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Finding Truth For a Living

Proof can be a big topic which can easily have you lost in the weeds whether talking about truth with a little “t” or Truth with a big “T”. Whenever I hear skeptics talk about no proof for the existence of God I’m intrigued, and often frustrated, because of what I do for a living.

I’m a technical manager for a very large multinational imaging company and we have a formal process for solving complex problems and making decisions. I’m trained and certified to both use the process and teach it to our techs and engineers. This was the impetus of a book I wrote called Faith with Good Reason, and believe it or not, it all relates back to the human soul.

We have an intellect and a will; we think and then we do. What we think relates to what we believe and what we believe relates to what we do. When our company is faced with a complex technical problem with a particular product or system our superiors are not really interested in our feelings about it, or debating theories or conducting thought experiments. They have two fundamental questions for us…”Why did it happen!?” and “What should we do!?” In other words…they want the truth and once clear about the truth, they want to act in accordance with that truth.

Lacking Evidence:

And so it happens that when trying to solve a problem, we face situations where empirical evidence we would very much like to have is either lacking or impossible to obtain. In fact, I don’t remember a single instance when we had all the evidence we wanted that could answer all the questions we had. Regardless, people still expect us to find the truth. I cannot say we are always 100% successful, but we never report back to our superiors that the root cause of a problem is “nothing,” or “random chance,” or just a “brute fact”. We also never say “Sorry, no way to know.” These kinds of answers are not answers at all and they are unacceptable to explain any observed effect, including the existence of the universe or our own being.

Instead, we have a way to move toward what is more reasonable and step away from what is less reasonable given the available data. This is not done via experimentation or trial and error because these kinds of activities tend to waste company resources. It’s done “on paper” at first to get buy-in that the company should spend the time and money to pursue our conclusion or next course of action.

People generally accept our conclusions. Why? Because accepting some things without complete proof is rational and responsible solely based on the reasoning. We have some skeptical engineers, techs and sales/marketing people at our company. If a technical person were to keep repeating, “I reject your conclusion because there is no proof that it is actually true and I will continue to work as if it were not,” he or she would not be employed with us for long (note that sales/marketing people will normally receive general absolution for this sin).

Of course, the most probable cause of a problem is ultimately proved-out to see if it is in fact the true cause. A decision will also prove itself out over time as a good or bad choice. In the spiritual life this “proving-out” or “moment of truth” relates to the end of our earthly life where the theological virtues of Faith and Hope are no longer needed for a soul in the presence of God. All that will remain is Love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13).

Data Rejection:

I get this same sense of “data rejection” as described above when conversing with skeptics about the existence of God. For example, click HERE for 20 arguments for the existence of God by the fabulous Dr. Peter Kreeft. I would say none of the 20 is absolute proof, but it is all “data” that points in a certain direction. If there are 20 arrows pointing a certain way, a skeptic will find a flaw with each one. This arrow is curved and therefore invalid; this one is bent and this one points in a slightly different direction. This one is so thick that we can’t say it is really an arrow and this one is too thin, and so on. Therefore, the skeptic will reject the conclusion because there is no proof that it is actually true and will continue to live as if it were not.

Incidentally, it can be the same type of thing conversing with non-Catholic Christians. No matter how many roads lead to Rome, a doubter will find ruts in each one, while at the same time ignoring the dead ends when they trace back their own faith tradition.

The following story may help illustrate the frustration when debating a skeptic…

A man and a skeptic are headed to a friend’s house on a dark and stormy night. Their friend is away on vacation and she needs someone to take care of her dog. As they enter the house the man flips the hallway light switch, but there is no light.

      Man:   The hallway lightbulb must be burnt-out.

Skeptic:   No, the storm has caused a power outage in the neighborhood. There is no power.

 

    Man:   Did you not notice the homes in the neighborhood with lights on inside as we drove up?

Skeptic:   Have you not heard of backup generators? That explains why their lights are on.

 

      Man:   But the digital clock on the microwave oven in the kitchen is lit with the correct time as usual.

Skeptic:   Modern clocks have backup batteries.

 

      Man:   I’ve never heard of a microwave clock with a backup battery.

Skeptic:   Well, there is obviously an alternate power supply for the microwave of some kind.

 

      Man:   I just opened the garage door to let the dog out. That needs power too.

Skeptic:   This house must have a backup generator like the neighbors do. This would also explain the clock working on the microwave. Maybe the generator company offered a neighborhood discount for group installations.

 

    Man:   If this house is running on a backup generator, why wouldn’t the hallway light turn on when we first came in?

Skeptic: The hallway lightbulb must be burnt-out.

 

      Man:   ?????!!!!!

Forest vs. Trees:

Note that in the story there is no absolute proof about what the truth really is. There are several things that can keep a light from lighting other than a burnt-out bulb or a power outage, but in my experience committed skeptics are ready and willing to study in great detail and pick apart any given tree, but not so ready or willing to see the forest. It’s almost as if some choose to get lost in the arcane details and want others to follow. The story also ends with the same hypothesis in which it beings. Many skeptics may conclude that certain things are undeniably true as Catholics do (like racism being wrong), but the source of that Truth must come from an internal system like the human mind (internal generator) and not an outside system like God (external generator).

Some very intelligent people think themselves into a corner that says “Everything comes from nothing for the purpose of nothing”. Strong objections to that statement then follow…“Not ‘nothing’, we just don’t know or there is no way to know” and/or “We make our own purpose!” Then I’ll add two words to the statement about intelligence. “Everything comes from nothing intelligent for no intended purpose.” At this, the honest atheist will often reluctantly agree as he sits in his intellectual corner, hugging his purposeless tree, blind to the surround forest.

 

“For if they so far succeeded in knowledge that they could speculate about the world how did they not more quickly find its Lord?” (Wisdom 13:9)

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Ben Butera

Ben Butera is a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology and currently a Solutions Development Manager for a global 500 company. In 2010 he was certified as an instructor and Program Leader for his company’s initiative in analytical problem solving and decision making. In 2016 his first book was published entitled “Faith with Good Reason: Finding Truth Through an Analytical Lens”. Ben is also co-author of “Two Catholic Men and a Blog”; a blog about Catholic faith and reason. He is a religious education catechist, a husband, a father and lives with his loving wife and three children in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

15 Comments

  1. Great article Ben.

    It reminds me of the truth; “Whether you think you can or can’t your correct.” -H. Ford.

    Even though his comment applies mostly to confidence, I believe it fits here as well.
    The will to not believe is governing their stance.

    Sad.

  2. Wittgenstein could be quite amusing about sceptics: “If a blind man were to ask me “Have you got two hands?” I should not make sure by looking. If I were to have any doubt of it, then I don’t know why I should trust my eyes. For why shouldn’t I test my eyes by looking to find out whether I see my two hands? What is to be tested by what?”

  3. Just so happens that moon landing skeptics are in the news today with new “data”. I was not at the moon landing. Were you? How can we ever know? I’m just guessing, but lets say there are 20 data points that suggest the moon landing was a fake and thousands that suggest it’s not. Skeptics will gladly hold on to the 20 and explain away the rest.
    http://www.foxnews.com/science/2017/11/20/apollo-moon-landing-was-faked-conspiracy-theorists-claim-with-new-photo.html

  4. “When our company is faced with a complex technical problem with a particular product or system our superiors are not really interested in our feelings about it, or debating theories or conducting thought experiments. They have two fundamental questions for us…’Why did it happen!?’ and ‘What should we do!?’ In other words…they want the truth and once clear about the truth, they want to act in accordance with that truth.”

    I work in a nuclear energy company. The same is true there. Only the science, the engineering, and the regulations matter. When there is a Condition Report about a problem, and it is ranked high in severity, then we perform a root cause analysis using the Kepner-Tregoe (K-T) or Apollo Methods of Root Cause Analysis (I was previously K-T qualified at a former nuclear power station). It’s just a formal and documented method of analyzing what caused the problem, and deriving what needs to be done to fix it.

    “And so it happens that when trying to solve a problem, we face situations where empirical evidence we would very much like to have is either lacking or impossible to obtain. In fact, I don’t remember a single instance when we had all the evidence we wanted that could answer all the questions we had. Regardless, people still expect us to find the truth.”

    Everything we did was based either in empirical evidence or on sound engineering principles and the science. We never had all the evidence, and no one knows all the science. But amazingly, all those young upstart millennials who were more than happy to be K-T qualified, and who had science or engineering degrees consistently failed to apply the principles they used in their technical fields to religion and philosophy. It was almost as if they forgot all about logical analysis when it came to such things. They were either agnostics or atheists. We old-timers in nuclear energy who plied the seas in nuclear submarines during our youth well remember our “come-to-Jesus” episodes while 800 feet beneath the surface of the Atlantic, so skepticism had left us long ago. In certain cases only really good engineering and good old fashion prayer got us to surface. But today is so different. These people while denying God in their professed skepticism seem not to disbelieve in Him, but to believe and hate Him. This is the narcissistic and self-indulgent generation. I just don’t understand it.

  5. In my days pursuing an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering at a state university it wasn’t at all uncommon for a professor to explain: “it’s that way, because God made it so”. I tell this to acquaintances that have children (1 or 2 only of course, who else might afford it!) in private schools in the “catholic tradition”, and they’re always amazed. “A state university!” , they exclaim. Yes, I say, and it’s that pursuit of the truth that led me to the fullness of the Church’s Teaching in Humanae Vitae, and the reason my wife and I have more than just one or two children!

  6. Lucius,
    Yes, Kepner-Trego! I’m a certified instructor and Program Leader since 2010. People are happy to apply it to material things, but not immaterial things like morality for example. What is “The Should” for human behavior? If you know KT, you know what I mean.

  7. Jesus Christ is the revelation of God WHO cannot deceive not be deceived. Jesus Christ is the TRUTH. If Pontius Pilate had asked Jesus: “WHO is the TRUTH?”, Jesus would have answered: “I AM THE TRUTH.”
    Man exists. God exists. As brothers and sister of Jesus Christ each man is the truth, with a small t.
    Individuals who reject God do so to avoid responsibility for themselves. Actually, they blame God for their existence, instead of thanking Him. I tell them that if they did not will to survive after conception they would have become a miscarriage. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, that is the pursuit of the TRUTH, begins at conception.

  8. My experience in business and life is that most folks really don’t want to deal with the truth which leads to denial and/or alternate explanatory scenarios.
    In my early days I had the job of reporting retail sales every month to the President of one of the Big 3 car companies. I found out very quickly that he did not want to hear the truth why sales were the way they were–usually pricing, quality, design or competitive issues—none of which were easily fixed. This head in the sand attitude eventually lead to bankruptcy. My guess as to one of the reasons for this was that facing the truth meant facing all the hard choices necessary to remedy the problem which, evidently, were just too uncomfortable to consider.

    The same applies to the Catholic Church which has become a mere shell of itself particularly since Vatican II, and now, especially with Pope Francis who some consider an out and out heretic. The problems in the Church are clear, the answers are clear, but the solutions are just too damn uncomfortable to consider. Instead of bankruptcy we are headed for a schism which de facto is already here. Our Bishops apparently lack the courage to act and for that failure there will be hell to pay.

  9. Mary De Voe.

    Regarding Truth;

    Who? Jesus Christ, second person of the Trinity.
    What? The formation of conscience. To serve God through service to neighbor.
    Where? Here, now and forever.
    Why? Because the Truth requires it. Our existence rightfully belongs to Truth, hence our lives are not our own. They are the property of Truth.
    When? Every moment of our life.

    “Who is the TRUTH?”, Jesus would have answered: “I AM THE TRUTH.”

    He is freedom. “The Truth shall set you free.”
    I came back to this thread after the daily readings; When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said,
    “Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
    for today I must stay at your house.”

    Truth visited Zacchaeus that day.

    Thanks Mary, for your comments too invoke the spirit of truth seeking. 🙂

  10. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, that is the pursuit of the TRUTH, begins at conception.”

    Amen.

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