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Friday, May 27, 2005

 Truth versus fact

I have a friend who became a christian fundamentalist after having questioned her faith for years. One evening, on a beach, she proclaimed, "If there is a god let me see a shooting star right now!"

A shooting star crossed her path.

Whether she actually saw a meteorite is irrelevant. My friend believed she saw it and now believes the Earth to be 6,000 years old. When faced with "evidence" that points to the existence of the supernatural, and evidence that the Earth is four billion years old, she chose the former and disregarded the latter.

When creationists in Kansas demand evidence that evolution exists, yet do not demand evidence that god exists, it really pisses me off, but it also exposes a philosophical divide: theists value truth; non-theists value fact.

A theist will tell you that there is an eternal absolute truth, revealed in the holy texts of their religion. They will selectively use facts -- or bend them -- to fit their truth. The fact that most shooting stars are visible in the evening is irrelevant, as is the fact that statistically, this event is probable. The "truth" that the star was a message from a deity overwhelms fact.

A non-theist, in contrast, is less concerned with truth and more concerned with fact. If new facts are uncovered (for example, discovery of the various behaviors of subatomic particles) the truth is changed to reflect these new facts. If the truth of the Newtonian universe is replaced by the truth of the Einsteinian universe, so be it.

If one day we could obtain enough facts to prove the existence of a supernatural deity, scientists would accept it, eventually. In contrast, if we could prove that such a god did not exist, theists would still balk.

The fact of evolution points to the truth that life's complexity was not designed intentionally, but evolved from simpler forms. One day new facts might be uncovered to challenge this truth. On that day, the scientifically literate, rather than balking, will rejoice for the advancement of human knowledge and understanding.


Blogger Electro said...

In the telling of your friends story. It would also seem to me that it was unlikely that God sent her some message to disbelieve all she had learned about the earth and the stars and become a fundamentalist. But her experience must be more real than your story leads us to believe. I am one who had an experience that is not explainable because I could not have sounded any more like you than you do when talking about God and science. I do believe that the earth is some billions of years old and the plant and animal life has started and ended at changing times over those years. But when I see the simularities between them I don't conclude that they are directly related, and Science has not made that conclusion either. What you deny is as ignorant as your friend. you deny the possibility that there is a God who is in charge of those changes. or a God who used basic building block and continued his work until he had made all of what he wanted here on earth. There is evidence of God. If you are science minded you know that proving a negative is not possible. So proving that God doesn't exist is impossible. I still see the Christians that I saw as an atheist, and drew my conclusions the way you do, and frankly they still piss me off, exspecially those ones who try to use the belief system they have to validate what they do when what they do is obviously wrong. But in the same manner it pisses me off to see scientists "declare" something that has hardly been tested, or can't even be tested. whats wrong with saying "We just don't know but we think this is a probabillity." There is no devide between real science and the real God.

8:17 AM  
Blogger Brinstar said...

What if 'God' is just a being (or series of beings) that is (are) simply more powerful and at a higher stage of evolution than us? Maybe this entity doesn't even consider itself a god, and is continually amused by our silly little mortal pre-occupations.

The Universe is a vast place. Even if one has faith, why humans should think that there is only one path to the divine, or why they should even have the arrogance to believe that God exists for only theri species is absurd. Since there are countless numbers of galaxies out there, it's not against all odds that there is life as evolved, or even more evolved than us. Maybe they have gods, too.

So the question I would ask Christians is how they can be so sure that their god is the right one. Their answer is always "faith", which isn't an answer at all. It certainly wouldn't hold up in a court of law:

"How do you know this man is the killer?"

"Because I believe he is."

It's absurdly laughable.

7:42 PM  
Blogger Electro said...

I am guessing you are a Star Trek fan. You are asking for proof that God exists for us alone. well he doesn't and we don't know if He has created others like us in worlds far away. What Christians believe in, real Christians that is, is that God has come into our lives to provide us with an escape from death. It is known as salvation history and it began with Abram in the desert and continues today with us who choose to do His will. Why He cares for us in a special way is only that he made us better than the rest of creation to be a partner in creation with Him. To me it seems like a wonderful thing to live for. And you know what if one day I die and there is nothing after it, I won't have missed out on a thing. The probability that God exists and has always been, and the probability that matter has always been are the same. but the probability that matter has formed into this universe by chance is far less than the probability that some being formed it. And by the way there were witnesses to the resurection of Jesus.

Your analogy "How do I know the man is a killer?" 11 people, 100 people, 1000 people saw him kill another person makes him a killer. It holds up in court. If you choose to believe he is not a killer that takes more faith. So do you belive Hitler was a killer, or do you know he was? Some "believe" it never happened. who are the fools?

9:18 PM  
Blogger vjack said...

I would say that theists value certainty rather than truth. "Truth" implies some correspondence with reality, while "certainty" just means you have made up your mind regardless of what is true.

6:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So it is no wonder that the Bushies love to speak to the "truth" so that you ignore the "facts".

1:32 PM  
Blogger Brinstar said...


But you forgot one crucial point in this little courtroom analogy. All the witnesses are alive.

All the witnesses to the so-called miracles that happened in Jesus's time (which to those people proved he was God) -- they are all dead.

The Bible is not a historical record. It doesn't hold up as well as all the pictures, eye-witness accounts, documents, and footage we have of the Holocaust.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Electro said...

Well, well, Why did I know you would say that? Yes the Bible is a Historical record, and if you knew anything at all about proving history you would know that there is more historical evidence of Jesus than there is of Julius Caesar. And you need not use the bible by itself, there are many writers at that time who wrote of those events. even with all the evidence of the Holocaust some people refuse to accept it happened, they try to explain away all the evidence. To both of us that is unexceptable. But to address your refusal more directly, I will ask this. Did Washington cross the Delaware? Did Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence? Was there a "trail of tears"? Where is the difference in the evidence of these events from that of History handed down from 2000 years ago except in your refusal to except the facts? You see I do not care if you refuse to except what is real, I am not the one tring to rewrite history. The evidence is there and all you have to do is be wise enough to investigate it with an open mind. Ofcource you could ask for a revelation. My only question to you is why do you refuse to accept the evidence?

7:30 PM  
Blogger Boofykatz said...

Whilst I agree with your sentiments I doubt that any philosopher would be happy with your truth/fact dichotomy. A fact is just something which is true, a tautology, an analytic construction. Good article but work on the philosophy.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

I disagree. Fact and Truth are different things. i agree with the original author on this one. I also agree with electro on this as well. Nanovirus is just as biased as the christians. You are so sure in your own absolute "Truth" that God does not exist that you have created a religion of your own; naturalism. There is no divine, we are on our own. How is this differernt from any other religion? It still explains our origins and gives you a guiding principal with which to live your life. Just like the christians you are using your firm belief that God doesnt exist to choose which facts to include in your own personal truth. Furthermore, I would be wary to accept the "facts" given to you by the "Holy" infastructure of science. After all its plain to just about anyone that humans are fallible. Is not your overbearing loyalty to science exactly the same loyalty that christians show to God? The only difference i can see is that christians choose to give their loyalty and devotion to a being they see as fallible while naturalists such as yourself choose to give their loyalty and total trust to a system they know to be fallible due to the inherent fallibility of its creators: humans. In my opinion you put far too much trust in the facts presented by the modern scientific community. Scientists just like any other person including myself and you interpret the "facts" they find in their research according to their own personal biases. If a scientist believes wholeheartedly that god does not exist and that evolution is real then he will not accept the most logical conclusion. He will abandon a logical conclusion until he reaches an even more implausible conclusion simply because it agrees with his personal beliefs. Nowadays, anthropologists automatically assume that newfound skeletons of higher primates were "the missing evolutionary link". They naturally assume evolution is a fact and thus all futher conclusions are informed by this bias. In summary, the "facts" of science are subject to bias just like anything else in this world. Therefore the Truth that science has to offer is no better than the Truth religion has to offer. They are the same.

11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the current pravelent theory of evolution is true, how does on explain the "fact" that some diamond samples that are billions of years old, contain C-14 with a half life of 5700 years, also a "fact"? Wouldn't all of the C-14 be long gone after just a few thousand of those billions of years?

1:16 PM  

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