Saturday, February 26, 2011

Validity of the Process of Elimination

I want to take a few minutes to discuss the process of elimination regarding everyday life, science, and philosophy. 

As most of you know, I work in the Information Technology (IT) department at my company. The other day I was doing some troubleshooting for one of our graphic artists. She called me and said that her monitor had started flickering. She stated that she thought that there was something wrong with the monitor and wanted it replaced.  Just to get this on the table now, I was not thrilled with having to replace this specific monitor. It is one of the more expensive ones in the company.

Starting with that thought, I made a list of the possible causes in my head: cables, video card, specific monitor input (it has two), or software on the PC (that could be any range of possibilities). I begin going through some troubleshooting steps to eliminate the possible causes: I reboot the computer; I check (and replace) the cables; I check a different input on the monitor; I try the other output on the video card; check some settings... None of those fixed the problem.


Notice that the process is very methodical. I note the initial condition, make a change, and note the new condition. If both conditions are equal, I start over with a different change. Each of one these iterations of the pattern is an individual experiment. Scientists use similar methods when they are trying to find the cause of a phenomena. This process, though, is not limited to IT and the science lab. People all over use it to find solutions to problems all the time.

Now, remember the idea that I came into the troubleshooting with? "Its not the monitor." I tested several other things before I tested the monitor itself. I probably wasted more time than I should have, and just tested the monitor as the third or fourth thing and saved all the time. BUT, I was determined on proving that the monitor was NOT responsible for the flickering. Needless to say, when I tried a different monitor (with all the other original stuff back in place), it worked fine. I still was not prepared to accept this and still tested the other stuff again...don't ask why.

I realized that the preconceived idea that I entered the process of troubleshooting with caused a lot of problems. I wasted my time and my artist's time (along with anyone dependent on her finishing her project). What would have happened if I had dogmatically held to my original idea? "Nope, it CAN'T be the monitor."  Even today, she would not be getting work done...actually she would, because I would be fired, and someone more competent (without the preconceived idea) would have replaced the monitor right away. If I continued to allow my conclusions to not be guided by the evidence, I'd be out of a job.

It seems that this process is a strong analogy to the processes that scholars use in investigating the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Possible causes are displayed on the table to explain the evidence. They see phenomena and rule out possible causes based on their observations and experiments. The problem is, though, that (like myself) one possible cause was not placed on the table, and all the others have been removed, so we have no possible cause. Just like me, scholars keep trying to put already eliminated causes back on the table, but still fail in identifying them as the true cause.

However, unlike me, many scholars are unwilling to place the one cause they entered the process against on the table after the others were eliminated. I placed the monitor, itself, back on the table as a possible cause for the flickering. I found it to be the cause. I acknowledged it; my job is safe, and my credibility has been retained, thus others are more likely to trust my diagnoses in the future. Many scholars, though, are not willing to place the Cause on the table that they entered the evaluation process against. This will cause them to spend resources going down investigative and speculative "rabbit holes".

Many scholars would say that people who place God on the table are guilty of "God-of-the-Gaps" thinking and are academically lazy. The main contention is that when someone finds the source of a phenomena, the investigation for the source stops. However, the naturalist tends to extrapolate this into "all investigation stopping" (not just for the cause). That, of course, is not correct. But further, they have to remember that they do the same. When we are looking for a lost set of keys and find them, we don't keep looking for them. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy pointed out the ridiculousness of this concept in one of his early comedy routines: " 'Hey, Ed! Did you find your wallet?!'   'Yeah, but I'm still lookin' for it...just in case we live in a parallel universe or something.' " 

We all realize that that is not just ludicrous, but a gross waste of time. Not to mention, Ed's sanity and intelligence is now in question, and his appeal to a metaphysical multiverse does not help his case one bit.

Now, let's also bare in mind that some people do stop investigation of phenomena when things get difficult, and just appeal to God. This IS academic laziness disguised as "mystery". However, the physical world can and should be investigated. The only time that "mystery" should be appealed to is the metaphysical, and not ALL metaphysical things need to have "mystery" stamped on them. We can find their cause and proper understanding. Of course, the physical and metaphysical are closely tied to one another, so sometimes this line of distinction may be blurred.

On the flip-side of this coin, some people do stamp the term "evolution" on many things (including metaphysical) and stop investigation. That is not any more academically honest than the theist appealing to "mystery" where it need not be.

Christianity is a worldview that acknowledges the validity of the investigative processes. It affirms the reliability of nature as a source of truth. It provides for a balance of both knowledge and mystery (plenty is available to keep man humble). It is intellectually fulfilling, without ever giving up all its secrets (mystery). There are numerous reasons to love the Lord with all our hearts and souls, and there is always another reason to love the Lord with all our minds. Consequently, the former has provided us with the passion to provide reasons "for the hope that we have...in gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). While the latter ensures that we will always be discovering new reasons to believe and pass along.

Great sites to refer to:

Reasons to Believe
Reasonable Faith- Dr. William Lane Craig
Discovery Institute
Dr. Gary Habermas
Risen Jesus- Dr. Michael Licona

2 comments:

  1. I, too am in IT and I must say I'm impressed with how you've tied that in with theology and apologetics. Very cool!

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  2. Thanks for the kind words Daniel! God bless!

    ReplyDelete

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