Essays on various subjects

Friday, November 14, 2003

A Civil War meme is starting

Mark Byron wrote an interesting set of blogs from a comment of mine on his criticism of Judge Moore.

He creates a chilling scenario (which Tom Clancy might use) of a Christian militant group assaulting the Congress and Supreme Court, killing Democrats and liberal judges in order to make the government more conservative.

It's not all that far-fetched when you realize that's what often occurred in Athens and Rome (and elsewhere countless times).

He uses the story as a reason why such acts of civil disobedience are wrong, and do more harm than good.

I agree with him except for one thing, violence doesn't usually make things a lot better for human beings, but it does change many circumstances which needed changing; or which could no longer be borne.

The fallen world hasn't been appreciably transformed and redeemed by the death of Hitler, and the fall of Soviet Russia. People are still as perverse, sinful, self-interested, and diffident as they have often or always been.

The civil disobedience of the American Revolution led to much death and hardship for all Americans who fell on different sides in the struggle. The civil disobedience which led to the Second American Revolution as the South would call our Civil War, was hugely bloody and unsuccessful for the disobedient.

Nevertheless, when enough people find a moment when they say - The Round Table is now broken! - war or violence is going to come. It doesn't matter if the Promised Land ever arrives or if life is better for those who come after (it often is better after the war or conflict). What matters is that men will stop caring at some point if violence is harmful or not since they see that it has become necessary if they want to live as they prefer.

I, for one, don't want to live in a country (or hand one over to my daughter) where judges make the law; where leftists fill the streets and trash my city for their fun, and actively help the people who want to kill us, or form groups to burn down auto malls, ski chalets, animal labs, and so on. I can tolerate a lot. Most Americans do. But if I can do anything about it, I will not tolerate the death of democracy, and the end of the rules of this Republic.

Now, if my actions in concert with millions more help to bring about the demise of this Republic through reaction after reaction, then so be it. It was dying anyway. But I am of the school of the prophets who always insist that it's never too late to alter the future toward good by moral action. "A time for war, a time for peace."

In a billion years, nothing we do will amount to a hill of beans, as the saying goes. Yes, there is another world to consider, and all our acts matter there; but we must ask ourselves -- is freedom worth fighting and killing for? Is it God's will to do so?

The answer must be an emphatic --YES!

Sure, Socrates said, "Is it better to suffer wrong than to do wrong?" He answered, yes, it was better to suffer wrong. Yet, that never stopped him from marching out to battle to fight for Athens.

Jesus said, "Love you enemies. Bless those who curse you. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword."

But then he saw something which enraged him and he whipped and struck the money changers and animal sellers. He stands up against authority, and encourages others to do so. He never once says as Achilles does in Hades, "Better to be a slave on earth than a dead prince in Hades."

It never stopped him from marching to Jerusalem to defy authority.

It is not as if we are more saintly humans because of freedom, but we are better people in general because of it. It gives almost everyone a chance to thrive, and that is what God prefers that we have -- a chance to become who He wants us to become. Without freedom, we cannot freely choose God.

I can understand that young people, married, raising children are the last to be interested in an adventure that might harm them and their families. Life has so much going for it. To decide to risk the happiness, the sweet routine, the glowing hearth, and the company of little ones for freedom seems like a crazy lark. For it is not freedom one starting an adult life wants, but the pleasant yoke of domesticity and its simple joys.

And in any age, only a few think freedom is precious enough to fight for. Even as cynics warm themselves at the fire chortling over the freedoms and rights that others won for him at the cost of their lives.

I am 50, in poor shape and health, but I suppose I can shoot a weapon, and drive a vehicle if need be to fight for freedom, and to kill its enemies. I don't want it to come to that, but if it does, I hope I do my part.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Open Theology - a more human God

Mark Rathel gives an overview of what Open theology is.

First, open theists affirm a qualified divine omniscience (all-knowing). God possesses exhaustive knowledge about proper subjects of knowledge. Since the future does not exist to know, God cannot know the future free choices of His creatures. God possesses present knowledge, that is, perfect knowledge of the past and present. Open theists do not regard this qualification as compromising God's omniscience. To buttress their case, open theists note, for example, God's omnipotence (all-powerful), does not mean that God possesses the power to do anything whatsoever. God cannot do the illogical (make round squares) or the immoral.

Second, open theists reject a monarchial metaphor of God's sovereignty in favor of a parental "at-risk" sovereignty. They argue the metaphor of a sovereign king depicts the tyrannical control of an insecure, weak, and sick being. In God's "sovereignty over His sovereignty," He chose to grant His creatures genuine freedom -- God created mankind in His image, which means that humanity participates with God in creating an open future. This risk-taking God has a goal for His creation, yet His free creatures can thwart and even frustrate the purposes of God. Rather than emphasizing God's omnipotence, open theists affirm God's omnicompetency (all-ability) to adapt to surprises and unexpected situations.

Third, open theists highlight God as a relational being. Love is the preeminent attribute of God. The dynamic God of open theism creatively interacts and responds in a vulnerable, loving fashion. God exercises control through persuasion, not coercion.

Fourth, the central component of the open theist's position is human libertarian freedom. According to Pinnock, humans have the ability to make free-choices without the coercion of "nature, nurture, or God." In line with the "at-risk" model of providence, God does not generally intervene in human affairs. Humanity, therefore, bears the primary responsibility for the developing future.

Fifth, open theists conceive of their viewpoint as a solution to the problem of evil and some forms of human suffering. Human libertarian freedom and an open future entail the possibility of great evil. God knows neither the content nor the consequences of His creatures' future free choices. God, therefore, cannot prevent evil. God is responsible for the potentiality of evil, but He is not responsible for the reality of evil

Open theology proposes that God is not omniscient nor omnipotent in the classical definition of those qualities, while maintaining his all beneficience (Goodness). The Baptist and evangelical scholars who are debating this issue often rely on proof texting their views. I have the luxury of dispensing with such proofs since I don't accept Scripture as absolutely reliable in what it says about God.

Thus, I see the question as one of logic and rationality alone rather than additionally complicated by disputes on interpretation of Bible verses.

Open theology resolves two Christian paradoxes - the question of Free Will, and the problem of evil (theodicy). If God knows every thought and action that anyone will ever have or take, then no one is truly free since they are simply acting out a script (whether they know it or not). Add then that the Christian does come to know that his life is all planned, and cannot freely choose an action since he knows whatever he does, it was already foreknown and predicted. The Christian thus comes to see himself more as a robot, than a free spirit.

The presence of evil people and their acts in this world convince many that God is a monster. He knows what terrible things will happen, but does nothing to stop them. Even when people aren't involved, but earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or sickness destroy lives, God is responsible and cruel in his impassivity.

But if, as many mystics tell us, God's respect for our free will is so great that He will not interfere, even should we choose to do wrong - we get some consolation from the good will involved in God's loving respect; and maybe further hope from the knowledge that God is willing to guide us if we desire guidance.

If all our acts are determined, though, guidance is a shame, and affection and respect is a pretense. Grace is simply another ruse.

If the future is as unknown to God as it is to us (because God can't know the unknowable - what doesn't yet exist), then we see a God who has placed enormous trust and power in us. For example, he gives us the power to create people, and the power to do immense harm to them. Whatever we do, though, we are fully responsible. We can't say - God did this to me. He put me here, or created my afflictions and infirmities.

We can wonder why God would create a universe that had such random accidents, mortality, competition, and hardship in it, but we don't have to doubt our acts; nor can we blame God for what we do. (And if we are overwhelmed with circumstance, perhaps, it would be wise if we sought remedy from Him who can ameliorate all our troubles, and who does.) In essence, God is the great improvisor. He can see everything as it is. He knows us: our thoughts, our desires. It makes us fairly predictable, but what He can't know is when we stand at a crossroads or a moral choice in a conscious manner - what we shall do.

You and I and God all know that the inveterate thief will pickup a wallet someone has dropped if he sees it's easy to take. Someday, though, that thief may tire of his life and change.

We find that we have a God who is compassionate and caring, who acts for people when they turn to him with their heart and soul. The more people respect Truth, and follow it wherever it leads, the more God seems to smoothe their way. (In my experience.)

If we are truly as free as God is free, then we alone are responsible for human evil (or the innocent victims of it). And if we have the same freedom as God, he cannot interfere anymore than he can take away his own freedom.

This leaves us with a God who is not necessarily impassive in the face of our suffering, but it does demand another explanation as to why God would create the universe and life as He did. I think we learn from Jesus that God is not remote nor impassive, but dearly wants us to know his will and do it; and that he is closer to us in ourselves than we know, and willing to teach through grace, reason, logic, and art.

I think I am beginning to get a glimmer of why God created the universe as He did, and why it really is "the best of all possible worlds." For one thing, if it is the only way God can create souls (people) who are self-aware and godlike in faculties, then it has to be as it is. And that can also account for why God can look upon all human history with pure love and sympathy.

It turns out that our God may be more human than we ever imagined.

(And I have not even touched upon the Incarnation and all which that says or implies. That would be a much longer essay.)

A review and rebuttal can be found at First Things here.

Another critical attack is here.

A response from Greg Boyd to a critic can be found here.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Why I Believe In True Love Between Men and Women

Yes, because God is perfect and loves perfectly as Shakespeare wrote in a sonnet:

Let me not to the marriage to true minds,
admit impediments, Love is not love
which alters, when it, alteration finds.
Nor bends with the remover to remove.
Oh, no. It is an ever fixed mark.

But not because of that. If humans had to live only on the hope of true love at last, true recognition, true sympathy from God - we would be totally miserable in our time on earth.

People often experience moments of such deep intimacy that they swear it must last forever; and so they love or marry and eventually come to find that it doesn't last. Life takes over. Quirks, idiosycracies, alienation, and resentments become mixed in with the affection, desire, loyalty, and tenderness.

Maybe there are a few couples who are able to maintain a pure delight in each other's company. I hope so, but for most of us - it's not going to happen.

And so people lose heart. The wise ones ignore the desire to look elsewhere for fresh delight, the vaulting throes of infatuation. Nor do they compensate their tedium with thrill seeking. They simply remain true and loyal to their vows, and committed to decency.

And a child shall lead them

What I will say next may sound strange, but give me a chance to explain. My daughter, more than anybody, taught me about the reality of true love. (I have described this love in two of my books and you can go read them if you like from here and here.) What I often found in raising my daughter was that she and I saw each other eye to eye, mind to mind. We perceived reality in very similar ways. She had learned to do so from me, of course, but the reality she had learned to see was a true one. Not a pretentious, foolish, or distorted one.

As she became a woman, our natural intimacy and friendship decreased (as it should). I was called upon more often to be a father and authority figure; to give her room and privacy. Yet, she would still tell me about her thoughts and feelings, dreams and troubles from time to time; and the sweet sense of quiet joy in each other's presence would come over us.

As she completed high school, I was seeing a whole young woman. Capable, intelligent, kind, decent, modest, talented, witty, and pleasant. No man in his right mind could fail to love this woman.

And I did, but it was different, of course. I saw in our moments of ease and comfort, that this was the kind of woman I could always be happy with. Whose beauty and presence I would never tire of. I saw that this girl was a model (though still flawed) of what love is like in paradise.

What I learned from my daughter was that people can think alike, be entirely similar, and not be bored with that. In fact, that the more we are alike, the more we are actually able to love one another, to relax into intimacy and peace, to be perfectly content. Not because the other person is a mirror image (although there is that, but not as Jung thought), but because both people understand themselves perfectly, and thus understand others perfectly.

Likeness is love and not boredom

What my daughter and I share in our sweet, quiet moments together is understanding.

That's such a strange word, isn't it? To stand under someone or thing. What does it mean to stand under someone? God, after all, understands us perfectly. Does that mean we are above him? Yes, in a way. It seems to mean that to stand under someone is to be in an inferior position, one of great humility. It is this humility which God has, and which lovers have for each other. One wants to serve the other, and not be served. One seeks to be worthy, to be their best to deserve such a pure gift of heaven.

A child stands under her parents. She must learn what they want, what they mean, how to please, what to learn. But a good parent does the same with the child (even though the child can't recognize it at the time). And this sacred service of each toward the other creates oneness.

Most people recognize this, strive for this, but fail in varying degrees. It is what religions are made of (especially Christianity), and what romance means. It is the end of the pursuit of happiness - to love and be loved, and to be completely understood.

It is also why people become unhappy in varying degrees, because they have no home of understanding to live in. Loneliness destroys many. Rage and violence accompany it.

As I saw that my daughter and I had a kind of perfection between us, I realized that the same thing could exist between myself, and a different woman without a problem. That it is more natural in ultimate reality, though not in this fallen world's practice.

Imperfection is not condemnation

If some other parents had raised their daughter with the same care I had raised mine, then I might have found someone identical to me in that we saw reality (eternity) in the same way. But most people are not raised well by their parents to become pure in spirit and being. I was not, and my wife was not - and the effects show and make our marriage, like most others, a matter of mixture: acceptance for that which is not identical out of loyalty and affection for that which is binding.

I have seen the promised land for men and women, though. Love is inexhaustible; and so perfect understanding, true love, never tires, for the other person is ourself and yet, completely unique and wonderful; beautiful and evergreen.

True love between men and women is a fact. Sadly, though, we have to wait for heaven to enjoy it as we would like. In the meantime, we can be true to what is right, and loyal to others. If we cannot be so, we reveal that we are incapable of true love ourselves.


Homosexuals succumb to loneliness or fear of it, too, and seek to find partners to relieve them of it. Their problem is that the parody of love and coupling they practice is sterile. (Which also explains the growing desire on their part to acquire children and legally bind themselves to others in a parody of a family.)

It might seem that men can perfectly understand men, and women - women. That is true. Men can be perfect friends. But the love that locks a man and woman together is Eros. Not agape or philia. And no two men can share Eros together, or two women because what they have at its essence is sterility and coldness.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Physics and Science

I've been exchanging emails in a debate with Steven Den Beste on physics and its impossibilities. He responded to two emails here.

I responded with a short blog here, the gist of which is:

...to Steven and non-euclidian geometry, I say this - I know how the idea of triangles drawn on a basketball (sphere) form more degrees than 360.

That still doesn't explain how you can curve Space, particularly when you realize that Space is more like water, an ocean in which all things are immersed. An ocean can have currents, different pressures and temperatures, but you can never curve it non-Euclid or not.

Saying that Einstein proved that Space is curved is a poor fallback position. What Einstein proved was that light gets bent. Not that Space is curved. As you often say, correlation is not cause.

Also, String theory is a crock of you know what. It ignores the fact that Space/Vacuum is a substance, and not a nothing. That being the case, strings in the super sub-atomic level could not exist alone, but would have to be either smaller or interact with the "beer foam" as Hawkings describes Vacuum. String theory does not account for Vacuum as substance at all, from what I've heard of it.

What is actually more possible (but not acceptable to the faithful believers in the Standard Model) is that Einstein and Quantum theory are wrong. Accurate enough in some predictability (like Newton's Laws) to prove useful, but not accurate enough to reconcile the anomalies.

And sent an email to notify him. This was his response:

Mark, I'm afraid most of what you said in that post was wrong. Sorry, man,
but space/vacuum is not a substance, and spacetime is not like water, and
Einstein really did show that space was curved. (That curvature affects more
than just light; it also explained why Newton's law of Gravitation couldn't
correctly predict the orbit of Mercury.)

I wrote back:


Are you saying I'm wrong or Hawking is wrong? If Space is not a
substance, what is it? How can that which is not substantial be curved? Why
illustrate curved space as a substantial fabric, then, as the popularizers
do? Force must act upon someTHING, not on noTHING.

How do you know Space/Vacuum is not like water? The fact is, you don't
know what it is at all. You're simply working from assumptions.


He wrote back a snarky reply,

I remember running into a phrase a long time ago. It was a put-down by a
philosopher, who responded to one question by saying, "Your question is a
meaningless noise."

It was certainly rude, no question about it. But what he was talking about
was the fact that someone had strung some words together in a question which
on the surface seemed to make at least some sense, but when you analyzed it
didn't mean anything whatever.

Most of your questions here come under that heading. "How can that which is
not substantial be curved?" Quite easily, actually; "curve" has nothing to
do with "substance".

"If space is not a substance, what is it?" It's what you get when there is
no substance.

"Why illustrate curved space as a substantial fabric, then as the
popularizers do?" Well, they have to draw **something**, don't they?

"Force must act upon someTHING, not on noTHING." Say what? In General
Relativity gravity isn't a "force". In fact, in General Relativity, the
thing we think is gravity is actually a side effect of distortion of
spacetime. So even if your statement was true, it would be irrelevant.

"How do you know Space/Vacuum is not like water?" Well, for one thing water
has mass and vacuum is by definition the total absence of mass.

"The fact is, you don't know what it is at all. You're simply working from
assumptions." Ah, there we get into epistemology. The short answer is that
we ultimately don't **know** anything at all, but we've got a lot of damned
good assumptions and that's the best we can do. But that doesn't invalidate
everything we say.

It turns out that a lot of this is the result of inductive logic, and
inductive logic can never prove anything:


I'm afraid that most of what you're saying betrays a virtually total absence
of knowledge of the subject. Sorry, but that's really how it looks. Your
questions are not ones someone would ask who had actually studied the
subject at all. For instance, your assumption that something has to have
substance in order to be curved; that's simply false.

Finally: "Are you saying I'm wrong or Hawking is wrong?" I'm saying you're
wrong and you're completely misinterpreting what Hawking says, because he
wouldn't make these kinds of mistakes.

To which I responded,


The one who blinks first loses. That is, the one who resorts to weak
sophistry, crass evasion tactics, ad hominem remarks, and then runs from the
debate like a rabbit proclaims his adversary the champion.

You recognize how weak your arguments are, their basic illogic and
nonsensical nature by your inability to defend them coherently.

Space/Vacuum is either something or it is nothing. If is something, it
can't be curved (because it is three dimensional) and your model is wrong.
If it is nothing, it can't be curved or acted upon. You've fallen into a
logic trap. You have to prove how you can actually curve that which is
nothing, and you can't do it. Instead, you flee to the edge of the
playground, toss a few taunts, and run away.

In the same way that you cannot handle the basic question of truth, you
can't handle basic questions on the current physics and dysfunctional model.

A model, after all, must have some correspondence to the real world in
order to be a reasonable description. You clearly have not kept up with
physics since you may have taken it in college. You aren't familiar with
what Hawking has to say or dozens of other critical physicists.

The burden of proof lies with you regarding how you can curve "nothing'.
You say it is done. Fine. Prove it. Show me the model.

You say gravity is not a force. This is simply foolishness, and you
ought to know better.

Space is not water? No duh. Water is not air is not glass, but they have
a parallel quality - they are matrices (form and substance) and are, in a
sense, invisible. Vacuum is a matrix which is shares the same quality of
invisibility. As to mass, where would you stand, and what scale could you
use to measure the weight of Vacuum? But then, go ahead an show me where all
the necessary Dark Matter is. You just might find it to be Space itself.

The fact is that your answers are "meaningless noise" if you want to
play that game. My physicists will duke it out with your physicists, and my
team will win. Why? Because you can't reconcile anomalies, and your guys
cook the books, massage the numbers, and disrespect logic.

Steven, you need to get out of that mental ghetto of yours, and actually
do some science and investigation. You haven't read Mead, Alt, or Lerner,
not to mention dozens of other working, credible physicists who dispute your
dogmas, and "prove" them wrong.


Update: No further reply from Steven. Pretty typical evasion of reality from him. He doesn't have the luxury of saying he's too busy, though, since blogging is all he does with his life. (I'm not criticizing, that. Just saying he has all the time in the world.)

Monday, November 03, 2003

I Stump Einstein

Steven Den Beste replied to an email and follow up of mine at his site.

If you're at all familiar with 20th century physics, my query and his replies may interest you. But to Steven and non-euclidian geometry, I say this - I know how the idea of triangles drawn on a basketball (sphere) form more degrees than 360.

That still doesn't explain how you can curve Space, particularly when you realize that Space is more like water, an ocean in which all things are immersed. An ocean can have currents, different pressures and temperatures, but you can never curve it non-Euclid or not.

Saying that Einstein proved that Space is curved is a poor fallback position. What Einstein proved was that light gets bent. Not that Space is curved. As you often say, correlation is not cause.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

Asking Others - What is Truth?

I decided on a simple quest of asking various people, professional journalists in particular, to comment on a single question - What is Truth?

People freely express many notions and ideas which must have some fundamental basis, but rarely do they tell us what they actually believe about life or reality. We somehow assume that we either share the same framework of thought, logic, and reason - or that we are worlds apart because the other person is clearly a crackpot.

I hoped to be able to find out from opinionators what was the backbone of their thinking.

What Would Socrates Do?

As I began to accumulate replies, I had to consider my own reply, both to the question, and to the respondents. I am very much at odds with almost all the answers I've received, but I don't want to be snarky, condescending, or patronizing. I hope to tender respect to all who've generously participated.

Nevertheless, part of my job is not simply to collate, but to evaluate and underline errors that people make in their formulation of truth. I hope to be able to show fairly and clearly why some answers fail to measure up as reasonable conclusions.

A few people have said in reply that the question is philosophical, didactic, pedantic, and sophomoric. Some have quipped, "Who am I to answer? I'm no Socrates or Plato." Others, understandably, were put off by the query out of left field from a stranger. Most emails I sent were never answered (which is par for the course). Sadder to say, though, is how rarely anyone ever wished to chat further in a greater examination of their answer. They had settled on their principle notion, and didn't want to discuss it anymore. Grateful that some deigned to reply at all, I couldn't press my luck in any Socratic, Jesuitical, or Talmudic manner.

I was surprised that everyone who replied had decided that the matter was entirely settled in their minds, and needn't bear further scrutiny.

When I first took philosophy in junior college, my professor (a great teacher) told us that if Socrates were alive today, he wouldn't waste his time starting up a conversation with students. No, he would have gone over to the administration building to talk to the president, try to see the mayor, visit the police chief, and look for the chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. But I now know that the response he'd get today would be, "I don't have time for this sort of nonsense."

The Good, the True, the Beautiful. These things are of little interest as matters of discussion. Everyone has opinions. God knows, Americans have a million opinions on everything! Look at the blogosphere and talk radio alone. That's a good thing, but so much of the talk seems to have little foundation on verities or on prior authority.

Signs of the Times

For example, when I've spoken to novelists and poets, few, if any, ever seem to hold their work in less regard than Shakespeare's or Tolstoy's, than Virgil, Homer, or Isaiah. They never judge themselves against the best. They only rank themselves according to their contemporaries - and if they can get awards, good reviews, grants, and teaching positions - they consider themselves quite great.

I've never heard a modern painter cry that he isn't as good as Da Vinci, or a composer moan that Bach is untouchable. Intellectuals never seem to fear that Plato and Aristotle's got them "sussed". And pundits never stagger under the awesome weight of Samuel Johnson's erudition, scholarship, and profundity leaning over them.

For me, there are a few essential questions every man should ask himself. The first is - what is truth? The next is - how should we (or I) live? And then - what happens to us when we die? It seems to me that just about everything humans do to order their lives flows out of those questions.

There is a great class of people for whom those questions pose no problem for they have reached satisfying conclusions through their religious traditions, or through conversion to religion or to an ideology. But the class of men that interest me are the ones who consider themselves to be free thinkers. Those people include liberals, leftists, conservatives, moderates, artists, pundits, scientists, doctors, lawyers, and politicians.

The funniest thing is when a bunch of lefties get together and complain about how ideological people on the right are, and vice versa. Each man always says of himself - "At least I can think for myself instead of being misled by blind faith like all those others." Atheists and secularists believe that religious people are brain damaged morons. Religious people often mutter to themselves over the irrationality and narcissism of the irreligious.

Something else that I wonder about is whether I should reveal my own answer to the question of truth and take my lumps, rather than simply picking apart others' answers. Socrates was once accused of only questioning, and never answering the hard questions. He did answer the big questions, but in an off hand way among friends. I shall present my own claim to truth and a brief defense at the end of this.

Something that I think all respondents recognize either consciously or not is that an understanding of truth also involves an obligation. It is a formulation that carries weight. He judges himself and others according to it. It presses him to action or reaction. In many ways it acts as one's conscience.


The first class of answers I received was from liberal newspaper writers and editors.

"Hmmm. The question, "what is fact" is more straightforward to "what is truth." For what is true to one person isn't necessarily to another. Objectivity is a cornerstone of journalism, an effort to neutrally describe and report on events."

"Aha, trick question! "What is truth?" is not a simple question at all. Good men and women have pondered this for ages. Read Plato or Aristotle. Did they ever come to a definitive conclusion?"

"I think the age-old question, "What is truth?" is better left to theologians and philosophers. " (This was from a newspaper ombudsman.)

"I don't deal with "truth." Truth is a matter of opinion and opinions are subject to personal biases... I consider "truth" in the context of my job... to be a vague term that lacks a precise definition." (But then this man after my explaining in more detail why I was asking added more detail to his response) "As a practicing Buddhist I have a number of truths that I hold to be self-evident (to steal a well-worn phrase). One of these is that all of this world, including perception of the truth, is both relative and absolute in the same way that I am both independent of and one with my environment.

I don't have any trouble with that sort of ambiguity. In fact I embrace it. But I know many others do have trouble that concept. What is truth is a personal matter. What you believe is truth is your problem.

Which gets us back to high school philosophy classes and why I haven't got time to pursue this and need to get back to my job"

"You've got me split on that one. My first reaction is facts, as closely as we can ascertain, unfiltered by opinion. Unfortunately, even the most basic truths, such as 2 plus 2 equals 4, don't always hold up well, as Albert Einstein pointed out.

But my second is almost theological, which makes me hesitate to use the word "truth," even though it may be more accurately what we often call "truth" in casual conversation. It might even be described as context, for it is what an outsider has to use when conflicting parties agree on facts but disagree on their meaning. It is a broad, basic framework that helps explain a set of actions and reactions."

What these answers have in common is that they reflect a belief that, 1) truth is unimportant, 2) there may be facts in life, 3) opinion is all we have to go on, 4) no one can know the truth, 5) truth is always relative.

To give these people the benefit of the doubt, if pressed, I'm sure that all would agree that truth is not entirely relative because they'd admit that some facts don't change nor are a matter of opinion like numbers. What these people really mean to say is - generally speaking, almost everything is relative.

Nevertheless, it is disconcerting that people who consider themselves to be wise, smart, informed, discursive observers and commentators on life have so little to say on how they actually think.

What many fail to recognize is that facts are essentially meaningless. A forest without any human in it is full of facts, but has no meaning. A telephone book is full of facts, too. No one derives Truth from it. So this rather naive idea that you can sift facts and write stories and news, but that none of it has anything to do with Truth is remarkable. What these newspaper people do is deny their work has any meaning.

What is real for these respondents is that they feel . Not that they think about what they write or feel, for one can have a feeling and then analyze whether it is legitimate or reactionary, born of prejudice. But they don't, for the most part.

One of the respondents in the above group also happens to be a Christian, for she has often remarked on attending church services. I believe that she is Roman Catholic, in particular. She considered it a "trick question!" It is understandable to me that a Christian might not insist that Jesus or the Bible is Truth since these things can't be demonstrated with logical necessity, but how does a Christian or practicing Jew, for that matter, forget that God is Truth; or find no way to defend that premise? For a theist, no other answer can suffice.


The next group I tried to poll were conservative journalists at National Review. I thought if any group would be unafraid and forthcoming, these folks wouldn't be shy. But I only got two responses.

"Who am I -- Socrates? Negatively: Truth is that which is not false, either demonstrably or inferentially. Positively: Truth is, just as weather is or nature is. It is the way things are in their essence. For more, see Plato's Laws.

Here endeth the profundith."

This gentleman got a little miffed when I replied with what I thought was a rather light but apt quip: "Thanks for the reply, but it positively begs that silly Clintonism - it depends on what is, is."

"Not in the least. But if you don't like the answer, honestly, that's tough. And ungenerous. I answered your unsolicited question and in future you should be more polite about the responses you receive."

I apologized for my misfired remark, and thanked him for his thoughtful response, for up to that time, this was the best answer I'd gotten. The problem, though, as my quip did point out, was that this answer was more an evasion than a clear thought. It simply shifts the question from one of Truth to what is Reality or its essence. Plato's Laws points us in the direction of Ideal Forms and the Demi-Urge, his concept of God or ultimate reality.

Truth in this context must be a function of Reality, but that doesn't really tell us what Truth is since we don't know what Reality is either (unless we think Plato has nailed it. But no one really thinks Plato's speculations are that fruitful anymore. )

"Truth is the conformity of a re-presentation of reality to the reality itself. Statements are true if they correspond to reality; by analogy, persons and objects are true if they fulfill their nature, i.e., their fundamental reality."

This was the next reply I got from a National Review contributor. Again, a serious response and logical formulation of an answer. It takes some time to actually decipher what the above statement means. What it boils boil down to, though, is that Truth is that which is True. No doubt, but it doesn't satisfy the question. He's saying facts are true if they are accurate with what we know is really so. Or that language tells the truth when it isn't a lie, distortion, illogical, or impossible. That seems fair enough for a working definition of truth, but it doesn't tell us what is Truth. It just says what qualities it has, not where did it get those qualities or how we can derive Truth from being.


Next I decided to try internet bloggers. I figured they wouldn't be shy about expressing their opinion since they opine freely on everything. I tried to find both liberal and conservative ones to canvas.

This one came from a rather leftist blogger.

"Tarski's theorem tells us that no language can define a truth condition applicable to the language itself. By the fixed-point theorem, for any predicate, F, there will be a second function G such that F[G] if and only if not G. The intuitive concept of a truth predicate T is that for all H, T[H] if and only if H but according to the fixed-point theorem, for any such T there will be a G such that T[G] if and only if not G in which case our putative truth predicate fails to be accurate. That said, the intuitive notion can be captured through platitudes like: The English sentence "snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white. Saying anything beyond that is, I think, impossible.

Apologies for a fairly technical answer, but I studied philosophy in college."

I had to google Tarski to get some background on this, but even before I did that I saw the glaring contradiction in the first sentence: "no language can define a truth condition applicable to the language itself." In effect this sentence denies the ability of language to talk truly about language (or the subjects of language). This is like saying - I can't speak the truth with words.

But I looked up Tarski, and found that his primary interest was in studying the languages of mathematics, and created an idea of a hierarchy of math languages - how certain math languages are limited in their terms, and that it takes a higher order math language to talk about the truths in the lower language.

In trying to apply that to regular spoken language the idea has some merit, but ultimately fails since we can't quite break up spoken and thought language into a hierarchy quite the same way as we can divide mathematics into different languages.

In ordinary language, we employ two devices of thinking - deductive (syllogistic language) and inductive reasoning (legal proofs of assessing experience, or of generalizing from the specific to a general law or truth. Example, an apple falls. Many people notice the phenomenon elsewhere and all the time, hence, let's call it gravity and say it works everywhere.)

Many atheists and believers in scientism think that deductive reasoning has primary value, and inductive reasoning only counts when applied to physical forces and material experience. Thus the idea of an immaterial God is meaningless, miracles are all bogus hoaxes, and religious faith is wishful thinking and fantasy land. Of course, all human experience is derived from physical existence and a biochemical brain, yet no atheist can explain how one biochemical experience in life is less valid than another.

For example, if someone practices "prayer" and experiences God thereby, how is his experience less valid than seeing red (a purely mental experience, too) or weighing the mass of an atom? The atheist is one who is perpetually color blind exclaiming there are no other colors to be seen, and if anyone sees them, then it's an illusion or self-deception.
Another blogger (of the warblogger variety) wrote:

"Good question. My answer: Truth is a statement that accurately describes reality, allowing for the inaccuracy of human language and thought. "

This is similar to the previous two from conservatives.

"Truth is Reality. That is: the totality of real things and events."

"Truth can be summed up thusly: A=A.
Whatever corresponds one to one with reality is true."

These are similar tautologies: truth is what is true.

"A pithier way of putting this is from Robert Heinlein (I think).

The real world is what trips you up when you walk aroundwith your eyes closed."

Yes, but what happens when you dream, and when you think?

"well...pontius pilate had the only chance in recorded history to ask the
question to someone who said he was the Son of God...and he received no
answer...so if God hasn't a ready answer...who the hell else thinks they do?"

A little more study of the Bible would resolve his question. God is not shy in Scripture about saying what is truth.
Finally from a blogger who is Christian although that is not the focus of his blog. He is also a scientist. I queried a number of Christian and Catholic bloggers whom I had previously corresponded with, and got only this one reply.

"Those three words constitute the most difficult question any of us will ever face. I confess that since you asked it, Mark, I've been wrestling with how to answer it. I can usually rattle off a couple thousand words about North Korea or Middle East policy or school choice, but this question has me somewhat stumped. And it is by far the most important question any of us will ever be asked.

As a Christian, I know that there is only one true Truth. He created all that we see, know, feel, understand and sense-and everything else too. That Truth created us individually and sacrificed to atone for us. That Truth set everything in motion, and thus everything points back in some sense to that Truth. Everything else is either a shadow of that Truth or a form of lie.

Take science for example. By itself, science is merely a human process aimed at understanding things. By itself, it is neutral. But to the extent that it demonstrates some order or sense in the universe-in finding testable hypotheses, in understanding how some natural process works-it can be an arrow pointing at the Truth in the mind that created and ordered nature. To the extent that it can be misused-to create untestable ideas that confuse us, or to create machines and products that are used to harm us-it becomes a lie.

I do know one thing: A poet once wrote "Beauty is truth, and truth, beauty." That statement is simultaneously true and false. It is true, because the ultimate transcendent Truth is beautiful-it is the purest form of love imaginable, unending. But the statement is also false, because in this physical world the sinister can appear beautiful, and the apparently easy way can lead to destruction. Beauty in this world can be horrible; beauty in the angelic realms is the ultimate Truth."


One method of thought which I haven't seen employed (although one man spoke of defining truth negatively by that which is not false) is the negative one - you may arrive at Truth by knowing what is not Truth. By falsifying every answer you can find, the process of elimination itself may bring you at last to the Truth. Sad to say, I have not seen this method applied by the more secular respondents. Of course, I assume there was some elimination of possible ideas before settling on a final one, but too often that final answer simply begged to be further questioned as to its adequacy.

At this point I would like to say wise and witty things about my survey, but I feel it was something of a failure. I simply did not get enough responses to create a chronicle of current thinking among the intelligentsia. I wished I was a Bill Moyers with a PBS grant to launch a series of TV shows exploring the topic, and thus getting more willing numbers to participate, but I couldn't.

I am disappointed that so many responses (not included) were dismissive and contemptuous of the question. Why should such an obvious question or matter provoke so much fear and derision? Because we base our lives on the answer and fear ridicule. When it comes to matters of the heart and intellect, people are generally cowards. Honest introspection and self-examination is anathema. John Derbyshire, of the National Review once noted that he does little actual "thinking"; that his life is acted out on intellectual autopilot for the most part; that the kind of deep reappraisal or scrutiny of thought is rare for him - it's taxing, boring, desultory, or useless. Only a few times in his life has he actually thought hard about his life.

He, at least, was honest enough to admit it. Many people claim to be open minded, when all they really mean is that they will listen without exploding in an emotional reaction (or will be polite enough not to say you're an idiot).

I expected secular minded people to be squirrely and evasive. I was surprised that Christians wouldn't reply since a basic catechism of faith was involved.

Now, my answer to - What is Truth?

Truth cannot possibly exist by design, invention, or creation. Truth must be. Therefore, truth must be personal, existing in and of itself as part of a nature or quality of being. It must be in someone and not some thing.

In the same way that 1+1 = 2 is absolutely unfalsifiable (you can never prove this wrong), and that a perfect syllogism is similar (All men are mortal. Socrates is a man, therefore Socrates is mortal.) in quality, we want to know how this can be. The absolute perfect premise which is also unfalsifiable is this: God is Truth.

Atheists and empiricists want to say there is no God, or that such a person is unproveable, but there is no other premise made by anyone which does not suffer from inconsistencies in logic and in contradiction. Only the premise of God fails to lead to contradiction or inconsistency.

Now certain things which have been said about God do lead to conflict. Ideas and definitions of all powerful, all knowing, and all benevolent have led many to question the existence of God by asserting many apparent paradoxes that such definitions create; and they are right to point them out, but the point of this essay is not to assert anything about God except that Truth must be a person and not a thing, an idea, or concept. It must be rooted in an existing being that can infuse everything he does with what he is by nature.

The idea, for example, that truth could vary from universe to universe; that 1 + 1 doesn't equal two in another universe, is impossible. It would mean that God would have to change his nature and destroy Logic which is heart and soul of his own being.

Some things cannot be imagined. A person can say that Logic may not be the same in another universe, but these are empty words. It would be like saying that God is ultimate reality, but there may be other Gods who are also ultimately real. It makes no sense.

But that doesn't stop anyone from denying Truth and evading a confrontation with logic and reason.
The Road to Perdition - the movie, not our colleges

I saw The Road to Perdition the other day. I believe it may be one of the greatest movies ever made. It is ten times better than The Godfather, which was an Italian mafia soap opera, revenge story. This new movie is like a Greek Tragedy with the power to arouse pity and terror just as Aristotle described in his Poetics. This movie is pure art - beautiful to the highest degree - and great story telling because of its moral dimension. It is simply awesome for a movie.

It is not as powerful as Greek drama, though, only because the characters are not heroic in the Greek sense and because it is not staged. The characters' fall is not as far as Oedipus', or Agamemnon's who were kings. Shakespeare's tragic characters were also men of importance - Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, MacBeth, Anthony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus. Shakespeare, unfortunately had to invent, for the most part, the groundwork for the stories. Thus a reliance on melodrama which weakens the power compared to the Greeks who had the legends and myths already in place and simply had to illustrate one small episode in dramatic fashion.

Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guilderstien are Dead" ( a bad play, but a good idea) is a modern example where the author assumes the entire background of Hamlet as a takeoff point. Much more of this could be done with Shakespeare if we wanted to. Take the last act of Othello and collapse it into a Greek tragedy. It would work very well.

Anyway, if you do not appreciate Greek drama, you will not love The Road to Perdition, for this movie has about it the same inevitability of character creating destiny.

Nor is it a Catholic movie as some critics say, but it is Christian with Catholic trappings. It is about Sin (harmartia, in Greek - to miss the mark) and Damnation. Where The Godfather glorified violence and gangsters, this movie illustrates the pure ugliness and wickedness of evil and violence. But there is a saving grace or hope in it at the end as Hanks' character manages to break the cycle of violence (in a way) for his son.

This movie has a gravity and weight rarely encountered in any cinema. It is profoundly serious in ways that so many other films (or examples of art) are not. It is full of so many "holy moments' that the entire movie is a holy moment of art. It is not pretty, though. It is a terrible holiness which exposes the utter falsehood which sin is and illustrates what damnation is - a choice. It is a painful story, an agony (agon - Greek for contest), and horrific. I don't know if movies can ever get more powerful than this.

Live theater is more powerful than any other medium because of its immediacy, human scale, and presence. A movie always maintains a remoteness or detachment that interferes with its complete desire. This movie, though, comes off the screen and possesses the viewer in a way most people have probably never previously experienced. It has abundant gravitas.

Greek drama was aligned with a religious festival for very intuitive and awesome reasons - it was a form of liturgy in which the participants (audience) was called upon to soberness - purgation (catharsis) and humilty in the face of Life - the importance and seriousness of human actions and fates (when character is destiny unless a true repentance and reform is made). Dramatic tragedy is funereal. Sin and Death stand at centerstage and will not let us avert our gaze until we acknowledge our nature as we are and not as we want to pretend we are.

The Road to Perdition has an inevitability like death, which is what gives it true power. Critics who complain of this, the predictability of the plot, have no aesthetic sense if they find that to be a flaw. We know we're going to die just as we know what must happen to Sullivan, but it doesn't lesson the shock to us when death occurs to us no more than when the denouement comes for Hanks in the film. (I know. I thought I was prepared for death, but when my heart attack came - I was ready for Heaven, but I was shocked at having to suffer the agony of dying. It was a severe blow and nearly mortal. I have not yet recovered and probably never will from the pure insult of grasping, painful, immediate death.)

This movie also has elements of Kabuki theater and Kurosawa's later movies. (See Ran - a great movie, also.) It is a highly stylized presentation - which is not a detraction as I've heard some critics say, but an enhancement of the action. Kabuki drama and Greek tragedy are highly stylized forms of art and have had lasting power in our cultures precisely because the ritual aspect of it carries so much weight and meaning. To want this movie to be more 'realistic' (as if that's not an artifice, too) would be to ruin it.

This movie has so much truth, beauty, and suffering in it that this is the one they will be studying years from now as they do Citizen Kane. Not everyone will like or admire this movie, but the loss will be theirs; and it will prove how weak, shallow, and dull so many critics are.

I probably have more to say about this great film, but it will have to wait for me to remember all I've thought about it. Go see it and then tell me what you think.


If you want to read a really thoughtless and stupid review of this movie for contrast between what one person can see in a movie and what another can't, go here.

Human Sacrifice and Magical Thinking Redux

Human beings once practiced the rite of human sacrifice for one reason - they believed it was an effective form of prayer. That is, it caused answered prayers to happen for their benefit. People got this notion because they considered human life the most valuable of all possible offerings one or a group could make to God or the gods.

The magical thinking was caused (in essence by God's impassability to a large extent) through the agency of Fortune or luck. Sometimes when people made petitions to a god and performed some ritual or sacrifice - good things happened. It rained and the ground was made fertile. It stopped raining and the ground was made solid enough for planting. And so on.

When there was a crisis of truly monumental proportion, you pull out the heavy guns - kill a person for a god. Then, after awhile, you realize every occasion for prayer is rather serious and deserves the best ammunition. Thus Carthage regularly burned infants, and the Canaanites ritually murdered their firstborn and buried him under the threshold of the house. The Aztecs had the further motive of cannibalism to their ritual. Human flesh added protein to their diet.

Even the Greeks had sacrifice of children as alluded to in the story of Agamemnon and his daughter, Iphigenia. If I recall correctly, in the Illiad, doesn't Achilles sacrifice a number of women on Patroclus' bier?

Today we are so enlightened that contemporary Western Men and Women would never consider the use of human sacrifice as a means of self-improvement (petitionary prayer) would they?

Yet even Hollywood's most enlightened celebrities have taken up the practice or encourage it to the highest degree. How so? Consider these forms of magical thinking.

Once a woman's right to choose abortion is made legal society will be immeasurably improved. How? Poor people will not have to burden themselves and others with children they are ill-equipped to take care of. Deformed babies can be screened and eliminated. Sex of offspring can be chosen by process of elimination. Life will be made convenient, hopeful, and unburdened by "accidents" of nature and "mistakes" of desire.

Yet, the magical thinking did not bring us to the Promised Land and so we need to wage war on other areas such as on the old and sick or miserable. Let's give them a good death. It's good for them and good for us, isn't it? Again, life magically improved by the careful administration of death to people.

One of the benefits of human sacrifice of the unborn was going to be fetal stem cell research. That magic elixir of miracle cures right around the next bend. How could we refuse the future its brightest new hope? Did it work? No. Too bad. Now we can't further justify killing unborn children. We waste those little bodies on the garbage heap when we could certainly create some sort of new gourmet dish out of 'em if only we tried.

Now, of course, the celebs and media are hot to trot on an even better, more therapeutic form of human sacrifice (so small it all takes place in a little petri dish).

This tiny murder of a clump of cells promises to reward our most grandiose prayers because from cloning and killing even greater, more staggering goods will flow - cloned stem cell research is absolutely certain to cure everything you can imagine.

Meanwhile, adult stem cell research is not just promising but showing many remarkable and various results to the good. Is this being held up as our answer to every prayer? No, of course not. Why not? It is not connected with death.

What other conclusion can one draw except that among faithless people, there is an atavistic, unconscious drive that insists that human sacrifice is always efficacious when done as ritual and prayer toward a worthy end. It is truly a Culture of Death among the heathens as JPII described in his book, The Gospel of Life. It is a pagan response to crisis and suffering only in this age it's called the great god SCIENCE.

But it is religous and magical practice of human sacrifice no less, and no matter how many obscuring incantations of relativity the pagan code requires to be said in conjunction with such sacrifices.

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