God's Existence, Science and Faith, Suffering and Evil, Jesus' Resurrection, and Book Reviews

Consistency Among Disciplines

Everyday thousands of scientists around the globe perform experiments and observations of the natural realm. They note a certain condition, make (or allow) a change, then note the new condition. Many times, the same experiment or observation is conducted several times to be certain the results of the first (second or third) were not just "flukes". Scientists combine many of these to come to conclusions about the natural realm. But what is it that allows these conclusions to hold any validity? They are based on experiments and observations, but what allows those to be trusted to reflect the natural realm?

The entire scientific enterprise is based on one assumption: the natural realm is consistent. That means that in multiple instances when all conditions are the same, identical results will be produced. Experiments and observations are repeatable. You can be certain that if you perform the same experiment in the precise same way a second time, you will get the same results. If scientists were able to produce water from the combination of two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen atom in one experiment, then gold with the same ingredients in the second (then another substance third, and so on), they could conclude that this was not a consistent phenomena. Further, if scientists found that their experiments, when performed exactly the same way, produced different results without any consistency, they could conclude that the natural realm was not predictable, and investigation of it is futile.

Misengaged in Battle?

Here's something to think about:

When engaging someone in a discussion or debate, should you focus on their understanding of their own worldview, not the "correct" or "accepted" understanding of their worldview?

Greg Koukl (in his book Tactics) says to focus on the person's understanding. His reasoning is that focusing on another understanding (whether its "correct" or not- it makes no difference) will make the person believe that you are either ignoring their concern, or trying to belittle them by telling them how to believe what they believe.

Part of me wants to disagree for the simple reason that I think one should always focus on the understanding with the strongest evidence and arguments. I say this because it helps prevent committing the "straw man" fallacy (see my previous post "This Argument Is Full of Crap!"). For those who are unfamiliar with the "straw man", it is a misunderstanding of a view that is easy to argue against and tear down. The problem with it is that even though that understanding has been destroyed, the argument doesn't touch the true issue.

But, when I think about it a little further, I realize that the person (whom I'm attempting to persuade my direction) may have a "straw man" of his own worldview in his mind. If I were to attack another view (say, the "correct"), I would be committing the "straw man" fallacy by not understanding his view and attacking that. So, by attacking the "correct" view, I would be committing the "straw man" fallacy on a "straw-man" view. (Confused yet?)

Simply put, I must agree with Koukl. Focus on the person's understanding. After you provide enough doubt to abandon the view, they may move closer to the "correct" view. As they move closer to the "correct" view, you can focus on the new understanding. Eventually, you will have placed enough doubt in them for all their understandings (including the "correct" one) that they will have no choice but to abandon it. Now, that's not to say that they will jump on board with your view. If there is another possibility, expect them to adopt it for a while (the process starts all over again).

Of course, during this whole time, don't forget to provide positive evidence for your own point of view. See my previous post "Positive vs. Negative Arguments" for more on this.

Further resources:

Stand to Reason
Straight Thinking

Stand to Reason

Tactics by Greg Koukl
Come, Let Us Reason by Norman Geisler

Does Doubt Equal Disbelief? Part 1

This is a big issue. I see it all the time in Christian circles and in naturalist circles. If a Christian expresses doubt about God (for instance), he is shunned and accused of not believing in God. As soon as a scientist raises doubts about evolution (for instance), the same happens to him.

I have a few things to say about this. First, for both situations, the people doing the shunning are afraid to be challenged. They are scared that if their precious ideas are questioned, then they might be found to be lacking or even false. These people tend to be committed to an idea rather than the truth. This is not good for anyone. Read my post "Why Should I Challenge My Own Views?" for more information.

I would like to say that just because someone doubts something does not mean that they disbelieve it. What this comes down to is confidence and certainty. Certainty requires that you be 100% sure of whatever belief you hold. As long as challenges are around, 100% certainty is not possible. So, we have to fall back on confidence. Based on evidence, we can hold that we are, say, 90% sure and 10% unsure. If we are 90/10, then we can confidently believe something. However, if we are 40/60 (40% sure and 60% unsure) then we cannot confidently believe it. Most Christians and scientists fall into the 90/10 category for their beliefs. If they doubt a certain piece of evidence, question a detail, or challenge the existing form of the idea, they are only changing their percentages to, say, 80/20 or 70/30, they are not likely taking it to 50/50 (agnostic- don't know) or 40/60 (disbelief).

Now, I must say that the more a view goes challenged or questioned without those challenges and questions being answered, the percentages will continue to shift until they hit that "magic" 49/51. Then the person is disbelieving, but not because they challenged or questioned, but because they were not adequately responded to.

When someone asks a tough question its because they are struggling with it, not because they are ready to "jump ship". In both the Church and the scientific community, we need to stop accusing those who are challenging us of being "traitors", and help them along. If an idea is true, then all challenges and questions to and about it have an adequate response. By ignoring those people, we only show that we don't believe that last statement ourselves.

Michael Patton from Reclaiming the Mind Ministries wrote a blog post about this same issue: Can Christians Doubt. Please read the comments (19-103, specifically). A reader challenges Michael on the biblical merits of his claim (same as mine). Michael defends his position, and with the help of another reader, the offended reader realizes they are saying the same thing, just with different nuances that took focus.

Michael recently published another article "The Sufficiency of Probability in the Christian Belief". This is another great article worth reading.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason is asked if one can still be a Christian, yet have some doubts. Here is his answer:

Koukl is also asked "How could struggling with doubt be good".
Here are some great Christian podcasts I have found that address the deep questions and tough challenges to its worldview (pretty much every podcast on the right side of my blog):

Straight Thinking
Stand to Reason
Theology Unplugged
I Didn't Know That
Just Thinking
Without A Doubt

Trust, Confidence, and Trust in Reality

Trust and confidence are two things that childhood has a profound effect on. As I've been reading some books about psychology, it seems that if trust and confidence are not established early, then both are extremely hard to come by later in life.

From birth, a child must rely on his mother and father to protect and provide for him (or her). That child is well aware of his dependence on the parents. The child also trusts that the parents will do what is in the his best interest.

However, if these are broken early and/or often, the child becomes skeptical of his parents' ability to protect and provide for him. Since the parent is the "first impression" the child receives of someone who promises something (protection and provision), if he has bad experiences, the child will grow up to question everyone that "promises" something to that child.

In some cases the child begins to question the idea that reality is even real, or that anything is objective (these are all things that society is acting out, yet saying something opposite- but that's a different post).

My point in all this is that if the family continues to break and be as dysfunctional as it has been, our children will pay the price with their confidence in reality.

When someone questions reality itself, many doors are opened. First, as a Christian, my concern is that if someone can't trust reality, then why should they trust the God who supposedly created it? Second, if reality is not to be trusted, then any implications about reality are not to be trusted either. These implications include morality. When the child (now teen or adult) realizes this connection, they are "freed" to do whatever they wish, with no lasting consequences.

Our children are watching our every move. When we break their trust and confidence, they get closer to moral relativism. It is truly amazing the kind of eternal impact parents have on their children. The repeat-offender parents are the one's that really need to pay attention and turn around.

If we allow society to continue to destroy the family and perpetuate our children's mistrust in parents, we may lose our kids forever.

I'm not trying to be Chicken Litter, here ("the sky is falling..."), but am trying to awaken parents to the damage they may be doing to their children without even realizing it. We all need to take a look at everything we do and ask ourselves "how would I feel if my mom or dad were doing that?"

We have all heard that we are "examples" that children follow. I'm not going to argue with that. I would even say that children are not stupid enough to not notice a bad example, too. But I want to take this one step further. Even though a child may recognize that you are a bad example and decide not to follow you, they still have not realized that their trust in someone who they believed to be trustworthy (you), has now placed one more strike against anyone else who would try to gain that child's trust. If you continue, the strikes continue to build a case for mistrust of everything.

For more on this subject check out these links:

Focus on the Family
Healing the Masculine Soul by Gordon Dalbey
Faith of the Fatherless by Paul Vitz
Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson