Sunday, February 24, 2008

Believe it or not Part 1

This weekend I asked the congregation how many used AOL?

Just by a show of hands, anyone here using America Online?

In three of the services there was no one! Not a single person raised their hand! This would be odd in a church of several hundred, but over 2,000!? Now, grant it, there were a dozen here and there (we have seven weekend services -- there's bound to be a few) but for the most part it was "American online" instead of, 'America.'

But I digress.

I was trying to see if anyone else ever saw those weekly "guess what really happened?" in Hollywood quizzes. Not much chance there was going to be a real familiarity there when so few even have AOL anymore, so I explained what it was.

It's a series of about 10 questions. Some are true and some are false. You have to guess which is which. And here's the rub, it's not that easy because the made up stuff isn't any more whacked out than what really happens in these people's lives!

For example, "Brittney Spears was taken to the psych ward...true or false?

That one is true

But then they might throw something like this in,

Brittney Spears caught wandering the streets mutterring Justin Timberlake's name over and over again...true or false?

Actually, that's kind of easy. It's true.

NO! I'm kidding. It's false. But I could easily see her doing this. It's not really far fetched given some of her recent behavior.

Which leads me to the point of this blog.

We seem to be morphing into an incredibly lazy and gullible culture when it comes to seeking truth. Heck, we can't even agree on what truth is anymore.

Many universities actually teach that truth is relative and that there is no absolute truth.

How dumb is this?

Is this higher learning?

I'll address this more in part 2


Anonymous said...

Just so you know you are not alone...we have AOL. We were in the 8:30 cafe so you just couldn't see us. Awesome service Sunday!!

James F. Elliott said...

Many universities actually teach that truth is relative and that there is no absolute truth.

Many universities, in fact, do not teach this. It is a straw man.

Is it too much to ask that theism have the same level of sophistication it demands of atheism?

rob's rants said...

Wrong, James, they do teach this.

Maybe this fact is just not true for you.

WolfpackEE said...

Having taken some philosophy courses at a state university, I've seen this taught first hand. The sad part is many classmates rejoiced at this way of thinking.

This mindeset isn't just screwing up the moral's throwing it away.

Jay Foreman said...

James.... is this really true? or relatively true.

You might like to take a look at this website. It's great for atheists.

That is unless it makes you relatively uncomfortable...

James F. Elliott said...

Maybe this fact is just not true for you.

Hardee har har.

Okay, having been through both undergraduate university AND an inanely leftist graduate program, I still don't think this is particularly true. There is epistemic truth -- physics, math, etc. -- as well as truth in the factual sense (sky is blue, The Jewish Philosopher is an idiot, and so on). Now, what I get that you're trying to get at is the philosophical/metaphysical notion of truth, which isn't the same thing; however, you're trying to make some sort of point using counterfactuals, which isn't going to get you anywhere.

I'm not saying don't explore it, just encouraging you to have a more sophisticated argument ready. Because where you're currently headed is easily undermined. It's not like it's new ground.

You're not exactly treading new ground or anything.

DagoodS said...

In the words of Socrates, "What is truth?"

rob's rants said...

Couple massive problems:

1. I very much doubt you actually know where I am headed with this -- for I do not plan to use theories for this one, but rather, facts.

2. Are you now "Omar the Magnificent" in that you can predict the direction of conversations? If so, I'm glad you're getting started b/c the miscues up to this point have been rather tedious. :)

James F. Elliott said...

I very much doubt you actually know where I am headed with this -- for I do not plan to use theories for this one, but rather, facts.

Yeah, um, this is a conversation every amateur has at least once. This would be my third or fourth. The worst one began in a very similar vein. I'd be hugely surprised if you came up with something new. Or fact-based.

If so, I'm glad you're getting started b/c the miscues up to this point have been rather tedious.

Condescension is the first refuge of the wrong. But by all means, continue.

rob's rants said...

"Condescension is the first refuge of the wrong. But by all means, continue."

Splendid! We finally have our first breakthrough! If what you say is true, then we have located not only your first refuge, but quite possible, your permanent home!

The Celtic Chimp said...

Whilst I don't particularly hold with scepticism, there is some truth (no pun intended) to the concept of truth being relative. It is most certainly true in a philosophical sense. Everyone experiences the world essentially though weak electrical impulses delivered to thier brains via their senses. How they process that information is subjective. All experience is ultimately subjective for this reason. I should be clear though, I do believe in certain things being either true or false. On anything which is a matter of perception, truth can be relative or at least percieved differently. This does not at all effect how true the thing is, only the perception of what is true is different.

An example would be the statement

'God created the universe'

Rob would likely say this is true,

I would likely say it was not true, or at least there is no reason to believe it is true/can not be said to be true.

Either way it our own evaluation of the data the has yielded the 'truth' for each of us. As I have said, this does not at all affect whether or not God did or didn't create the universe.

Consider though questions where preference or perspective do in fact change the truthfulness of a statement.

'Is this man tall'

From the point of view of a short person it may be true. From the point of view of a tall person it may be false. This is not entirely a matter of opinion as the man's height does not change and there are definable criteria, averages etc on which to gauge the truth

but when entirely preference based

'Is this woman beautiful'

Opinions on the 'truth' of those statements will undoubtedly differ. Beauty is an abstract in itself. It is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. Truth is 100% relative in this case.
'Is this a nice colour?'
'Does this taste good?'
etc, etc

It does not make any sense to claim that a colour is factually nice or a food provably tasty. It is up to each person to decide for themselves if the statements are true.

This relativity also carries to the abstract of morality. Morality is an abstract. It means different things to different people. Consider for example circumcision, it is actually the mutilation of a child and therefore morally wrong (one view)
It is not mutilation or perhaps is not a moral question (another view/views)

Which is true?

Well, that depends on your point of view. The same applies to most moral issue.

The things we all agree on (murder is bad, etc) is just something we agree on. It is no more objectively immoral than anything else because there is no such thing as objective morality. There is only popular opinion.

soehta said...

Well said, celtic chimp.

James F. Elliott said...

To piggy-back on CC:

I think it's ultimately a problem of categorization: clearly their are epistemic truths, things that are visibly true/false. "Relativity" is a philosophical and logical concept, not a scientific one. Clearly you can have truths: Britney Spears did not, in fact, walk down the street shooting out neighbors' windows with a Ruger Super Redhawk whilst singing the Star Spangled Banner.

No one could successfully disagree. Unless I missed that part of Good Morning America.

But it is possible, using logic systems, to have statements that are true but unproven or false but provable (Godel's Incompleteness Theorem). Using Liebniz's reductio ad absurdum, you can actually prove falsities as "true" from contradictions if you rigidly apply his third axiom. This creates all kinds of problems.

You are, right at this moment, using a tool that illustrates this principle: a computer. Computer languages are essentially logic systems. What is true for one set of code can be false in a second and gobbledygook in a third.

So, "truth" is not always absolute in logic. I will be saying more about this in the next few days at my own site, and I thank Pastor Rob for the impetus.

But when we talk about subjective, insubstantial truths -- god's love, evil, good, the taste of pineapple -- we cannot take the example of epistemic or even logical truths and apply them here.

This is what I meant when I said I predicted where Rob was going with this (based on his Britney Spears example). An empirical, verifiable truth does not ergo prove truth as absolute. To illustrate with some of the examples above:

I hate pineapple. I think it is bad. (Generic) You thinks it is darn tasty. It is good, to you. Which statement is true? Is it good, or is it bad? As formulated in the latter sentence, both cannot be true, unless truth is subjective, and subjectivity is relative to perception and individual judgment.

We think al Qaeda is evil. Al Qaeda thinks we are evil. Both groups have empirically true reasons for reaching that conclusion. Which is absolutely true? Why?

Christians believe the Messiah rose and fulfilled the Covenant. Jews believe otherwise. Muslims believe they're both wrong and that the God of Abraham sent the angel Gabriel down to Mohammed with a completely other covenant to supersede either. Is it possible to know which, if any, is true? And yet the truth of god's love is felt by the practicing Jew, Christian, and Muslim.