25 January 2010

Evil Nonsense, Absolute Truth

Now that I can get my hand on the keyboard more comfortably after shoulder surgery (to fix the rotator cuff I tore when I fell off my recumbent bicycle) I can let off a little existential steam. I'd like to talk about ideas that are running loose in academia and our wider culture that are pernicious nonsense.

Number one: There is no such thing as Absolute Reality.

Of course there is! Here's a little piece of it: One plus one equals two. As long as we are talking about the integers one and two, it is, has always been, and will always be absolutely true. Granted, my example is only a little piece of Absolute Truth, but it is a representative beginning of mathematics and mathematical logic, which together form a language that - if you follow its rules - guarantees that the statements you make are absolutely true. There are limits to how much truth you can discover with mathematics, which means there are limits to the bits of Absolute Truth that can be known by unaided Reason. But you can know quite a bit.

Number two: Absolute Reality may exist but it is unknowable.

Well, some of it is knowable. Think of one plus one equals two.

Number three: Absolute Physical Reality may exist, but Modern Science says it is unknowable.

It's knowable well enough. No matter how much you believe otherwise, you will fall down when you step off a cliff unless you are attached to some sort of aircraft. Relativity and quantum physics merely illustrate that while geometrical objects in mathematics are collections of infinite numbers of points, geometrical objects in physics are not. We have yet to discover the categories of thought and mathematics that appropriately describe physics at small scales (of space-time and energy-momentum).

Number four: Reality is socially constructed. You can change reality by changing people's perception of reality.

"The world is what I want it to be, or what I make it to be," is the thought of the infantile narcissist. The world is what it is, whether we like it or not. Physical reality (including economic reality) is what it is. Only social reality is socially constructed, and only partly so at that. Physical and economic reality place severe constraints on social (which includes political) reality. If the constraints are ignored, whole societies can collapse. And the collapse can involve suffering and death for large numbers of people.

It is this last idea, that is so pernicious. And because the other three are often used to justify the fourth, they are pernicious, too.

Of course, as a Christian, I don't think it either necessary or possible for us to know all there is to know about Absolute Reality. Rather, I take comfort in the belief that Absolute Reality knows us.

On the other hand, there are many of my fellow Christians who say that everything we need to know about Absolute Reality is in the Bible, literally interpreted.

I dispute both parts of that conjecture. First if everything we needed to know about Absolute Reality were in the Bible, we would not have to live and die. God could just recite it to us without our having to take on our present mortal forms. There is an experiential component to Absolute Reality which must be lived. Second, if you interpret the Bible literally, then the firmament that is referred to in Genesis is a translation of a Hebrew word that means a piece of metal that God hammered into a thin, but gigantic sheet. We've been going up to the sky for a hundred years now. The only sheet metal around is the space junk we've left up there.

The Bible is a doorway to the Absolute Reality/Truth that can only be experienced through Faith. But if there is no Truth in the Reader, then only the Truth can help the Reader. Read, know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

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