Friday, June 08, 2007

The Source: Part 1

I find that as I ponder the deeper mysteries of life I'm driven further and further backwards. Not in a bad way though. I feel like I'm being forced to evaluate my presuppositions, and that evaluation causes me to dissect them to reveal the presuppositions they are composed of. But as I do this, I'm finding fewer and fewer presuppositions. This leads me to conclude that my quest is like following the branches of a tree from their tips down to the trunk of the tree. This is a placeholder visual for me. It could be totally wrong, but I can't conceptualize my exploration any other way yet.

Here is my thinking… For anything to exist there has to be a source. I can't prove that by the way, it is simply an extrapolation of my experience with the physical world. For us to be able to observe anything, there has to be a set of standards by which interpret what we observe. This has to occur internally, I'm not even talking about how we need to agree to standards of interpretation for communication with others. But when I see a car, I know (with relative certainty) that it is a car, not a shoe or the essence of joy. The only way I could do this is if there are stable interpretive faculties operating in my mind. And the only way such a mechanism can exist is if there is a transcendent source of organization, or a higher standard from which my standards are rooted. If this is not the case then I could have shifting standards that could define a cow as an animal one day, and as a lamp the next day.

The atheist will deny the necessity of any transcendent source outside of one's own mind because they view our mental activity as purely mechanical and self-validating. I think this could be true if other minds did not exist. But if they do, then the process of communication opens a whole can of worms. Now we have to count on a standard that has consensus. We have to agree on what a cow is and what a lamp is before we can communicate in any sort of meaningful way. And once there is an agreement, the other party is going to want to hold you to it.

But why? Because there must be some transcendent standard hovering above both minds. That standard can be called reason, logic, or something else I haven't thought of yet, depending on the context. And there are clearly rules that we hold each other to. One standard is the law of noncontradiction. This may be the root from which all other thoughts flow. If the rule of noncontradiction is not established it is impossible to establish anything else as far as I can tell.

So the question I'm led back to is this: From where do the rules of logic and reason originate? The atheist says they come from consensus about nature itself. One mind agrees with another mind that hot can not be cold, and lo, it was so. The problem I see with this argument is that in the construction of agreement, the rules of logic and reason were employed without consensus. And if we are bound by saying that all logic and reason is the result of only a mind operating then it has to be merely coincidence that our minds apprehend logic in the same manner.

This seems to make perfect sense: if our biology is shaped purely by nature, then our minds will be as well. But it is our apprehension of nature that requires a consistent rational view that causes me pause. If we operate solely in nature, and our interpretation of reality and our basis for logic is rooted exclusively in a material world, then I would think our conception of reality would be quite different. What I mean is: our more creative approach to the world is sharply distinguishable from out animal cousins. We universally (with a few exceptions) understand that there are other layers of reality that our naturally observable world can not explain. We have different ways of speaking about them and appeal to different evidences regarding them. As Dr. Bahnsen said in his famous debate with atheist, Dr. Stein,

"The assumption that all existence claims are questions about matters of fact, the assumption that all of these are answered in the very same way is not only over simplified and misleading, it is simply mistaken. The existence factuality or realty of different kinds of things is not established or disconfirmed in the same way in every case. We might ask, "Is there a box of cracker in the pantry?" And we know how we would go about answering that question. But that is a far, far, cry from the way we go about answering questions determining the reality of say, barometric pressure, quasars, gravitational attraction, elasticity, radio activity, natural laws, names, grammar, numbers, the university itself that you're now at, past events, categories, future contingencies, laws of thought, political obligations, individual identity over time, causation, memories, dreams, or even love or beauty. In such cases, one does not do anything like walk to the pantry and look inside for the crackers. There are thousands of existence or factual questions, and they are not at all answered in the same way in each case. Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question. Dr. Stein's remark that the question of the existence of God is answered in the same way as any other factual question, mistakenly reduces the theistic question the same level as the box of crackers in the pantry…"

I think this sufficiently establishes the fact that we humans communicate about things that the natural world doesn't have a way to put into us. Evolutionary anthropologists come up with all sorts of theories about how we evolved such ideas and communication, but the fact that there can be evolutionary anthropologists communicating about how they came to be, seems to me to point to a fundamental disconnect between nature and the human mind. But that is a judgment call that I don't have the expertise to prove yet. And this entry isn't about proving the existence of God to skeptics. It's about my own exploration and search for Truth. But in so doing I think it's important to lay out my presuppositions.

And one of them is that I believe the claims of atheism do not provide an adequate variety of questions and solutions to the way the world appears to us. Its inherent reductionism forces a flattening and discounting of our perceptions. In other words, I can't prove that they are wrong, but I can say with utter conviction that their approach to life is shallower and bereft of the spirit that defines our humanity. In the same way a bunker is different than a palace; the stripping down of every "unnecessary" element can take a place where you would want to live and turn it into a place you would rather not. When you reduce the world to only what you can observe or measure, you lose what it is that life can bring.

So there is one of my biggest presuppositions. Two others are as follows: I believe that I exist as a mind that inhabits a physical reality, and I believe there are others here with me. I am listing these as beliefs, not facts, as I have no way of proving them without a circular argument. This is what the radical skeptics discovered early on. (Yes, even before the Matrix came out!)

And I'm inclined to remain within the bounds of logic as I explore these deep questions. When you get circular, there are only two things you can do: accept your argument as a presupposition, or keep backtracking. The problem with backtracking when you are at the depth of questioning reality is that there is no where left to backtrack. C.S. Lewis commented on this when he said something about the skeptic seeing through everything until the whole world was transparent. So once you get to the place where you are asking if you exist, you either stay there in a perpetual state of flummox, or you make a supposition. And once you've moved past that stage, it becomes a presupposition.

I think that is why Descartes came up with that catchy slogan, "I think, therefore I am." It employs a circular argument: there has to be an I for him to make any assertions regarding the I. The presence of a being is presumed. And I think rightfully so, because otherwise, as I've said, no other propositions can be made. It's possible that there is no being, no "I", but if that is the case there is no reason to do anything except to entertain yourself, and no reason to speculate further.

I'm hoping to make a case for accepting a circular argument for the sake of utility, and then show that circular arguments must be discarded directly afterward. I think the reason can be made abundantly clear by showing a few examples. 1. I am trustworthy because I always tell the truth. 2. Ghosts are real because I saw what can only be a ghost. 3. Supernatural explanations are not allowed in science. Science is the only way to know reality. God is supernatural. Therefore God can not be real. 4. The Bible is authoritative because it says it is true in the Bible.

Now these are short, easy to spot examples, they are laid out like so: A implies A… supposed A is true… therefore A is true. But most circular arguments are successful because they throw in more complications: A implies B… B implies C… C implies D… Suppose D… Therefore C… Therefore B… Therefore A is true. So to spruce up the first example, I could say, "I am trustworthy, just ask John. How do you know you can trust John? Well David will vouch for him! How do you know you can trust David? Because Lucinda trusts him. And I can personally vouch for Lucinda's honesty. And if you can trust Lucinda, you can trust David, who trusts John, who, as you know, will tell you that I always tell the truth." Or this famous Christian argument, "God must exist because we have a Bible that was written by God. And since God wrote the Bible, it must be true."

Now I'm not saying that every part of a circular argument is automatically false. A circular argument could be true; it just can't be proven in and of itself. For instance, I agree with this circular argument: "Abortion is murder. Murder is illegal. Therefore abortion should be illegal." But I don't agree with it because this argument won me over. (The premise is also the conclusion: abortion is an activity that should be illegal.) I agree with it because of additional evidences that support the premise that "Abortion is murder." But the evidence for this conclusion is not contained in the argument. Once the evidence is presented, and the point is made convincingly that abortion is murder, than the argument is no longer circular because it resides within the context of a larger argument. The premise is not supported by the conclusion, but rather by additional evidences.

So when I encounter a question-begging assertion, (another way of saying 'circular argument') I look for the premise or premises and go back a step. And that process has, as I've said, been like going down branches, leading to bigger, thicker branches that eventually must lead to one trunk. And I see it this way because I am trying to adhere to logic and reason. Logic tells me that off can not be on, and right can not be wrong, and white can not be black. (Vanilla Ice successfully proved this point in the early 90s.) I trust this logic because of the testimony of nature. My brain simply can't grasp an object that is both hot and cold, or loud and quiet.

Because logic is so natural to us, it's easy to submit the idea that logic must be the trunk from which all the branches of reality flow. It keeps everything together and understandable. But we run into a problem if we go that route. How do we determine that logic is the correct way to validate any given claim? The fact that it comes natural to us is no proof. If you use logic to prove that logic is correct you are in a circular argument. If you use some other means to prove that logic is correct then you have just undermined it as the trunk of validation for everything else. So we must choose: circular argument, or something that is more authoritative than logic. Here the atheist is trapped with only a circular argument on which to ground everything they believe. And here, as a theist, I think I've found the Source of everything. If logic needs validation from something that transcends it, then we are left with two alternatives: endless regress, or an Ultimate Source.

In an endless regress we run into the same problem we have conceptualizing the origin of the universe. What caused the big bang? Matter colliding in alternate universes? What caused those universes? Matter colliding in alternate universes? Etc. Without, as Aristotle coined it, an unmoved mover, there is no way to break free from this problem. The same thing applies to the validation of logic. What validates logic? Nature? What validates nature? Logic? What validates logic? Etc. Without, as I'm coining it, an unvalidated validator, (I get to spell it however I want since I'm coining it!) we can't stop the regression.

The desire to avoid the regression in these two very vexing philosophical dilemmas drives me toward a Source. The Trunk from which all the branches of reality grow. How a scientific mind can be comfortable with two infinite regressions at the root of their worldview is a mystery to me.

And yet, here I am as a Christian with two major presuppositions at the root of my worldview. 1. I, and others, exist. (The atheists share this one with me.) and 2. A God is the Source of logic and everything else. I feel like I'm stuck with these presuppositions because I don't have any better alternatives available to me. I'm not upset about being stuck with them, but never the less, I am stuck. I have no alternative but to operate out of the worldview that they provide. Well, I guess that's not completely true. I could, if I wanted to, strip away my belief in myself or others, become a solipsist and just start doing whatever the hell I wanted. But that doesn't really appeal to me. Besides, that philosophy (That only my mind actually exists) still leaves an infinite regress with the question of self origin. I could also call the Source of logic and the universe something besides God. I'm going to go into that more in the next installment.

I'm taking great pains to explain exactly how I've come to these conclusions because the process of going back to the Source has shown me some fundamental issues that affect the way a person approaches the world and proposes their ideas. In part 2 I will show how these issues are affecting me, my philosophical understandings, and their theological ramifications.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Rough Weekend

FRIDAY

I'll start on Friday morning. I got pulled aside by my boss and was given a thorough talking-to. He said my work was going down hill recently. He said my roommates and I were basically making a fool out of him and giving a bad impression of our team to the rest of the company. (He said it nicer than that, but that's the just of it.) He said I'm too distracted with the internet and my side business. I gave him all my reasons for my work going down hill: I've been given two levels made by two other people and I'm supposed to make them better. Here's the problem: they are all over the limits in every area. Too many lights, too many props, too many polygons, too low a frame rate. In order to make a level look good you need to add stuff, not take it away. So I'm in a catch 22 where I'm supposed to make these boring areas look amazing, but doing so makes the level even more over budget. Taking stuff away to reduce the technical problems make the areas look even more boring. I pointed out that the levels I started from the beginning are full of creative, cool areas. After discussing this with him I'm left with nothing but the advice to "make it my own."

The other big issue was my part in the … um…unique… culture of our room. Our team is split into two rooms and the boss sits in the other one. He put the people that he knows can meet their deadlines without his constant supervision in my room. I still sit next to Little-Miss-Takes-It-Too-Far, and we usually have a pretty easy-going atmosphere and far too many crude jokes flying around. We recently got a white board and it has been the recipient of a menagerie of bizarre characters that would probably shock and offend most average people. We just like gross/weird stuff. I think I'm pretty innocent about it. I'm not one of those people who savor deformities or loves leering at horrible things. But I find fictional characters that have… issues to be funny. Little-Miss-Takes-It-Too-Far really lives up to her name when she contributes to our juxtaposed characters and I end up heavily editing away or reinterpreting the overtly sexual or bodily-function aspects to try to keep a little sanity. Anyway, I was accused of putting more creative energy into the whiteboard than I put into my levels. (ouch) Of course when I'm banging my head against the previously described catch-22, yeah, I don't feel very creative when every time I do something that looks good I just have to delete it because it pushes the tech boundary too far.

Another thing that is apparently making us all look bad is our wacky theme days we have on occasion. We had one day where we wore our pants inside out, a day where we wore heavy make-up, and day were we put underwear on our heads… and even a day where we all wore ties. Why? Maybe it's just because we can. Anyway, I guess there is a price to pay. At least when the art director tells your boss that we spend more time thinking up stupid things to do than making our levels look good. So I guess that will have to stop.

Besides the whiteboard and wacky theme days, there is the discussion style that occurs in here. And this is where I discovered the true purpose of our meeting. We have been having ridiculous conversations since our team was assembled over 3 ½ years ago. We used to all fit in one room and my boss joined in as much as anyone else. Usually with Little-Miss-Takes-It-Too-Far at the helm, steering the conversation into the gutter. I remember back in the day when we were playing a stupid game of "Who at the company is…" Who's the prettiest? Who's got the worst hair? Who's is the most annoying? Who is gay? Who is strongest? Etc. Well, we rehash that game every now and then. (Our company grows so fast there are always more candidates added to the pool of speculation.) I certainly don't intend cruelty. I always vote for myself as ugliest or worst dressed or whatever. I'm not a gossip, and this sort of thing doesn't really appeal to me, but talking makes the day go by quicker and no one wants to talk about subject that I like, such as theology or philosophy. So I found myself in this stupid game again. When it was my turn to ask a question I just said one that hadn't been asked in a while: "Who do you think is gay?" (If this was a movie preview for a romantic comedy the upbeat music would suddenly halt with that annoying record scratching sound.) That's right. I committed the new unpardonable sin. I took the name of homosexuality in vain. Apparently someone was walking past the room when I did it, and naturally, like the good employee that they were, reported me immediately.

Of course, had I thought for even a second about it, I wouldn't have asked the question. But the culture of the room is so mind-numbing that I didn't think for a second. And so, I, along with my other roommates, one by one, were given the scrub-down for our wicked ways. All except the one new guy who is free from wrath because he holds the power of the one greatest virtue…. That's right… he's gay! Dun-dun-duuuuuuun. Why my boss felt he should tell me this is beyond my comprehension. I guess to drive home the point that when you tell a "your mom" joke you better be sure the recipient of said joke isn't fresh from his momma's funeral; and when you ask who people think is gay, you better be sure no one in the room is. Anyway, my newly outed coworker emailed me and told me he wasn't offended and heard that my boss told me about him, and didn't want me to think that he had told on me. I told him I was foolish for speaking before thinking and thanked him for not being the uptight type.

It's amazing seeing righteous indignation on a person's face when you have never seen it on them before. I suppose this is the only thing worth getting indignant over in our culture anymore. I spent years in the same room with my boss and heard him hurl around plenty things that would get you fired in any normal job. Heck, he still does. Less than an hour after our little meeting I heard that one of our female co-workers in his room had brought in cookies. I went in and said to her, "I hear you've got the goods." And my boss says, "Yeah, and she brought cookies too." in that obviously insinuating voice. To which she replied, "Excuse me?" with a raised eyebrow. Amazing.

Anyway, we ended our chat with me reviewing exactly what I can do to make him and everyone else happy. I'm (again) not going to have the internet on during working hours, I'm not going to make any gay comments, I'm not going to be wacky, and I'm not going to draw on the white board. Oh, and I'm going to take these impossible levels and Make Them Mine!

Just to be clear here, I really like my boss. He's great and does an excellent job of trying to balance the demands of schedule and quality with an easy-going company culture. And I like my gay co-worker. He's a great guy who is fun and hard-working. I just don't want to it seem like I'm complaining about this situation because I dislike anyone.

SATURDAY

I drove down to Longview with my brother to attend a memorial service for my Uncle who just died last week. Paul was an amazing guy. He was in his early 50s, and had just gotten married for the first time several months ago. This is definitely one of those "What was God thinking?!" sort of things. Not that I personally question God. But if I was the type, this would be the time. My dad gave a elegy that was very moving and appropriate. He talked about how Paul was the quintessential gentleman… in the most literal sense. He talked about how gentle he was with everyone who knew him. He spoke of his manly hobbies like mountain biking, hiking, electronics, etc.

After the elegy people were invited to come up and share their memories. I hadn't planned on doing so, but I was moved by my dad's words and wanted to add to them. I was pretty emotional so I don't remember much of what I said, but I think it was something like this: "The Rose family has an amazing legacy. That legacy has flowed into the Bake and Forman families. And Paul encapsulated so many of those attributes that I admire in our families. He showed generosity to me when he let me and my new wife stay at his house and borrow his car on our honeymoon. Then he showed patience with me when I crashed his car. (My parents ended up paying for the damages when we failed to.) The same steadfastness was evident when we were coming home from a caving expedition in his brand new car and a deer jumped out in front of us, smashing into the car and destroying the front end. I never saw him mad, never heard him yell. He just took life in stride.

Another trait that I love about our family and one that Paul had in spades was the love of exploration and adventure. He knew where all the secret caves were, where all the best trails were, and was always out and about. He had a taste for the fantastic. I think fantasy is a great spiritual gift. It trains you to look beyond the ordinary world to something beyond. And seeing beyond is what gets us through times like this. It brings us hope for another world where we will all be together again."

A couple people said that Paul was the nicest, kindest man they knew. It seems like that is said about almost anyone at their funeral. But for Paul, it was actually completely believable.

SUNDAY

There is a very specific physical feeling I get when I'm taking a math test, or am required to attempt to hold more than one variable in my head at the same time. Sort of a twisting, sickening stomach-knot. Well, I also get that feeling every time I hear from my ex-wife. The pain and drama she brings with her and the way it affects my family is so disheartening. We had been enjoying a several month reprieve from the madness, but that was broken recently and we had to meet with her so she could have her time with the kids. She was insisting on taking them to another city where she claims to have an apartment. Her parents had gotten her a cell phone where you have to buy minutes, and I had told her last week that if she was going to take the kids she needed to have a way for me to contact her. Well, naturally she had used all her minutes on stuff that was apparently more important than her kids, and her cell was out of service by Sunday. She called (from someone else's phone) during church and I told her I wasn't going to release the kids to her if she was leaving the city with no way to contact her. There have been too many times where she took the kids and later insisted that I come and pick them up or she would keep them over night. (Which is not in our parenting plan) And whenever I have seen the places she lives and the people she is with, it's clear that keeping the kids safe is not her primary concern. I told her the kids really don't care about seeing her apartment, they just want to spend time with her. And here in Bellevue there are a thousand things to do within a 3 block radius. (Giant mall, two theaters, super nice and huge park, restaurants, etc.) Well, she still thought it was more important that she show the kids her apartment. So she said she would get more minutes put on the phone by the time we met.

Not surprisingly I got a call from her mother next, saying that her dad was running to the store so he could buy more minutes for her. Her mom asked me to please, not let something as trivial as a phone keep her from seeing her kids. I explained I wasn't trying to keep them apart, only doing what any parent would do to keep their children safe. I'm not trying to limit the time she spends with them, only the places she takes them since she doesn't show good judgment. (I guess her mom forgot about the times she took them to a crack dealer's house where they played with bullets and were taught occult games. Later my ex told me that this guy was a child porn distributor and druid high priest.)

Later her dad called me, very upset. He told me he had bought the minutes for her, and made it clear that I'm a horrible person for putting his daughter through this. "You're pushing this too far." He said. He recommended that if I'm going to get hung up over a little cell phone, that next time I could buy her the minutes she needed. For a hardcore conservative republican, he sure can overlook personal responsibility when it comes to his daughter.

Since I knew there was going to be a disagreement when we got together I called the police for a civil standby as I have in the past. It got to the point where her yelling and name-calling got so bad I didn't know what to do. A friend who works for the police told us about civil standbys, which is where an officer just stands there while potentially delicate issues are resolved. I tried it out and it did keep her from screaming as much.

Well, this time it didn't seem to help. As usual she saw this as a chance to make her case to an authority figure about how horrible we are and how we don't let her have her rights, etc. She kept trying to convince the kids that they wanted to go on the (what would be a 1 ½ to 2 hour, each way) bus trip with her to see her apartment. The younger one folded pretty easily, but my older son really, really didn't want to go. He came to me in tears, telling me that he didn't feel good about going, but he didn't want to hurt her feelings either. I told him that he shouldn't worry about that. That a parent should be worrying about the kid's feelings, not the other way around.

Finally she relented and agreed to spend her day with the kids in Bellevue. She assured me that it was our fault, and that we coached the kids. She said she'd keep them until 10, like the parenting plan says. I reminded her that the parenting plan says 7, not 10.

And, as usual, she ended up calling us to pick up the kids early. They are starting to realize that their mom has some real deficiencies, and are asking more questions about it. I'm determined not to paint her in a bad light, but explaining her behavior is pretty difficult. I mostly explain it by telling them that God has a reason for every person who is in your life. He uses them to shape you in some way or another. And in this case, my boys are learning hard lessons early on about how grownups can be weak. But I believe they are learning how to love a person despite their flaws. And if they can learn that, it will be a beautiful thing.

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