Life Driven Purpose, pgs 122-123

Aug 2, 2016

“Fundamentalists need truth to be absolute. They are extremely uncomfortable with uncertainty or estimates of truth. They think truth is an object. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” But a person cannot be the truth. Truth is not a thing. Truth is simply a measure of how well a statement matches reality. The only thing that can be true or false is a statement, a proposition. Reality is not truth: reality is reality. If the sky is blue and I say, “The sky is blue,” then there is a strong correspondence between my statement and reality, so my statement would be true. If I say, “The sky is orange with black polka dots,” there is a very low correspondence, so my statement would be false. Of course, the sky is always changing color ( it is sometimes orange), and is dark during the night, so “the sky is blue” is a true statement that has to be qualified. It is not absolute.
In science and history, truth is always a matter of probability, not 100 percent certainty. Scientists talk about needing 95 percent confidence, or 98 percent confidence before claiming something is a fact, and even then it is qualified with a small amount of uncertainty. History is the weakest of the sciences, so weak that some do not consider it a science at all. Historians use words like “very likely,” or “almost certainty,” or “probably not,” or “if the records are to be trusted,” or “nearly universally rejected by scholars.” Did Homer exist as an actual historical person? Maybe yes, maybe no. The Iliad and The Odyssey exist, so it is conceivable there was one person, possibly named Homer, who could not see blue, who wrote them. But some scholars think the poetry as we know it was a later compilation from earlier oral sources, edited, redacted, interpolated, and that even the earlier sources may have been compilations of poems from one or more persons. If by Homer we mean “a person or persons who wrote those earliest poems,” then yes, Homer existed. But if we mean a specific person in history whose name was Homer who wrote the epics as we know them, then we have to back off and say “probably,” or “probably not,” depending on which scholarships we consult. However, if historians were fundamentalists, they would have to say “definitely yes” or “absolutely not,” disallowing uncertainty. Fortunately, most historians are not colorblind.”

–Dan Barker, Life Driven Purpose, pgs 122-123


Discuss!

21 comments on “Life Driven Purpose, pgs 122-123

  • Fundamentalists need truth to be absolute. They are extremely
    uncomfortable with uncertainty or estimates of truth. They think truth
    is an object.

    The rest of the paragraph describes what he means, but I don’t see any documentation that backs up what he claims. I’m not saying fundies aren’t whack jobs; I think they are. But that’s just my opinion unless I can provide proof of that claim.



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  • Hi Vicki [#1],

    I don’t see any documentation that backs up what he claims

    Yes you do, you just said so:

    I’m not saying fundies aren’t whack jobs; I think they are

    And how did you come to that opinion? May I hazard a guess: Through observation? Your frequent observation of the fact that fundies say and do the darnedest things led you to conclude that, on balance, most of them, most of the time, are whacko.

    But that’s just my opinion unless I can provide proof of that claim

    If my guess is correct (as above); no, that’s not a ‘just an opinion’. That’s you judgement based on your observation of the facts – Your opinion is that religious fundamentalists demonstrate whackiness to such a degree, and so frequently, that on the balance of probabilities the next one you meet will be a whack-job.

    And that’s an empirical truth.

    A word of caution: If you’ve only ever seen White Swans, is it safe to conclude that there are no Black Swans?

    Like all empirical truths – including all scientific truths – your conclusion that all fundies are wingnuts is based on a sub-set of the available data (I’m assuming you can’t have met all the fundamentalists because there are billions of them … literally) just as your decision on White Swans is also based on a limited set of observations.

    What you say is true, but it’s only provisionally true pending further investigation.

    If it helps, all the fundies I’ve met are fruit-cakes.

    I have also seen Black Swans.

    Peace,



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  • The fact that some kind of “need for the absolute” is one cornerstone of religion, and that very same “need” can also find expression in acts of astonishing destruction is openly acknowledged even by some religious people (e.g., see this interview at 1:13:52: Frontline, 9/11: Interview with father Albacete – Apologies for the inevitably annoying advertising).

    One can speculate on whether and how such a psychological trait may have proved to be so adaptive in our evolutionary (and/or cultural) past to have become ingrained in our psychological makeup.

    Whatever the origin of it, it is hard to imagine that most religions would be left unchanged if this “need for the absolute” was drastically reduced.



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  • Quite flattering, thanks!

    “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
    Bertrand Russell



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  • To Stephen #2:

    A word of caution: If you’ve only ever seen White Swans, is it safe to
    conclude that there are no Black Swans?

    Yes you can, for now. But are willing to change your mind if based on new evidence.



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  • To Cantaz #4:

    The fact that some kind of “need for the absolute” is one cornerstone
    of religion…..

    That is very correct. How else can the religious defend delusions???



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  • Fundamentalists need truth to be absolute… They think truth is an object…

    I suspect the “objectification” of absolute truth may be not only within the purview of fundamentalists but also of more moderate religious people – the current pope believing that lucifer is a real person (i.e., the “objectification” of absolute evil) being a prime example.

    To me, this odd “objectification” of a psychological trait bears some resemblance to naïve realism; a naïve realists open his/her eyes and sees an apple and implicitly believes that the apple absolutely exists exactly as she/he perceives it (failing to realize that the perceived apple is a brain-built model of the “real” one).

    It’s easy to fall prey to naïve realism (we all do) because our perceptual systems have been honed for so long during evolution; the model of “middle world” that they provide us with is a very good one indeed.

    Because objects that we perceive feel inherently, absolutely real, perhaps it’s not so surprising that many religious people end up thinking of absolute truths as a perceivable objects.



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  • We are ALL headed for death. True. Absolutely. Any questions?

    Philosophy room 101 – Please define “Death” and please show (Mathematically) the state vector in Hilbert Space modelling the trajectory of life.
    Ta.



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  • I choose to believe the evidence with no need whatsoever for philosophy, mathematics or smart-assery. Ta

    The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to
    seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no
    one will believe it. Bertrand Russell

    Science is what you know, philosophy is what you don’t know. Bertrand
    Russell



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  • Within another century, possibly sooner, I doubt that the expression “we are all heading for death” will be an absolute. Whether science solves the biological riddle of death first or we evolve into some type of machine intelligence, the concept of death I guess will become far from absolute. Now, if you said taxes, I might have to agree that the taxman is likely to chase us into infinite dimensions and ages. 🙂



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  • Within another century, possibly sooner, I doubt that the expression
    “we are all heading for death” will be an absolute.

    Bad news, I’m afraid. There is nothing but the flimsiest scientific speculation that such advances will ever be made; more likely and predictable that humanity will destroy itself by overpopulation and resource depletion, leading to wars of extermination by the nations with the most advanced technology.

    http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/consequences_of_depletion_of_natural_resources



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  • 4121134 #17
    Aug 8, 2016 at 7:54 am

    i am not too sure that some scientist don’t speak with absolute certanty for unless I am stupid many seem to think theory is fact.

    Perhaps this will clarify the scientific use of the terms:
    Fact, hypothesis, theory and law.

    https://ncse.com/library-resource/definitions-fact-theory-law-scientific-work

    Fact: In science, an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as “true.” Truth in science, however, is never final and what is accepted as a fact today may be modified or even discarded tomorrow.
    Hypothesis: A tentative statement about the natural world leading to deductions that can be tested. If the deductions are verified, the hypothesis is provisionally corroborated. If the deductions are incorrect, the original hypothesis is proved false and must be abandoned or modified. Hypotheses can be used to build more complex inferences and explanations.
    Law: A descriptive generalization about how some aspect of the natural world behaves under stated circumstances.
    Theory: In science, a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.



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  • 19
    Pinball1970 says:

    A nice little piece this, especially for someone who is not that keen on philosophy.

    If I was a history, RE or science teacher I think this would teach a developing mind some basic rules on critical thinking.

    I also like the phrase, “history is the weakest of the sciences.” I never thought of history as a science but I think this is a very important way to distinguish it from some of the more testable/robust scientific disciplines.

    No one said to me as a child, the only thing you can ever really prove is a mathematical formula.

    Just because something is documented, does not mean it is true.

    I think this would have had a profound effect on me as an 11-12 year old.

    I Probably would have ditched religion sooner.



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  • Pinball1970 #19
    Aug 8, 2016 at 8:23 am

    I also like the phrase, “history is the weakest of the sciences.” I never thought of history as a science but I think this is a very important way to distinguish it from some of the more testable/robust scientific disciplines.

    While buildings artefacts and documents can give an indication of history, science can certainly refute false historical claims, by dating artefacts and documents, thus showing them to be relevant to specific periods and locations, or in some cases, that they are misattributed or forgeries.



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  • Religious sheep require absolutes to avoid the confusion that results from too many variables and too few synapses. Ironically the requirement of absolutes is what makes everything they believe, say and do, such an easy target for the iconoclasm of legitimate investigation and scientific scrutiny. Science may consists of closest approximations in most instances, but these approximations are inherently superior to delusion, dogma and rhetoric. Dan takes a rather non-linear approach to his proposition that leaves some room for concision. For example, his discussion of whether some historical figures are actual people is somewhat of a distraction from the point being made about absolutism. This is the very essence of the difference between religion and science. Religion has the temerity and audacity to proclaim unproven absolutes where science cuts through ignorance with an incremental sword that brings reality into focus by degrees. Science also springboards from a clean slate with no underlying assumptions that have not been proven. The entire edifice of religious dogma is supported by myth and metaphysical claims that are not even available for scientific scrutiny. For example the entire novella is based on the assumption that there is an existence outside of reality itself. One day science may advance to the point of being able to address this claim. Until then, thinkers will just have to endure the debate in a delicate fashion so as not to alienate the potential candidates for sanity on the opposing side. Hopefully the chaos and angst created by mysticism will be a historical reference about which our posterity will reminisce in the not too distant future.



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