Friday, November 16, 2012

There's 'free will' and there's 'free won't'

“Just as some food is good to eat, some ideas are good to think”.  Our ideas are framed by big eternal questions.  What is knowledge belief, and faith?
True knowledge is more than factual.  It includes explanation.  Not all facts are the same.  There are different types.

Historical Fact
History relies upon interpretations of cultural, sociological, and political data and can be revised.  The web site “Conservapedia” reveals a ministry of the truth, preaching Newt Gingrich and right-wing, think-tank ideology targeting school books to teach intelligent design as science, refute Einstein’s relativity, and claim a Christian Constitution.  Lengthy arguments are impressive but without merit when they build upon a false and deliberately distorted foundation that the recognized academic community disagrees with.

Mathematical Fact
We are all born with an unconscious knowledge of the principle of identity.  We don’t learn it from our experiences.  We take for granted that circumference equals Pi times diameter but Pi never comes out even regardless of the number of digits – at least so far.  So, the relationship seems only approximate, appearing to be a tool for converting between the world of linearity and the world of curvature.

Common sense sees only three dimensions and easily visualizes only two.  Math is a tool helping to understand the multidimensionality of reality.

We don’t know if math was discovered or created.  We don’t know if all problems are solvable.  Some are explosively complex and intractable.   Heisenberg’s 1926 uncertainty principal set a limit to simultaneous knowledge of motion and location.  

Machines that can reason and have feelings become theoretically possible if a strategy exists that can efficiently solve all problems.   However, God may have created a universe that humans cannot completely know. 

Scientific Fact
Scientific facts are always uncertain, inexact, subject to measurement, testing, confirmation, revision, correction, and improvement.  Science corrects itself and consequently is subject to cherry-picking by the faithful who do not understand the broad sweeping consequences of their denial of fact.  It only takes a single confirmed example to revise science.  All the pieces of the puzzle, from related disciplines must fit.  Science requires a correspondence principal such that the new creation encompasses and explains the old.

Science is more than measurement and testing.  It’s human explanation.  There is an element of faith in that and in the questions that are asked.   Science cannot replace faith and its use of symbols and myths but faith must not take its symbols literally.

Thousands of years ago the earth was thought to be flat with waters above and below the in-between sky.  The stars were affixed to a rigid hemisphere that rotated.  The earth was motionless, and the sun and heavenly bodies danced about it in unchanging perfection.  Religion and science augmented, cooperated, and supported one another.  God was in the heavens and all was well until Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton upset this harmony with their radical views of a reality that was not intuitive.  Earth was not central and stationary.

It was rejected by the Church, which convicted Galileo of heresy in 1633 and did not remove his writings from their list of evil publications until October 31, 1992! Galileo’s sin was describing what his telescope revealed.

It was Newton who developed the explanation of gravity.  Gravity was everywhere, invading God’s perfect heaven and leaving little space for him.  Newton’s ideas exploded far beyond the simple equation about force, mass, and acceleration.  It implied the deterministic universe that Thomas Jefferson believed in.  There was a God who created the universe, wound it up like a clock, and let it run.  If we could document initial conditions and forces adequately, we could completely describe how the universe would evolve.  The God who altered the lives of great men and directed the course of history was obsolete, replaced by clockwork.

Newtonian mechanics marked a widening gap between the world of science and religion that the members of each discipline tried to reconcile with increasing difficulty.  God couldn’t stop the sun at the battle of Jericho without the consequences of his very own laws.  State and Church separated.

The rift widened when experiments verified that time was not a river of constant flow.   Einstein’s past, present and future were all equally present just like length, width, and height.  Science had to rely on philosophy to avoid the destruction of causality and the paradoxes of time travel.

Quantum mechanics revealed an uncertain universe where Schrodinger’s cat could be simultaneously alive and dead, where consciousness made of mind, soul, and spirit could be fundamental universal quantities like energy and momentum.  Objective reality allowed instantaneous action at a distance even perhaps to the other side of the universe, but the speed of light could not be made instantaneous to account for a six day creation of a 6000 year old universe without the consequences of the laws of physics.

Belief is an opinion with little supporting evidence that is held to be true.  It falls short of knowledge.  Because the human mind possesses belief, it is always personal.  Belief can be undercut at any moment by new findings or mere opinion.  No command or will to believe can create faith.

Robert Ornstein, in his 1991 book Evolution of Consciousness, explains how our choices are impulsive and made subconsciously, long before we even realize it.

Michal Shermer, in his August 2012 Scientific American column, explains how free will is an illusion.  Allowing time for contemplation, rationality can prevent impulsive behavior.  This is called “free won’t”.  Sexual abstinence is free won’t.  “Free won’t” preserves human volition.

Our senses are accomplices in our perceptions, but they are limited as is our access to and understanding about the strength of facts.  Our perceptions are our world-view or what we choose to pay attention to.  Emotions make conclusions before contemplation has a chance.  Arguments then justify those premature conclusions instead of evaluating alternatives.

When we know we are right, why should we seek alternatives or pay attention to anyone else?  A limited perception does not promote a balanced view.  Unfortunately, critique is not always constructive because it implies the superiority of the inquisitor and his ideas.

Our beliefs depend on how we think.  Rational reasoning requires more effort than intuitive awareness.  Confirmation bias creates and validates its own knowledge, hinders openness and critical examination, and makes urban mythology doubtless.

Propaganda misrepresents, deceives, and manipulates belief using distortion and lies.  Society rewards winning more than how the game is played, but science claims that our evolution is more than a random cosmic ray and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “red in tooth and claw”.  It is snuggle, struggle, adaptation, and cooperation.

The organization, Evangelicals and Catholics Together, days before the election, claimed that the Judeo-Christian ethic, responsible for America’s greatness, is being destroyed by President Obama.  Is it more than gay marriage and Obamacare?

In his 1957 book, Dynamics of Faith, Paul Tillich sees faith as the most centered act of the human mind, an act of the personality as a whole, and a matter of freedom.  He defines faith as ultimate concern.  It is artistic creation, scientific knowledge, ethical formation, and political organization.  It is “what ought to be”.  It would be harmless were it only feelings.

Faith imposes its own facts, truth, and beliefs, but a faith which destroys reason destroys itself.  If faith were the opposite of reason it would dehumanize man.

The truth of faith is different than the truth of science and history.  The truth of faith can neither be confirmed nor denied by science.  Science should not try to interfere with faith and faith must not repress science.  Anthropology does not shake faith when it fails to confirm the forty years wandering in the desert following the Exodus.  The criterion for the truth of faith is whether it still lives in society.  No man or church owns the infallible truth of faith.

Faith contains an element of uncertainty, doubt, and the courage to accept and live with that.  Faith is not a belief that something is true, because doubt would be impossible.  Faith cannot guarantee factual truth though it has to interpret the meaning of facts.  Faith is not an unconstrained relativism, acceptance, adaptation, or tolerance.  The passionate fanatical defense of dogma and political ideology will not produce the acts of love that come from ultimate concern.

Faith is not a lack of evidence compensated by an act of will.  It is not unquestioning surrender to infallible authorities.   It does not depend on the literal historical validity of Bible stories or other facts, but is now and points toward the future.  Faith rests upon symbolic mythical ritual and is intuitive and active.  It is conscious, true and ecstatic.  Without faith, morality degenerates into a social adaptation.  Humanists have faith, though it is faith in man instead of God.  Symbols of faith go beyond the Cross to include the American Flag and Constitution.  To make sacred that which is less than ultimate is idolatry.

A representative of the Church claimed in a radio program that birth control causes abortion and sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDs.  The sin of birth control does not reduce the sin of abortion.    It was an effective argument, targeted to the general public, against our president’s re-election.  No justification for this claim was given.  Common sense argues that birth control prevents pregnancy and therefore reduces abortion.  Emotion should not be enough to convince us.

Politicians who misspeak do so without conscious attention.  When they take back their words they deny their soul.  If their views are a matter of faith, we should respect them and not call them disgusting.  What we should question is whether beliefs are ultimate concern, or just preliminary and whether they have been adequately presented including both pro and con.

Critical thinking surveys priorities, consequences, alternatives, and information sources, before making decisions.  Instead, our politics seems to think that it has a proprietary right to impose its truth.  We must resist this for America’s sake. 

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