Sunday, February 3, 2013

Absolutes and uncertainty

I tried several times to add a comment to Deacon Duncan’s post “The Gypsy Curse” at Evangelical Realism this morning - but was thwarted by the iPad/JavaScript conspiracy. Or maybe he’s blocking me. :-).

Deacon is deconstructing Pastor Stephen Feinstein’s impenetrable quasi-philosophical wankery (Russell’s characterization) from the Feinstein-Glasser debate last summer, and I can't wait for each week’s new installment.

Here’s what I wrote:

On a serious note, I have to ask about logic, and how much of it is axiom and how much of it is demonstrable **to a high degree of certainty**.

First, I assume most of what we learn is by exploration. A hot stove burns you, you learn not to touch it. From there we build up a library of rules of thumb that guide us through life. As society grows, people agree that some of these rules of thumb are universally valuable, and thoughtful people reverse engineer them into more formal statements.

It seems like a very few axioms are required (identity, non-contradiction), and that other components of our logic library can be exercised to a high degree of certainty (one error in a million, billion, or more).

Isn't the Pastor's (presuppositionalist's) line of attack here just based on a desire to have more absolutes in the world, as opposed to a willingness to accept uncertainty?


There are two trains of thought above that can be explored further. One, that some things require base assumptions (“axioms” or “presuppositions”, to use the debater’s parlance). Two, that the desire (or need?) for absolutes distinguishes the theist personality from the non-theist.

The second thought may have the broader implication, in that the need to have some (imagined or real) organization in one’s life - including clear answers to life’s burning questions - might be driving the attack on the first thought - “axioms”.

I don't know how long I’ve been able to deal with uncertainty - many decades, for sure. I don't have this burning need for an externally directed purpose (I’ve made my own), or an answer to the questions “where did everything come from” and “where will I go when I die”. We can talk about all of those for a lifetime, but it ceases being interesting to me when people act as if an absolute answer is *required*. I therefore tend to see this need for absolutes to be a common characteristic of the firm believer. Like it or not, I’m finding it harder to not be dismissive of this character trait.

As for absolute truths, such as axioms, I'm interested in how far down we can go before relying on mutually-agreed-upon axioms that we can’t “prove”.

Food for future thoughts.

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