Life Driven Purpose pgs 122-123

Jan 30, 2017

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


24 comments on “Life Driven Purpose pgs 122-123

  • 3+2=5 must always be true, in our world. A radical empiricist like Mill might be able to conjure up some phony scenario on another planet in an attempt to prove otherwise; but this has nothing to do with what we really experience or will ever experience. And even if we could experience it still would not prove that 3 + 2 does not equal 5. He said that it is possible to imagine a world where all units, all objects, were continuously dividing themselves or disappearing; counting would then be impossible. But all Mill establishes is that counting would be impossible; he doesn’t prove that 3+2 does not equal 5; nor can he – or anyone. The truth of the proposition: 3+2=5 is a priori in nature, and is therefore necessarily true. There are many who disagree with this, and who think that everything is empirical, i.e., only probable. Mill was not alone.

    A definite yes or no is not the judgment of a fundamentalist, necessarily.

    (There are different kinds of truth. There is artistic truth, for example.)

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  • 4
    maria melo says:

    I think your ‘Muslim Darwin’


    Science expressed currently in Arab Language (as far as English is nowadays the current language within the scientific community, and the second language of everyone), not “muslim science”, is this mockery?
    Humanism within the islamic world that accepted science and reason, perhaps?

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  • Truth is very slippery. I start with Gödel’s unprovability which posits the idea that each datum is ultimately contingent for proof of its truth on other data which also rely on yet more data for their validation.
    For me, therefore, subjectively, there may not be any such thing as truth at all. Perhaps, if it were possible for a human mind to grasp the inter-relationship of proof of all data in the universe there might be The Truth but who knows? And who can encompass it all?
    Again, subjectively, this means that ‘reality’ is, at best, partial and consists of mutually agreed approximations adopted for the purpose of functioning as a society.
    And that’s where the trouble starts. The incompletely defined mutually agreed approximations (assumptions) aren’t universally mutually accepted.

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  • 6
    maria melo says:

    Absulutely not, there´s no way it can be definitely right.

    I was just being silly, find the paragraph fun.
    I am familiar with accuracy/error margin in science, it was familiar to me in Lab relatories, I have some profissional “degree” in laboratory, if I wasn´t so bad in maths I would have choosen Chemistry.

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  • Jon,

    I think it was….Can’t remember, but he made a good point, to wit, any attempt at proving – and I am paraphrasing – that two lines inclined towards each other will eventually intersect, is futile and absurd (in his opinion and mine); all one can do is say: “see?” It’s like trying –and this is me talking now – that 3+2=5. All I can do is demonstrate it. Can’t prove what is proven, so to speak.

    Maria, I like your line about being certain that you can’t be certain. Very witty.—And in a way profound, thought-provoking.

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  • Note.

    It’s like trying – and this is me talking now – that 3+2=5.

    Corrected sentence: It’s like trying – and this is me talking now – to prove that 3+2=5.

    Since I am here I will add this: I would venture to say that that kind of hyper-skepticism is a form of psychic self-abuse. A=A is axiomatic and, yes, self-evident. To hell with Wittgenstein and his eternal doubting and uncertainty. All knowledge and wisdom begins and ends with perception But if you doubt what is self-evident and keep doubting for the sake of doubting, then it may be that you are, as Nietzsche said, “not pre-ordained for knowledge.” (Joyful Wisdom, Book 4). I’ll get off my soap-box now.

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  • A debate between, for instance a secular scientist and a young earth creationist would likely dwell on the conflict between their respective beliefs and the underlying backup ideas each would present in support thereof. These ideas might not be provable in any satisfactory manner to each other’s opponent. I suggest that the varying arguments and degree of conviction would be buttressed by what the debaters viewed as evidence.

    The evidence for a secular view of existence would come from the scientific study of its reality. This analysis would involve observation of phenomena, proposals to explain same, and changing hypotheses to align proposals with changing interpretation of the universe of relevant observations. This is merely a paraphrasing of the scientific method.

    The creationist’s explanation (i.e. “evidence”) of existence would likely be based on premises passed down over time from ancestral humankind, through historical documents and oral tradition. Such teachings would necessarily be based on a person’s belief in the accuracy of a given thesis. It is blindingly evident to this observer that such belief is solely and wholly dependent on that person’s creationist faith.

    As a secularist, I admit to not believing 100.0% in a non-creationist explanation of existence. There could be as much scientific fact and explanation yet to be discovered as would dwarf the total of what we now understand. Who could have predicted the discovery by Michael Faraday of the inductive relationship between electricity and magnetism, which explains the very possibility and reality of electric motors and generators. That was new science. It was based on observation, testing, and the very durable absence of any surpassing explanations.

    It is conceivably possible to me that some evidence might one day appear that would bolster the idea that some form of conscious entity was “responsible” for creation. But what is the explanation for the creation of that entity? The Hebrew or Christian Bible? The Oneida Indian notion of a giant turtle that arose from the depths of the yet uncreated ocean? Come ON, people.

    My definition of religion is “one’s explanation of existence”. For now, my “god” is the Big Bang. Until something more plausible comes along, that is my understanding of “creation”. I rest my case.

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  • “All knowledge and wisdom begins and ends with perception.” (#9)

    I make a lot of asinine statements, and this was one of them. Knowledge isn’t one thing. Wisdom isn’t one thing. (I did have something in mind, however.)

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  • 15
    maria melo says:

    Sorry, might have misunderstood why you posted them? Olgun

    I was in a hurry and posted a lot of links. At the time I mentioned an islamic schoolar (clergy?) that said he was pround that the islamic world never prosecuted scientists (even the “muslim Darwin” I guess).

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  • 16
    fadeordraw says:

    I absolutely, 95%, agree with Timber.

    And it is absolutely, 100%, true that we are living on the planet the same as plants and animals are living on the planet. And it is absolutely, 100%, true that actual supernatural phenomena are not involved in our planetary existence. And it is evidently true that sapient psyche perceptions/memes, both individually and collectively, have evolved and that the belief in supernaturalism has benefited sapient ongoing growth, to say nothing about the idea of evolutionary survival.

    And Jeese, I absolutely, 85%, think that these paragraphs from these self-help books for those going from religion to atheism are likely not effective with their proposed targets and posted on the RD site does not generate an interesting and learning discussion as, for example, a RD paragraph would. Let’s begin, as a suggestion, with his meme paragraph.

    Also, that I didn’t get comments on Trumps ban and the other four entries on this week’s e-mail is a concern.

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  • First, I had not heard about this book. Love the title!

    Second, an area I can have a reasoned response to since it is based in science. I agree with the paragraph at large, but it is problematic – as seen in the comment thread – to label observational and theoretical facts on process – observations as well tested hypotheses and process descriptions as well tested sets of hypotheses as ‘truths’. They are facts and as such they have common “truth” and even a sort of ‘truth’ values.

    But logical truth values are based on axiomatic sets of statements and science is larger, algorithmic, a kindred to computer science ‘truth’ values that are based on a technology with observable resource requirements that reign in after-the-facts use of axiomatic sets such as Dan’s insistence on ‘provable’ math. Math is after all the set of axiomatic tools that are not discarded because they are less useful, based on non-provable mutually agreed on atoms of operations. I do not pan mutual agreements – after all the quality rules that assert what level of uncertainty, 2 or 3 or 5 or more sigma, we can live with are such – but I protest the idea that subjectivity, albeit useful such, can be ‘proved’. (For example 2+3 = 5 cannot be proved by elementary first order logic if you also want the remaining subtraction, multiplication and division on counting numbers. And analysis is even worse.)

    Experimentally tested, yes, certainly, we can start with statistics of opinions and end in statistics of usefulness. Facts rely on robustness of the reality that we are part of, and that we are part of it of course. Why it is robust, why we exist and why we can make observations is at the very least selection bias, if we were not we would not make robust observations.

    Remains that some will dig deeper into nature than observation and its revelation of robust structure out of processes allow. But to answer such philosophers, i.e. diggers of meaningless ideas, on their obscure terms: that part of nature has the nature that it remains to be seen.

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  • Fundamentalists need validity, not truth.

    They’ve had more than 20 centuries to make their case and still seem to be no closer to any truths. I would venture it is because their arguments are based primarily on their bible, and their truths need to fit within it’s parameters. Thus all their arguments become circular.

    I don’t think fundamentalists need truths, but they do have longevity and social validation going for them. Maybe that’s good enough (for them).

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  • 19
    maria melo says:

    Dan (and everyone else, particularly those in charge of convicting innocents for a crime they did not commit because of scientific illiteracy),

    Have you seen “Enenemies of Reason” (I think) where Prof Dawkins remarks about the necessity of scientific literacy by judicial courts (a young father has been convicted because of a bad interpretation of science relatory by justice) and in jail, the young father, not an educated man himself, searched for scientific help to reverse the conviction -he has been convicted found guilty of the death of his disabled son)

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  • Torbjörn,

    I am not sure that I was able to fully apprehend everything that you said in your comment; but I would argue that the judgment 3+2=5 is not based on opinion or consensus. It has universal subjective validity; that is, we must agree with it. Necessity dictates that we express our assent; not our good manners, or custom, or habit. We have no choice in the matter. Empirically oriented thinkers seem to have a vested interest in asserting something to the contrary, and rarely do they fully acknowledge this element of necessity. The only difficulty is in convincing such skeptics that it really is a necessary judgment; they seem unwilling to relinquish the element of choice in this matter. This peculiar difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that, ultimately, we have only our senses and our judgment. If, again, I say that two lines inclined towards each other will intersect, or that two parallel lines will (theoretically) never intersect, then those Euclidean geometric truths can only be established by the senses, can only be derived from intuitive perception. As I said above, to doubt such a thing is self-defeating, as it bars the way to further knowledge. But the second axiom concerning parallel lines is somewhat more problematic; it starts with intuitive perception (the presentation of parallel lines) and then continues into the realm of abstract knowledge; such theories as a curvature in space may come into play. So long as those parallel lines remain parallel, and so long as there is someone who is, as it were, following the lines as they extend outwards into space, they will remain parallel and will never meet. I will add one caveat: perfect parallel lines do not exist. So the experiment is doomed to fail, ultimately; but not because the axiom is false. Neither man nor nature can create parallel lines that are perfect as such.

    “But that eleventh axiom regarding parallel lines is a synthetic proposition a priori, and as such has the guarantee of pure, not empirical, perception; this perception is just as immediate and certain as is the principle of contradiction itself, from which all proofs originally derive their certainty. At bottom this holds good of every geometrical theorem ….” A. Schopenhauer


    What was that? Who was not scientifically illiterate, the ones that did the convicting or the “criminals”? Not quite clear. I want to understand.

    I have seen most of those Enemies of Reason episodes. I saw the one where Dawkins interviews the guy who went to jail for killing the abortion doctor. They talked in the park. Interesting.

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  • 21
    maria melo says:

    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

    Not a matter of probality, but margin of error. Not probality for instance that a molecule in pure state has a certain weight etc, that a chemical reaction has certain results, because that is REALLY accurate, but error after error after diverse scientific procedures that can affect the accuracy/ result.

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  • 24
    maria melo says:

    England (Manchester CC)
    Kevin Callan
    Apr 15, 1991
    “Kevin Callan was wrongly convicted of murder in 1991 of shaking to death his girlfriend’s 4-year-old daughter, Amanda Allman, based on the testimony of two prosecution experts. … Callan was sentenced to life in prison. He became an expert in neurology and his knowledge helped prove that his daughter, who had cerebral palsy, died from the after-effects of brain damage caused by an earlier fall. … Callan spent four years prison before the Court of Appeal overturned his conviction on April 6, 1995, based on the new medical evidence about the girl’s cause of death. The charges were dismissed and Callan was released. Callan wrote a [1997] book about his experience [entitled Kevin Callan’s Story.] …. Callan died [in] 2003 at the age of 45. Callan’s sister and supporter during his ordeal, Janice Davies, helped to set-up the organisation ‘Innocent,’ to support Kevin and other wrongly convicted prisoners and their families in the United Kingdom. ‘Innocent’s’ website is,” – FJDB  (Innocent)


    Richard Dawkins – Break the Science Barrier, Part 2 (2/2)

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