understand we humans are finite and do not have all the answers to life at this time.  It seems that this fact should provoke a degree of humility on the part of religion and should keep it from taking unsupported positions in areas of science.  An example is creationism.  Those who hold to the creationist’s view of the beginning the world assume that God exists and that the Bible is the word of God.  We will grant the creationists both of these assumptions.  However, based on what they read in a couple of chapters in Genesis and a few other verses in the Bible, the creationists are prepared to tell us exactly what happened thousands, millions, or billions of years ago.  How can they do this?  They say the Bible tells them how the world was created by God but what does “create” mean?  Does it mean God did the work himself?  I am a businessman.  I say that I accomplished this or that, but did I do all the work?  Not necessarily.  More than likely, I created the plan and delegated it to someone else to do the work.  Could not God have done so as well?  Could not have God set evolution in motion and intervened occasionally to accomplish his ends?  Matthew 6:26 states:  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. . .”  Does God literally feed the birds?  No one would believe that; no one has seen God feed the birds.  If someone had, we would not debate God’s existence.  Instead God has created a system on this earth that provides food for the birds without his direct intervention.  So, in a similar fashion, could not have God set in place a system that evolves over time and produces our universe and world?  The creation story in Genesis 1 contains 751 words (in the NIV Bible).  Based on these 751 words can we really know all the detail of how God created this magnificent world?  I think not.  The Bible only states that God created the plan and made it happen in a certain sequence.  Anything else is sheer speculation.

This is not to say the theory of evolution is a fact.  Given the limits of the scientific method we discussed in the past couple of blogs, the only valid scientific belief for the beginning of the universe and life is agnosticism.  We simply do not have sufficient information to determine how the universe and life began.  We can have theories but we must remember they are only theories and not facts.

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[1]  Colin A. Ronan, Galileo (New York:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1974), p. 29.

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Science and the Unknown

Because scientists have had so much success understanding our material world, they at times are tempted to “explain” our spiritual side.  When analyzing the important issues of life such as who we are, what values we should hold, and the meaning of life, the answers proposed by scientists have no more proof that those of the religious community.  Scientists like to point to experiments which validate their point of view on these issues but other experiments accomplished tomorrow or next year might negate the conclusions offered today.  Do we change what we believe is true about our value system every time science comes up with a different experimental result?  How do we know that what science tells us today is valid if tomorrow it might change?  Do we really want to base what we think is true or our values on “facts” that might change tomorrow and of which we are uncertain?

Another limitation of science is that it must start with the known.  Unless science has some information on a phenomenon, it cannot investigate that phenomenon.  However, just because science is not aware of a particular phenomenon, does that mean it does not exist?  Of course not!  The history of science teaches us that in the past science was not aware of certain phenomenon that now we believe to be real.  Did atoms, meteorites, quasars, atomic fusion, and DNA exist before the scientists “discovered” them?  Of course they did!  Just because science has no proof for the human soul does not mean we do not have a soul.  Science certainly cannot prove we do not have a soul.  Science cannot prove God does not exist.  A fundamental rule of logic is that absence of proof does not necessarily mean the premise is false. [1]

Science, of all our institutions, should understand there is so much in our world that remains a mystery but because something is a mystery does not mean it is a delusion.  The arts seem to be ahead of science in this aspect.  In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet states:  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” [2]  William Blake says:  “For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern” [3] and “. . .he only takes portions of existence and fancies that the whole”. [4]  The history of science itself teaches us that scientific knowledge is not all there is to human existence.

The principles of science have been of an enormous benefit to humankind.  However, Gopi Krishna notes that science has:

. . .no satisfactory explanation to offer for my individual existence or for the infinitely complex creation around me.  Confronted by a mystery, which grows deeper with the advance of knowledge, it [is] not yet in a position to be a source of illumination on issues admittedly beyond its present sphere of inquiry. [5]

It should be obvious that science is not a reliable guide for what our values should be, for the ultimate meaning of life.  David Parks, emeritus professor of physics at Williams College states:  “. . .if you want truth you have to go to a theologian, not a scientist. . .” [6]  Science has performed in an extraordinary manner in dealing with issues within our space and time but it says little about the issues that lie beyond.

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[1]   Robert J. Gula, Nonsense (Mount Jackson, VA:  Axios Press, 2002), p. 43.

[2]   William Shakespeare, Edited by Cyrus Hoy, Hamlet (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1992), p. 25.

[3]   Alexander Gilchrist, The Life of William Blake (Mineola, NY:  Dover Publications, Inc., 1998), p. 85.

[4]   Ibid., p. 86.

[5]   Gopi Krishna, Living with Kundalini (Boston:  Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1993), p. 80.

[6]   Dick Teresi, Lost Discoveries (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 2002), p. 395.

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The Limits of Science

Science is one human institution which has impressive credentials as a guide for teaching us what is true.  As we learned in earlier blogs, science has transformed human existence by providing us with answers of how our material world functions which has enabled us to manipulate nature for our benefit.  Carl Sagan in his book The Demon-Haunted World illustrates how science can push back the boundaries of ignorance and help us make better decision.  Ignorance is the cause of much human suffering and Sagan gives us the example of the witch trials in the 1600s.  Witches were regularly killed because any illness, storm, or event out of the ordinary was construed to be caused by witches.  The attitude at that time was witches must exist; how else could these extraordinary events occur? [1]  The reality of that age was whatever they did not understand they called demonic.

In an earlier age and different culture, Hippocrates noted that whatever people did not understand they called divine. [2]  The problem is events that are not understood are not necessarily divine or demonic; they just might be beyond our current understanding.  But humans have a need to explain the unknown and science, while not perfect, helps us to know what is true and what is imaginary in our world.

If science can help us better understand our world, why should we not trust it to tell us what is true in all areas of our lives?  One of the limitations of science is that it is a process of discovering how our physical world functions; it is not a set of facts.  Anyone who has studied science is taught this basic tenant of science.  This assertion is valid because the definition of inductive logic includes “certainty is attainable only if all possible instances have been examined”.  Scientists have not examined all possible instances in the past or future so they cannot be confident our current scientific facts will be validated in the future.

If scientists believe science is an accumulation of facts, they close their mind to information that might challenge those facts.  The history of science teaches us the wisdom of this tenant of science because scientists once believed in all manner of ideas that we consider foolish today and undoubtedly future generations will look at some of our current scientific “facts” as humorous.  Scientists once believed that space was filled with an ether.  Now we believe space to be a vacuum.  Scientists once believed that catastrophes had no part in shaping our earth (uniformitarianism).  Now scientists believe that meteorite impacts have caused the extinction of various species of animals at various points in time.  In the 1700s, scientist scoffed at the rural folks who told them that rocks fell from the sky and denied what we now know as meteorites existed.  Now scientists go to great lengths to find meteorites and study them.  If you read any science periodical, you will constantly find research that challenges what we know and understand.

Science, for the foreseeable future, will be constantly revising its beliefs as it discovers new evidence.  This is the way science works.

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[1]   Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World (New York:  Random House, 1996), p. 26.

[2]   Ibid., p. 8.

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Assistance in Knowing Truth

The human condition tells us we are finite.  The human condition tells us if we want to overcome our limitations, we must work with other people.  Therefore, we humans have devised a variety of institutions, such as government, education, business, science, and religion to name a few, to organize ourselves in order to improve our existence.  To which of these institutions should we turn for guidance on what is true?  Government is primarily concerned with holding power which limits its perspective to mainly the here and now, not our long-term existence.  The educational system is designed to pass on a culture’s traditions to the young.  While it has an influence in deciding what is true, it follows the directions of a society more than directs it.  Business is mainly concerned with money and our material existence; like education, it follows the directions of society in terms of determining what is true rather than directs it.

Science and religion are two institutions which do have something to say about what is true and false in our lives so in the next few blogs we will evaluate their ability to guide us.

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Everyone Has Faith

Because of the limits of the human condition everyone has faith in something or someone; everyone takes certain things on faith.  To believe in anything that occurs or has occurred away from our time and location requires faith.  To believe in the scientific method requires faith.  Poincaré notes that the inductive method “applied to the physical sciences is always uncertain, because it rests on the belief in a general order of the universe, an order outside us”. [1]  To be a materialist requires faith.  How can one prove that this material world is all that exists?  Can one prove our soul does not exist?  That evolution produced the world as we know it requires faith because we have not witnessed the evolution of one species into another; we have not seen all the fossil evidence; we cannot go back in time to see how this world came to be.  We must have faith that the processes we see today have always existed and have created life as we know it.  To be an atheist requires faith.  Atheists cannot prove there is no God.  They have not experienced all there is to experience and they do not know all there is to know.  Atheist must have faith that their inability to find sufficient evidence for God means he does not exist.  James F. Sennett maintains every belief system has its problems.  He observes the various belief systems of the world have rational parity which means for every problem one raises about a particular belief, there is an equal and opposite problem for the other beliefs. [2]  To maintain that only religious people have faith is to display one’s ignorance of the human condition.

The Dialectic

So if the human condition limits our ability to know what is true, how do we determine what to believe?  Karl Popper maintains that we have no criterion for truth, that we can only recognize error.  Our knowledge is finite but our ignorance is infinite. [3]  The only way we can discover error is through criticism of the theories of ourselves and others. [4]  Philosophy has long recognized this fact and uses the process called the dialectic to assist in our quest to understand what is true.  A. E. Taylor defines the dialectic as “repeated and thorough criticism of our assumptions”. [5]  Kant states the reason why the dialectic is such an important tool:  “. . .the dogmatic use of reason without criticism leads to groundless assertions, against which others equally specious can always be set, thus ending unavoidably in skepticism”. [6]  If we want to know truth, we must constantly expose all our assumptions and thought processes to criticism because we are fallible and prone to all manner of errors.  That includes our Christian beliefs and that is what we are attempting to do in this blog.

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[1]   Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science (Lancaster, PA:  The Science Press, 1946), pp. 39-40.

[2]   James F. Sennett, The Reluctant Disciple:  A Postmodern Apologetic (an unpublished book), chapter 3, pp. 1-2.

[3]   Popper, p. 36-38.

[4]   Popper, p. 34.

[5]   David Elton Trueblood, General Philosophy (New York:  Harper & Row, 1963), p. 77.

[6]   Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. Mortimer J. Adler (Chicago:  Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1990), p. 20.

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Objective Truth Exists

The human condition tells us our own experiences, the experiences of others, logic, and our heart cannot always tell us what is true.  The human condition tells us our culture has a major impact on what we believe and how we think.  Given that our existence has been structured in this fashion, how do we know what to believe?  Does this mean that knowing truth is impossible?  Do we cease to believe that truth exists?  Many in today’s world take this approach.  Postmodern theory say there is no objective truth.  What we call truth is just a special kind of story for a particular culture.  Different cultures view the world very differently so none of them can claim to have knowledge of the truth.  The attractiveness of postmodernism is that it contains an element of truth.  Knowing what is true is difficult as we have seen in the past few blogs.  But there are contrary facts that cause us to believe objective truth does exist.

We can know objective truth exists for three reasons.  First, our physical world provides us with ample evidence.  E. H. Carr observes that just because a mountain appears to be shaped differently from different angles does not mean the mountain has no shape or infinite shapes. [1]  It can be determined from the various viewing angles the particular shape the mountain has.  Also, if anyone thinks the law of gravity is not an objective reality and jumps off the top of a tall building, do we expect that they will not experience bodily harm or death?  There is no debating with the law of gravity.  We can mitigate its effects as when we use a parachute when we jump from an airplane but if the law of gravity was not an objective reality we would have no need of parachutes.  The technology of our civilization is a result of scientists and engineers determining what knowledge accurately reflects the real world and what does not.  This is another way of saying that they are distinguishing between knowledge that is true and knowledge that is false.  Do engineers design buildings, cars, airplanes, or power plants without regard to the laws of science and engineering?  If they did, the results could be disastrous and would most likely invite criminal prosecution.  Our technology must constantly deal with the reality (truth) of our world.  As Patrick Grim states:  “If there is no truth, there is no knowledge. [2]

Second, we are able to communicate with other cultures and past civilizations communicate to us via their writings and artifacts.  While different cultures have very different world views, there are areas of common knowledge.  We are all human and we all have certain capabilities and limitations.  The human condition does not change drastically between cultures and ages.  These provide a reality (truth) that all people share.  Postmodernism wants to emphasize our differences but it must be recognized that humans share much regardless of the different cultures and ages in which we live.

Third, Popper notes that all admit we are fallible but being fallible implies a standard of objective truth. [3]  Trueblood makes the observation that error is an unassailable fact of the human condition but if error exists then truth must exist as well.

It is no idle paradox to point out that we are more sure of error than of anything else, since we imply it even by denying it.  Either there is error or there is not.  But if there is not, then those specific persons who have believed that there is have, themselves, been in error.  It is really easier to be sure of falsehood than of truth, yet if there is falsehood there must be truth, for what can falsehood deviate from, if not the truth. [4]

Anyone who would assert that error does not exist would be considered a fool.  So why is there any debate about truth?  David Berlinski asks:  Is the statement “there are no absolute truths” an absolute truth?  If it is, then some truths are absolute after all. [5]

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[1]   Richard J. Evans, In Defense of History (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), p. 193.

[2]   Patrick Grim, Questions of Value (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2005), p. 127.

[3]   Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations (London:  Routledge Classics, 2002), p. 21.

[4]   David Elton Trueblood, Philosophy of Religion (New York:  Harper & Row, 1957), p. 45.

[5]   David Berlinski, The Devil’s Delusion (New York:  Crown Forum, 2008), p. 129.

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The Heart Has Its Reasons

In the past several blogs, we have determined that human experience and logic are not always reliable guides to knowing what is true.  Another faculty available to us is what we call our heart or emotions.  However, we have conflicting ideas about the role the heart should take in deciding what is true.  Some tell us we should not act on our emotions alone; we should have reasons for taking a particular path or point of view. [1]  We are told that propaganda is a form of persuasion that appeals to our emotions rather than our reason [2] and propaganda is such a negative term.  Some say that emotions are irrational [3] and stupid [4]; that emotions happen to us and we do not control our emotions. [5]  But others say that emotions have intelligence and involve responsibility, [6] give our lives meaning, address the concerns we have with the world, and are how we engage the world. [7]  To sort through this conflicting advice, we must first understand what the heart or emotions are.

What Is Our Heart?

Webster’s defines the heart as “the center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling, or emotion”.  So when we talk about the heart, we are actually talking about several different aspects of human existence, not just one.  If we are to understand the role our heart plays in determining what is true, we must determine the nature of our feelings, emotions, and intuition.

Our problem is that we talk much about our heart and we base many of our decisions upon our emotions but we seem to have little idea what it is that has such an influence upon our lives.  It is like we know something exists but we find it difficult to verbalize what it is.  Well, psychology has told us for a long time that a large part of our lives involve our subconscious.  What is our subconscious?  Webster’s define it as what is beyond our conscious which really does not provide much help.  Science does provide us with help.  First, scientists tell us that we humans sense many things unconsciously. [8]  Our physical world offers us a flood of information.  If our mind did not filter out some of the data, it would be so overloaded we would not be able to function.  Our subconscious consists of information we were not even consciously aware we were receiving.  Second, doctors and scientists tell us that the brain remembers all our senses have ever experienced.  Brain surgery has shown that when certain areas of the brain are stimulated, sensations long forgotten are remembered.  It is obvious our brain is limited in the amount of material it can process consciously so all this other information resides beyond our consciousness.   We cannot remember all that happened to us as children but these experiences do impact our current lives.

While our conscious mind deals with what we are currently aware and remember our subconscious consists of the totality of our life’s experiences.  It would be to our benefit to be able to utilize the totality of our life’s experiences in making decisions rather than to just depend upon the information available to our conscious mind.  Our heart is the way we accomplish this; it brings the entirety of our life’s experiences to bear on the question on which we are working.  Our emotions are a method of summarizing our entire life’s experiences so they can be communicated quickly.  Love is just a shorthand way of acknowledging all the connections that exist between two people.  Anger is a quick way of expressing displeasure of all the slights, frustrations, or humiliations a particular situation has brought us.

Problem with Relying on Our Heart

Relying on the heart to determine what is true, like experience and logic, has its problems.  If our heart is the sum total of our life experiences, our heart is like a flywheel; it keeps us on a steady course.  That is why change is so difficult; we are going against our past and we must ignore our feelings and emotions.  Our heart could mislead us if our previous experiences are at variance with reality and, in these situations, we will need to use our rational abilities to override our heart.  If the heart is just the unconscious sensory data we have personally experienced but filter out, then, as we have previously noted, we face the problem of depending solely upon our experiences.  Our heart or emotions can also be exploited by others.  Thomas Sowell states:  “Many of the unprecedented mass horrors of the 20th century were the work of charismatic political leaders who knew how to manipulate people’s emotions.” [9]

The fact is the heart is not the sole answer to the problem of determining what is true.  For example, if we depend upon our heart to prove Christianity, then Christianity has no validity over any other religion.  Someone else’s heart might tell them to become a Muslim or a Buddhist.  How could a Christian counter such an argument?  A Christian cannot use their heart as an argument and deny its use to others.  If my feelings are justification for a particular belief and your feelings lead you to a different belief, we have no way to resolve the issue.  The actual reasons for our beliefs are hidden in our subconscious and only revealed through our feelings, emotions or intuition.  There is no way within a few minutes or hours we can discuss the totality of our life’s experiences and how our experiences lead us to a particular belief.  Conflicting beliefs will always remain in conflict and the truth remains forever hidden.

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[1]   Robert J. Gula, Nonsense (Mount Jackson, VA:  Axios Press, 2002), p. 14.

[2]   Gula, p. 15.

[3]   Robert C. Solomon, The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions, Part I (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 1.

[4]   Robert C. Solomon, The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions, Part II (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 11.

[5]   Robert C. Solomon, The Passions:  Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions, Part I (Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 1.

[6]   Ibid., p. 157.

[7]   Ibid., p. 12.

[8]   B. Bower, “Minds May Track Danger Unconsciously,” Science News, Vol. 156 (December 11, 1999), 372.

[9]   Thomas Sowell, “Our Emotional Orgies”, (July 23, 1999).

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