Sunday, 28 November 2010

Science and spirituality

This is the second in a series of "Deep Thought" mini-essays. They're a bit longer than my usual posts.

In the previous post in the series I said that people should believe what is reasonable to believe, and these are the things that are evidence-based and observable. I think a lot of people make a huge mistake by subconsciously adding “... and material” on the end (‘material’ as in physical, I’m talking about the material worldview, where nothing exists that isn’t physical). There is a really common argument that a surprisingly large number of people rely on, which goes a bit like this:

- Science does not concern itself with spiritual things, only material

- Therefore science explains the universe in a physical way

- Therefore the universe is entirely material

- Therefore there is no spiritual aspect of the universe

I want to quickly say that I love science. A girl I met at a youth group once proudly declared “I don’t believe in science!” and I cringed so hard I almost flattened my eyeballs, because she thought she was being a determined Christian. Science is amazing! It teaches us astounding things, and gives us understanding and appreciation of the wonderful way in which the world works.

But science does not address spirituality, and it makes me mad that people think by not addressing spiritual things, science has proved that there are no spiritual things. Ok, so religious people used to think the sun went around the earth, science proved them wrong. There are probably lots of examples of religious thinking being refuted by scientific enquiry, but somewhere along the line the idea arose that therefore all religion and spirituality must be tosh, which is, ironically, tosh.

Then we developed this notion that science and religion are opposed to each other, which again is nonsense. But we do tend to separate the two along these kind of lines:

- Science is about finding out the truth through testing and observing the world.

- Religion is about taking a blind leap of faith in something for which there is no evidence.

I think a more accurate definition would be:

- Science is concerned with how the material world works.

- Religion is concerned with how the material world relates to the spiritual world.

Materialists will disagree with my definition because they will certainly claim “there is no such thing as the spiritual world”. But how have they found that out? Through science? Can exploring the human body show that humans do not have a spirit? The statement “there is no such thing as the spiritual world” is nothing more than an assumption.

But... It’s a reasonable assumption, because the default position should be non-belief. By default I do not believe in talking jam, and I won’t until I am convinced otherwise. So it’s fair enough to be a materialist, until someone provides evidence to the contrary. The big question, therefore, is; is there any evidence that a spiritual world exists? Yes. Here are some examples;

Miraculous healings

Unexplained illnesses

Out-of-body experiences

Particularly abnormal dreams, visions, trances

People’s experiences of Jesus

People’s experiences of the occult

The huge majority of the world’s population that recognises a spiritual force of one sort or another

I’m not saying that any of these prove that the spiritual world is there, but it’s evidence.

Most materialists, upon hearing about a miraculous healing etc. will probably claim that there ‘must be a logical (a synonym for scientific/material) explanation’, which is a handy way of addressing the uncomfortable issue without actually supplying any explanation at all. The thing is, a lot of the time there is no scientific explanation whatsoever, and the materialist must comfort him or herself with the knowledge that ‘science has disproved religion’, which is bunkum.

Lets create a scenario, or better yet use a real one. A girl has an illness, someone prays for her to “be healed in the name of Jesus Christ” and afterwards she finds that the illness has gone. The materialist makes ridiculous claims such as, “she wasn’t really ill in the first place” and “it was all psychological”, but why are those claims being made if the materialist is aware that he/she was only assuming the non-existence of the spiritual world to start with? Surely it’s logical, that faced with such an example, anyone would say “ok, maybe it’s reasonable to believe that Jesus really healed her.”

The reason that doesn’t happen is that most materialists are not just assuming that the spiritual world doesn’t exist, they’re determined that it doesn’t, despite there being no evidence that it doesn’t.

Here’s the contradiction: A materialist will often admit that they can’t disprove the spiritual, that the burden of proof is on the believer – the ‘religious person’ needs to come up with a good bit of evidence. But when the believer shows that evidence to the materialist, they react as though it has already been disproved. They will find a reason to utterly reject a spiritual explanation, when they really have no reason to at all, unless spirituality has already been disproved, which they admitted at the start can’t be done.

Can we please redefine ‘logical explanation’ to mean an explanation that is logical, not an explanation that is fundamentally scientific?

Friday, 19 November 2010

The philosophy of truth

This is the first in a series of "Deep Thought" mini-essays. They're a bit longer than my usual posts.

What do you make of the concept of personal truth; the idea that what is true for you might be different from what is true for me? The classic case for plurality, tolerance and general chumminess rests on the fact that what you believe is your truth, but what others believe is true for them. There is no absolute truth. When I first came across this reasoning I dismissed it as absolute r*bb*sh (excuse my strong language but I think it’s fitting).

I think I have slowly begun to understand the thinking behind this way of thinking. When you look at the sky you see that it is blue, but how do you know that someone else doesn’t see it as puce? We understand the world based on our perception of it. I perceive an elk, therefore I believe that the elk exists, but what if someone else looked at the same thing and perceived a toaster?

Well, you say, there must be a way to test, to find out once and for all, whether this thing is an elk, a toaster or anything else! But however many tests and observations you carry out you still rely on human perception – we perceive the tests and the results, and how do we know that the test results are true? We have no way of knowing for sure that what our eyes tell us is real is actually real, that what we hear with our ears is an actual sound or a figment of our imagination. The only thing we can be 100% sure of is “I think, therefore I am.” Even if 27 million people all identified the object to really be a piano, how can we prove that those 27 million people actually exist, and aren’t just a creation of my over-active mind?

So this is how people end up deciding that what a person perceives is their truth, because there is no such thing as a “fact”, since nothing can be proven, there is only perception.

There are two main points that I would raise to address this kind of reasoning.

1)1) Just because no one can be absolutely sure whether a thing is true or not, doesn’t mean that there is no absolute truth. Even if no one can be sure whether it’s an elk, a toaster or a piano, there still can only be one reality. Either it is one thing, or it is another, or it doesn’t really exist at all. Nothing can simultaneously exist and not exist, so no matter how much you emphasise that the religious groups have one truth and the atheists another, one group really must be actually wrong. God cannot both exist and not exist, regardless of what different people perceive.

2) 2) People should believe what it is reasonable to believe. In the case of, well, nearly everything, we have ways of ascertaining what is, if not absolutely true, then at least a safe assumption. For example, in reality it is very easy to tell an elk apart from a toaster, and if it was a large brown furry thing with antlers everyone would agree that it’s a safe assumption, it’s reasonable to believe that the thing is an elk. If 27 million people thought it was a piano, it’s almost definitely a piano. No one argues about these things in real life. Not that you can prove it’s a piano, but who would disagree with 27 million people?

Just to illustrate this, here’s a list of things that you (according to the reasoning above) cannot prove to be true, but that I would say are reasonable to believe:

My name is Andy

Gravity exists

The world is round

I could not survive without water


I was born

I will die

If I jump into the sea I will get wet

Hopefully you agree that these things are safe assumptions. Some are safe to assume because they are commonly observed (such as being born), whereas some are safe to assume because they have been tested (E=mc2).

Here’s the thing; why, when it comes to spiritual things, do people completely ignore the idea of reasonable, evidence-based, observable ‘truths’ and say that it’s ok to believe absolutely anything? Just because you can’t be sure that what you perceive is true does not give you a licence to believe any old piffle, like “I am a pineapple” or “my dog used to be the king of Nepal”.

When it comes to religious beliefs, like the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you can’t just suddenly switch to different goggles and claim that it’s “up to you.” That Jesus rose from the dead is either a reasonable thing to believe or it is not. And, in reality, it is an event that either definitely happened or definitely didn’t. You can’t go all fuzzy on the facts just because gravity is “science” and Jesus is “religion” – that’s a false dichotomy.

Basically, the safest approach to ‘truth’ is to forget the whole argument about not being able to know what is absolutely true and pursue the thing that is most reasonable to believe, IMO.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Deep Thought

I've just finished writing a few mini-essays. They're going to form a series of posts here, which is a new venture for me. My only other series is Ultimate Twister Destiny Duels! (Which reminds me that it's about time I did another one of those).

Anyway, here are the posts I'll be uploading in the near future:
-The philosophy of truth
-Science and spirituality
-Morality in the human race
-Determinism, predestination and free will
-Why culture is obsessed with the story of Jesus Christ

I could do with some posting advice though. When uploading longer posts (the longest is 858 words), is it better to seperate into two shorter parts? That would make it easier to digest but I'm wondering if it would be better for people to read the whole thing at once?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

How to honour Christ

I can think of a few better ways than this

The above is now apparently the world's tallest Jesus. That's only if you include the mound he's standing on though, so I'm not convinced. Nor am I convinced that it resembles Jesus, or that it pleases Him much to see the crowds gawking at it and then going home to carry on living unchanged lives.

The saddest thing is this quote from a local priest: "I have never been as happy as I am today," Rev Zawadzki, aged 78, said. "This is the culmination of my life's work as a priest."

If everything Mr. Z worked for was building up to the construction of a very large statue, then I'm worried for the Polish church. The annoying thing is that no-one will ever be able to knock it down without being labelled the anti-Christ.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Turning chewed gum into art

I was just going to share this and say how cool it was, but I think there's something a bit more I can draw out of it.

Like Ed, I've noticed a good metaphor in a news story (which, if you're not in the habbit of clicking on every link that appears in a blog post, is about an artist who paints pictures on pieces of discarded chewing gum trodden into the pavement).

God knows the extent of all the filth that the human race wallows in. He sees people who are stuck, helpless, dirty and downtrodden, and yet he stoops down into the dirt where we are, and by his amazing power makes us a new creation; alive and beautiful.