Science, Empiricism and Proving God



Those who read me regularly know that I generally start off my discussions with definitions, because without definition there is no understanding.  If some word can mean anything, then it ceases having real meaning at all.  And so I define first.

A word I find to be largely misunderstood is "science".  It shouldn't be misunderstood but it is.  Before I get to that, what needs to be defined first is  "philosophy".  Its origin is Greek:  Philo - love,  sophia - wisdom.  Literally philosophy is a love of wisdom.  But practically speaking Websters defines philosophy as:

 

phi·los·o·phy

   [fi-los-uh-fee] Show IPA

noun, plural phi·los·o·phies.

5. a system of principles for guidance in practical affairs.

 

In essence, a philosophy is a method of doing; a system of organizing, interpreting and applying.  If I say my philosophy is "Carpe Diem" then my life and actions are ordered and organized based upon that.  A philosophy is an intangible concept, not a finite, tangible item with observable properties.

"Science" is a latin word meaning knowledge, and that's all it means.  This is probably the most misused word in modern society.  I had a debate about this with a former classmate, who, like most, misunderstood that when they are using the word "Science",  what they are referring to is a philosophical process called "Empiricism".  He wanted to argue that "Science" isn't a philosophy and literally speaking it isn't.  It's means "knowledge" and that only.  But how to obtain knowledge and interpret it requires a philosophy: a system of principles for guidance.  That philosophy is empiricism.

I personally love the empirical method.  I have found it to be, hands down, the best method for obtaining knowledge and discerning truth that there is.  Most of you agree, even though you're not aware of it and I'll demonstrate how:  How many of you have thought or said  "I'll believe it when I see it?".  This is an assumption, granted, but I am comfortable assuming every person reading this as well as every person who has ever lived  and will ever live has thought that and agreed with that statement.  That's the heart of the empirical process: knowledge is obtained by experience first, foremost and to be honest --- exclusively.  There is no other way to obtain knowledge without some form of experience with it: either by reading, hearing, seeing, touching, whatever.  There has to be an experience.

There has to be an experience.

And one more time I'll say: There has to be an experience.

Now, experience doesn't tell the entire truth nor the whole story either.  And there's very little we can do about that, however we can use the things we do experience to tell us about something things we haven't experienced. 

Beyond experience, the empirical philosophy is rather simple:  Observe (experience) and test for consistent results.   See, if the same cause produces the same result every single time no matter who does it (so long as they use the same process) then we can be confident, if not absolutely certain what we know is "truth".   And this is the philosophy and method most people refer to when they speak of "Science".    For good reason, I might add.  Empiricism also relies on being able to demonstrate  (important word, here) results.   It's no good if I simply say something and can provide no demonstration for someone to experience for themselves.   I have to make some kind of demonstration. Finally, the demonstration must be repeatable.  The same demonstration, under the same conditions produce the same results.

Granted, excepted practice of scientific studies today has far more details than that, but what is important is understanding the underlying principle and principles always tend to be very simple indeed.  It's application that can become complicated.

Often you'll hear something akin to  "creationism is a belief and science is a fact",  which, on its surface shows misunderstanding of the empirical process.  "knowledge", (which is all 'science' means) isn't itself necessary factual.  It's just knowledge.  Here's a demonstration: Lies can be "known", that doesn't make them true.

At this point, I'm going to distinguish something.  That the earth was created in six literal days, Adam and Eve and all that, for purpose of this discussion, is a belief.  And me personally, I don't think that belief has to be taught in schools.  But creationism:  that everything which was created came about by an originating creator is observed fact and nothing else.  It was observed by Louis Pasteur in the 1800s when he demonstrated that life only comes from life and non-life never produces life; It's demonstrated by the fact that in every experiment ever conducted in all of human history, it has never been observed that something just popped into being, which never existed before, but for something else putting it there.

This a truth that anyone can make their own demonstration of and see the results for themselves.  Here's a demonstration you can make on your own, and tell me the results:

Clear off a table somewhere in your residence and then tell me when something appears that was not placed there by something else.  You won't do it because you know that never happens.  If something appears on that table, whether you experience (see) the source or not, you know by virtue of all previous experience it got there because something put it there.  That's the only possibility for one reason only:  It's the only observed outcome, no matter who makes the experiment. 

I will say it again:  It is the only possibility because it is the only observed outcome no matter who makes the experiment.

So, if I want to be fanciful, I can make up all kinds of convoluted theories, philosophies and convincing sounding arguments that in some whacked-out version of non-reality, something could just pop onto that table without something else placing it there, but the heart of empiricism is simple:  There has to be an experience.   It is only possible that something can appear without a cause when that event has been experienced or can be demonstrated.  It's not possible just because your mind can conceive it.  It's only possible when it is experienced in some fashion.

Rebuttal almost always goes in predictable ways, and the first to affirm that mere conceivability is as good as fact.  "Well, its possible that all things created came into being without cause or assistance, so...".    Some of the more clever ones may say,  "since you make the affirmative position, you have to make the demonstration".  Which is true.  At which point, remind the rebutter they have made an affirmative position in stating,  "it's possible that anything created can come to be without cause or assistance"  therefore they must make that demonstration now.  Otherwise there is no valid argument or point of discussion.  And do not leave this point no matter how many different ways they try to escape it.  Either they make the demonstration or there is no further discussion, because the empirical process they esteem so much demands a demonstration for the position to be considered possible.

Our position is demonstrated millions of times every single day.  Buildings, cars, pencils, paper, toothbrushes, etc and all of it: created things, none of which appeared on their own without cause or assistance.  The Scientific Community can further demonstrate that atoms, protons, photons, planets, light and even the universe and itself and all things in it are created things:  there was a point where it did not exist, then a point where it did exist.  Well, since there's no demonstration that any created thing pops into being without cause or assistance, then we know the universe and every element in it originated from a Creator. 

And yet, every school textbook refuse to teach that, but rather teach a literal "belief" of something no one has experienced and never once has been demonstrated:  Everything that is, not only popped into existence from nothingness, without a source or a cause, but furthermore organized itself randomly into astonishing complexity, in spite of all known (experienced and demonstrated) laws of physics and statistical probability.

The next predictable rebuttal is state something that generally concludes, "since God has not been seen to create the universe, then it can not be demonstrated or shown conclusively that He did".  It makes a certain sense on the surface, being that even empiricism is rooted in experience however it is hypocritical.  The majority of what is known presently is not based on present observation of the individual, but the previous observations by others in the past.  There is a method for determining the credibility of previous observations but that's usually not the argument being offered. Moreover, we it is a valid part of the empirical process to use the establish patterns of known observations to form a conclusion about what has not been experienced.  This is called "Logical Conclusion".

Going back to our table demonstration for a moment:  I may wake up in the morning and there is a dime on the table which was not there the night before.  What, then?   That's what logical conclusions are for, and a logical conclusion isn't what sounds reasonable or seems plausible, but a logical conclusion is the next step along the same established results.

log·ic

[loj-ik] Show IPA
noun
3. the system or principles of reasoning applicable to any branch of knowledge or study.
 
Logic has a pattern and a method.  Logic does not mean a mere idea or even a thought.  Logic has a consistent way.  Here's a demonstration of how logical conclusion works. 

Which comes next in this series?   1, 3, 7, 15, 31, 63, ...

The pattern is to add the next highest ordinal to the number on the left:  1+2= 3,  3+4=7, 7+8=15, 15+16=31, 31+32=63.   So the next logical conclusion follows the same previous steps in the same way:  63+64= 127.    Logical Conclusion doesn't mean to throw in some random element because it's mentally conceivable something may be different.  It follows the same process to arrive at the unknown.  By Logical Conclusion, all things being the same, then without experience we can state the result of an unknown or non-experienced.  

So, I didn't see something put a dime on the table, but every other observation I've experienced in life has had a consistent result:  something else put it there.  And by logical conclusion, I don't really have to figure out if something else put the dime there --- something else had to, by logical conclusion of the results of previous observation.

We don't need to experience a god or even experience God actively creating to demonstrate God created everything.  The simple fact is, there is no other observable possibility, since there is no other observed outcome.  Anything (and everything) created has a creator... it never comes into existence without cause, from nothing at all.  You never see a case otherwise.  The logical conclusion of a created universe is something that created it.

The last predictable rebuttal is curveball that goes something like this:  "Then if everything is created, then what created the Creator?"  To be honest, I think most are sincere in asking that question but don't realize they've changed the conditions being evaluated.  What I mean to say is:  "Everything created has a creator"  and  "everything existing has been created" are entirely separate evaluations.  Look again at the two.

  • Everything created has a creator;

  • Everything existing must be created.

It seems like that should be a logical conclusion, but it is not.   Why?  Because it has yet to be demonstrated that everything existing is in fact created.  It's a change in what's being observed.  Perhaps this example highlights the difference better: 

  • All physicians have a degree;

  • All degrees produces a physician.

The subject has changed from the physicians, to the degree and that's why it is not a logical conclusion (which follows the same conditions). That is a leap to a conclusion.  Leaps in conclusions are very easy to make and they're not always done so with bad intentions.  But leaps in conclusions are aren't helpful and rarely are they ever correct.

Without getting into the long-winded explanations, a state of infinite (neither created nor destroyed) has been empirically demonstrated and accepted.   Infinite exists and by the theory of relativity infinite is the thing by which all else is measured against.  Infinite can't be created nor can it have a beginning.  So there is nothing unscientific about an infinite God at all.

The other word grossly misused and one I have not used it in this article is "prove".  When I worked in graphic design, all the mock-ups and such we gave to clients were called "proofs" and that is standard in the creative field.  One day, I wondered why they were called that, since when we say "proof" in other settings we're conveying a different expectation.  And then I noticed that in the Middle Ages and earlier, it was used differently too:  Proving a sword or proving the armor.  Hmm.  It was then I realized that "proof" or "proving" only originally meant to test or to demonstrate.  That's it.  It's tested, it's demonstrated, it is proven.

But that's not how it is used today.  When someone says  "That's not proof", what they truly mean is "That doesn't convince me."   A proof isn't required to be convincing for the proof to be truthful or accurate.  It doesn't.  The intention of the person offering the proof may be to convince, but the fact that the recipient is not convinced does not mean the proof was not offered or that the proof is untruthful.  So instead, I use "demonstration" so that no one misunderstands me since that is all a proof is anyway.

To demonstrate my point that the recipient need not be convinced for a proof to be offered and truthful, I'll give this example:  All of us have had that friend who simply will not listen to you when you tell them their significant other is cheating on them.  The conversation goes...

"I wonder why she never texts me back anymore?"

"Dude, she's cheating on you.  I saw her with another guy just yesterday"  (a proof [demonstration])

"Naw, she'd never do that.  I don't believe it."

"DUDE.  Four other people have told you the same thing, that they saw with their own eyes." (another proof)

"Yeah but they're just jealous and don't like her."

"omg, DUUUUUUUUDE, here's the pictures of her kissing this guy!!!!"

"Well, she said they're just friends and she's just affectionate like that"....

 

And on it goes.  Human beings have the ability to remain unconvinced for no other reason but they want to.  It's the oddest, funniest, saddest and most fascinating phenomenon. I've learned through much trial, error and banging my head against a wall that it is useless to try to reason with someone who willfully insists on remaining unconvinced.  I thought, "surely there must be a rational argument that will reach them" until I understood that such a resistance to being convinced isn't based on rationality at all, but usually emotion.  And so when I got the sense that someone is plain unwilling to be convinced, I bow out of the conversation.   No good will come of it.

All the same,  "I'm not convinced" is about the only thing that can be said in spite of the overwhelming about of real-life data there is to show that there is 0% possibility that from complete nothingness, all that exists presently came into existence without cause and randomly organized itself into increasing complexity.

Will the Rapture Occur on May 21, 2011?



If you follow the news, you are probably aware Dr. Harold Camping is going around telling people that the rapture will happen on May 21, 2011 and then judgment day coming in Oct 21, 2011.  (see http://www.wecanknow.com/)  This isn't the first time he has made this claim.  He also stated the rapture would happen in September of 1994.  It doesn't bother me so much that Camping says it because even the best of us, sincerely trying, are going to get it wrong on occasion.  What bothers me is this event has brought to light a major flaw in the Christian community where Biblical literacy and understanding is concerned.  And I was guilty of it too.

To reiterate:  To make sure our understanding is correct we must

1) Not assume what the text does not prohibit.

2) Know the (complete) context of any passage.

3) Ensure our interpretation has harmony (uniformity) with the entirety of Bible.

So, if your first response to Camping's claim was as my own initially, "Mark 13:32 says 'Of that day or hour, no one knows'" then you've broken rule #1.  How?  Ask yourself this, "Does the text exclude anyone ever knowing?"  The fact is the text does not.  I'm going to give the translators credit and accept that "know" is the correct translation of the original Greek word and the correct tense of the word.  That tense is present... present to Jesus at the time he spoke it, not our present time.  It is possible that the day or the hour could be revealed later because the text does not have a present-perfect tense ("no one can ever know") nor a future tense ("no one will ever know").  There is a big difference and we don't respect that difference.  It took God Himself to remind me to look at that passage again, word for word and not only pay attention to what it says, but what it does not say.

I'm stressing this point the first and the heaviest of all because it was assumption that caused Orthodox Jews then and now to reject Jesus as Messiah.  It was the things they assumed from the prophecies that were never explicitly prohibited.  We have to be very careful of this.  The prophecy stated Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but it never stated Messiah would stay there.  Jesus started his ministry from Nazareth in Galilee and so many rejected he was Messiah because they assumed that he should have started from Bethlehem as the scriptures said.  But the scripture wasn't wrong, the assumption was wrong.  In other words, the scripture did not exclude the possibility of Messiah being born in Bethlehem, moving a number of times and then settling in Galilee (which is what happened).

Scripture also declared Messiah would rebuild the temple and re-establish the David's monarchy.  At the time of Jesus' ministry, the temple still stood... so how could he be Messiah?  The assumption made (then and now) was Messiah would fulfill all of those things in one arrival.  But it is in fact just an assumption.  The text never excludes the possibility of Messiah coming once, dying, resurrected and then returning again to fulfill the remainder of prophecy.  It simply doesn't exclude it. It's not until John's revelation that we see Messiah fulfilling the remaining prophecy.

I can't emphasis this enough: be careful of what you read and the assumptions you make.  Check and double check that you are only reading the words on the page, not reading into them.  Be willing to lay down what you think you know and as proverbs says, "Lean not on your own understanding".

Now, we need to see if our understanding of Mark 13:32 is in harmony with the entirety of the book and we come across Amos 3:7 "Surely the Lord GOD does nothing Unless He reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets. (NASB)"

Uh oh.  There's a problem.  Amos 3:7 has not only an exclusion but an expressed absolute.  "Nothing".   There are no exceptions to "nothing".  Since the Bible can not contradict itself, then something else must not be correct.  Either one or both passages need to be reexamined in their original language, or more likely, we assumed something from Mark 13:32 that we should not have.  What are consistent examples we see in the rest of the Bible?  The LORD did reveal the day of destruction to Noah; He revealed the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to Abraham; He revealed the destruction of Babylon to Daniel; He revealed the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersal of His own people to any number of prophets.  The consistency of examples agree with Amos 3:7, not our assumed meaning of Mark 13:32.

I'll be honest:  I don't like Harold Camping. I caught his radio program as a brand new believer and found his treatment of callers entirely too harsh.  I put that out there so that you can know I have not written any of the above out of personal bias for him.  In preparing for this post, I studied his background and his methodology over and I was prepared to pick apart his allegorical method of biblical interpretation but then God Himself stopped me somewhere in that.

Harold Camping and I, for the most part, agree on how to correctly read the Bible except in the area of using the Bible allegorically for a "spiritual meaning."  An example of allegorical reasoning would be to look at Deuteronomy 22:10 which says "You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together (NASB)" and derive from that people of differing races shouldn't marry.  Allegorical interpretations lead people to say things such as "well, the Bible can be interpreted in many ways" --- which is wholly incorrect.  You can make any allegory you want to make out of any portion text, sure.  The safest practice is not to assume anything in the Bible is an allegory unless the text tells you it is (there are numerous places of that), since the text also tells you the correct interpretation of that allegory.

But it turns out that I don't need to spend countless hours showing how Camping's allegorical conclusions are questionable at best.  Camping could be right in his method and his prediction and it still be in harmony with the entire Bible but for one thing.  Re-reading Amos 3:7, we see the LORD reveals His plans to prophets.  We also see that anytime the LORD speaks in allegories or dreams, it is the prophet who interprets them.  Therefore the real question is, "Is Harold Camping a prophet?"  I have no doubt he's saved and despite my dislike for him I have no doubt his heart for God is real and sincere.  But is he a prophet?

Contrary to modern assumption, there's more to being a true prophet from the LORD than just giving out predictions.  The first rule of a prophet comes from Deuteronomy 13:1-3

"If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known ) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams ; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." (NASB)

In this text we find an important lesson:  Just because a prediction comes true, does not mean this is a prophet of the LORD.  Prophets of the LORD call people to repentance and to turn back to Him, not away from Him.  Dr. Camping preaches a gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins, even though some of his other doctrine is highly suspect.  He's good on that point.

The next test of a prophet is Deuteronomy 18:22

"When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously ; you shall not be afraid of him." (NASB)

As we read through other parts of the texts, we understand the LORD's prophets never fail in prediction.  Not once.  100% fulfillment.  That is the sole reason Harold Camping is not a prophet of the LORD.  He predicted the rapture to occur sometime in September of 1994 (ironically using Mark 13:32 as an excuse not to know which exact day in September) and we all know September 1994 came and went with no rapture of the church.  The thing did not come about, Camping spoken presumptuously and so we do not need to fear or give credibility to any other prophecy he makes.

In spite of my disagreement with him, I find I am thankful for Camping in many ways.  The man does have an obviously God-given gift for understanding mathematical relevants found in the Bible and he probably is correct in dating the earth to closer to 11,000 years old rather than 6,000, since most scholars assume the heritage lines in Genesis, Matthew and Mark are direct lineage.  There's more evidence from the Bible alone to suggest that's probably not the case.  Harold Camping has also spent an impressive amount of time going over the Bible in its entirety and I respect that.  Mostly, he has shown where we Christians are weak... because all it takes is one atheist to bring up Amos 3:7 in comparison to Mark 13:32 and we're left stumbling for an answer.  And it's not that the text was wrong.  We hadn't done the due diligence in critical thinking, asking ourselves "wait, why do I think this means...?"   Is it because Doctor, Reverend or Pastor so-and-so said as much?  Because traditionally that's what the collective thinks?   No.  You can know this book for yourself, so long as you are searching for the absolute truth and trusting in God Himself to open your eyes to its words.

I thank Harold Camping for the challenge and I certainly welcome anyone who disagrees with something I said to call it out.  I really don't care if I'm wrong.  I do care to know how to tell the difference between right and wrong.

How to Read the Bible



Among believers and non-believers alike, there is a fallacy which states the Bible can be interpreted many different ways and that each person should judge for themselves what it means.  What makes this a fallacy is that, if viewed as a matter of personal interpretation only, the Bible then has no authority: it is merely opinions and ideas no better than yours, mine or anyone else's.  If it's not an authority, we're wasting our time reading it.

To be sure, many people can read the same passage and derive different conclusions.  The fact that this phenomenon is possible does not mean that is the intent of the Bible, nor does it mean all conclusions are true and equally valid.  How can any individual be sure their understanding is the correct one?  It starts with the recognition that only what the author intended is the correct interpretation.  I don't know anyone who takes the trouble to write a book with the intention that each reader decides for themselves what it means.  No sane person I know does that.  If someone writes a book, then the author has something to convey.  That's pretty basic.  When you're separated from the author by decades and languages...what then? You have to put aside your way of looking at things and get into the writer's way and you do that by comparing it with the rest of the body of work because the author will be uniform in all their manner.

Uniform.  Important word to note. Find the the uniformity first, because all other questions of ambiguity are solved against that.

If you haven't read the post Basic Truth you should browse it before continuing. It is the foundation of my next statement: The correct interpretation of any small part of the work is in harmony with the entire body of work.  There can't be contradictions.  I find that "contradiction" needs explaining too.  A contradiction isn't something that appears in-congruent, nor is a contradiction two opposing or paradoxical statements.  Originally a "contradiction" meant two or more things which could not both simultaneously be true.  If I said "Bryan is in the room" and "Jim is in the room", both statements are not contradictions even though they don't completely agree.  There's no reference to timing so it is possible one was in the room at another time period.  The statements "Only Bryan is in the room" and "Jim is in the room at the same time as Bryan" are contradictions because both can not be true simultaneously.  The absolute declaration "only" has eliminated all possibility of the other statement.

I defined contradiction to set up my next statement: The Bible can not have contradictions.  If it in truth does, then it can not be from God and we may as well throw it out and live whatever way makes sense in our own eyes.  It must be perfect and without contradictions of any kind if it is to be authoritative.  And you find there are no contradictions in it.  There are people who misuse or misunderstand what a "contradiction" is when they make that claim.  There are several passages that don't seem to agree and actually seem to oppose one another, but they do not contradict.

One final thing to define is assumption.  An assumption is a conclusion drawn from the text which has not been literally stated in the text.  I find that assumption is the biggest obstacle to truly understanding the Bible and what's worst most of the time we don't realize we're making them.  To begin seeing the Bible the way the Author intended, you must be aware of what assumptions you're making when reading the text and lay those assumptions down.

You will not be able to correctly apply any scripture if you don't know the big picture of it all, cover to cover.  That means reading it start to finish as often as possible, rather than select verses here and there.  The reason for that is context.  Context isn't just the verses before and after, but where that chapter fits into the entire book; where that book fits into the entire history, and so forth.  I have a concern for individuals who only read select passages here and there because they end up believing anything a person says, so long as they give enough verses to back it up.  It's not a matter of if you can find a verse to support your position.  The matter is does that position fit in absolute harmony with the entirety of scripture.  The entirety of it.