Dear Russell and Friends,
For the past week I have been a reader. I read every word of your last post Russell – – twice. The context of my reading was heightened by a strong sense of self preservation. I was riding shotgun as my 15 year old with a learner’s permit drove back from Colorado. Thankfully, fear can enhance learning. I also read most of the dialogue that you and unkleE conducted. You are birds of a feather. Each of you looked like you were concluding the discussion with tacit apologies for length, then kept going. [insert good natured smile here].
One thing that struck me as I read your discussion about faith and reason was the nature of your replies to each other. You respectfully asked unkleE if he minded a point by point reply and he answered that he rather preferred it himself. It worked well and disciplined you both to visit and revisit each other’s arguments and to protect against the erection of straw men. I got to thinking – – why do I rarely reply in this manner? Is that related to the way I differ in my view of an evidence driven life although I work in an evidence driven field? Perhaps so.
Although I rarely answer line-by-line, I hope you do know that I always want you to be taken in context and I overtly want the majority of readers here to realize that you are among the best of men. Why do I answer like this? What is this? This, for me, is digestion. You always get me thinking. That is one of the things I value about you most. I live in a land of thought and you provoke new thoughts, different angles, and novel chains of reaction. So, when you write an epic on a topic that means much to me – – I think, digest, then reply. It is analogous to the replies of hand-written letters – – a mode that I still cherish although employ too seldom. It is diametrically opposed to the immediate communication of text message, IM or telepathy.
Digestion. What were the results of my digestion so far? First, let me offer that the topic we chose could populate a PhD thesis or even a life of study. This digestive process will represent first pass metabolism alone.
Arguing with Dead People
If you forced me to choose between writing and the wheel as the greatest contribution to human progress, I would choose the pen. What an honor to explore the thoughts of Aristotle and Hume. What we read now and the links that we click are the honored descendents of that humble stylus, brush or quill. You spoke of Aristotle and I summoned the best from my memory. Disciple of Plato. Tutor of Alexander the Great. Father of observational science. To make my joy complete, I found this – – well worth the 3 minutes.
Then you quoted David Hume on wisdom. David Hume – – I had an ephemeral response that I did not consider David Hume to be wise, but I couldn’t remember why. The internet and a short attention span to the rescue again.
You are more aware of logical fallacy than most. It was one of our first studies together. So, I know that you were not using Aristotle or Hume to argue from authority. After two years of conversation with you I know that for sure. My point is this and I know you will not argue. It is okay to argue with, preferable to argue with dead people. We have the greatest intellects of all time (Aristotle would certainly represent the 1% of the 1% of the 1% ad infinitum) available through writing, commentary, and the internet wayback machine. How foolish for me to argue with Aristotle on the details of science which he got wrong when he essentially invented the scientific method and would freely acknowledge that his views should be revised when evidence accrued.
Was Paul aware of Aristotle? Likely so. In Acts, Paul presents to Greeks in Athens at the Aeropagus (Mars Hill) adjacent to the Acropolis. Was Paul, who wrote his epistles in high Greek, unaware of Aristotle? Unlikely. Did he present his reasons to believe in full view of the impact, then 350 years old, of Aristotle. I argue yes. The tension between Aristotelian logic and faith is neither contemporary nor insoluble.
What of David Hume? He also stands with the 1% of the 1% in terms of human intelligence and impact. That there will be 1 of 10,000 people in that category is mathematically predicted and constrained. But would I listen to Hume about wisdom? Wisdom is something different. Wisdom is less predictable. So I can not only disagree with Hume’s philosophy, but challenge a quote where he points the path to wisdom. That would be a delightful topic for future posts – – the difference (if there is one) between intelligence and wisdom.
I know that Russell was not arguing from authority, so I won’t walk down that path. He knows that I can freely argue with Aristotle and Hume and that they, the giants, would welcome a challenge from an ant. My thesis is that the scriptures were constructed in full view of Aristotle’s epistemology. They were not breathlessly awaiting a three minute lesson to correct their stark ignorance. There is nothing new under the sun.
The Possibilian Brain
You and our good friend Howie were the first to turn me on to David Eagleman’s Possibilianism philosophy.
I did like I usually do. I watched it, thought about it, then ordered and read one of his books – – Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. It is on the 2014 reading list – – and I’m barely caught up with the 2015 posts. One thing that I liked about Eagleman was his call to humility. I think that the 20 minute video is worth the watch, but I will spoil my favorite part of it. He walks to one end of the stage and represents the strong atheist view, then walks to the other end of the stage and represents the young earth creationist biblical literalist view (I’m summarizing from a 1 year constructed memory). Then he calls for gentility and arbitration in the middle. And what is the mediator in the middle? Science. That is what moves him, what convinces him, and what he has and will continue to contribute to. Science.
I have heard some fellow believers say, “I love science, and here is why I believe the earth is young.” That is a non sequitur to me. If I claim to love science to you and our readers, then how would I justify the statement? Perhaps by the time I dedicate to reading science. At least as much by volume as my annual reading list. Perhaps by the time I dedicated to studying science. Ten full years after a university bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. Perhaps by my understanding of why your hope to live hundreds of years is misplaced. Perhaps by my willingness and craft in caring for more dying people in the last ten years than I could ever personally know outside of my profession. I do love science. And to me, science unfolds the mechanisms that a creative and caring God used to delightfully construct the reality that we live in. Cosmology and post-translational modification equally awe me. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I get just as excited as you when I study, although I rarely offer to send a family recipe or jump up and down.
The Supremacy of Science and the Interaction Problem
I have not forgotten that I owe Victoria a reply on the video about Miracles and Televangelists.
Many here have already visited her excellent blog on neuroscience (also Eagleman’s area of expertise). She is smart, funny, and compassionate. She also explains beautifully how the human brain can construct the emotional experiences of joy, sorrow, and yes – – religion. I found the video about miracles and healing to be especially relevant to my journey as I was raised in the charismatic tradition and I’ve actually been to a Benny Hinn service.
I have been digesting the video for quite some time and look forward to posting about it in the future. Apropos to current discussion is this – – what if the experience of religious devotion is mediated by neurochemical interaction? Does that make it less believable or more? For me it makes it more believable. I am thankful to understand the biochemistry of reward, punishment, fear, and hope. In a way that addresses the interaction problem. Will we be able to locate the soul via functional MRI or PET? Quite unlikely. Do we really want to argue about angels on heads of pins. I hope not.
I appreciate the explanations that science can give. I love studying science. It does not threaten my faith. I hope that is not fatally conflicted.
Writing Russell Off
Russell did not wish to be written off as a
post-modernist strong-rationalist steeped in scientism
Dammit Russell. Not only did you force me to quote you, but you packed three precise terms requiring definitions in seven words, hyphens excluded.
I’ll never write you off.
The Products of Digestion
Digestion provides two things: nourishment and excrement. I realize that this line of thought may be the former to some and the latter to others. The point is this. I love my brother Russell. We think very differently. This is a place where we encourage you to think differently and to realize that you are among friends.
What do you think?
Pascal – – 1:16
photo credit: via WikiCommons, public domain