14

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)

13

Conversing with Skeptics

You may have run into this yourself. If not, it’s at least good to be aware of it. When conversing with atheists and skeptics over the years, I’ve learned to be careful with three terms:

1) God:

The word “God” can be an overgeneralization; it means too many different things to too many different people. One may be thinking of a fairy in the sky or flying spaghetti monster (one thing among many). Another thinks of the ground of all being or being itself, or the one “unconditioned reality”, or perhaps…“Father”. I have been told that is inconsequential in discussing God’s existence, and I always object because thinking matters. What we think relates to what we believe and ultimately what we do. Two people may use the term “fetus”. One is thinking of a person in the earliest stage of life just as valid as any other stage (a person exists). Another is thinking of a non-person with no right to be alive (a person does not exist). The difference is life and death.

Another allegory I use is about two small fish in a vast ocean debating the existence of water. If one fish thinks of water as just another thing in the ocean (one thing among many), then the search for water would be basically the same as the search for a rock, a sunken ship or a swimming seaweed monster. The search strategy would be completely different if the thinking was different. In general we do not think about water being in the ocean. We are more apt to say the ocean is water.

2) Atheism:

Just as there are different kinds of “believers” there are different kinds of atheists. I’ve heard the term “weak atheist”, which to me is basically the same as a lazy agnostic. When pressed with some deliberate questioning, a lot of answers from the weak atheist are “don’t know/don’t care” or “no way to know.” A strong atheist is more “evangelical” and eager to prove their point. In general, if you push with some hard questions about The Good, The Beautiful and The True, you’ll quickly find out if you are dealing with a strong or weak atheist. Lately however, I prefer the term “skeptic” to cover all levels of atheism.

Beware that general topics about The Good, the Beautiful and The True can trigger many tangents about specific Church teachings, Church history, Church scandals and things in the Bible that are positioned as not so good or beautiful or true. Jumping into these topics right away with a skeptic is like debating the interior design of a house before the basic structure of the building is thoroughly considered. All of it is important, but the foundation comes first.

3) Evidence:

Some come off as self-proclaimed authorities on evidence. Only sensory/empirical/scientific data is valid evidence. Data from metaphysics, philosophy, witness testimony, inferences and other modes of reasoning are generally dismissed. This is contradictory because saying empirical data is the only valid way to prove something is a philosophical statement that cannot be proven empirically.

Besides the inherent contradiction, please note that everyone believes things they can’t prove…at least not empirically or via a scientific method. Every skeptic I’ve ever dialogued with was both pro-choice and pro-gay to some extent…if the topics ever happened to come up. Can you name the scientist that proved human life does not begin at conception, or the science that confirmed an unborn baby is actually a non-person? You can’t because there is no such scientist and there is no such science. There is no proof, yet people accept these things as dogma. Is homosexual behavior normal? What do we learn from biology and the design of certain body parts? What kind of behavior is ordered to the design and what kind of behavior is disordered to the design? What does the evidence tell us? I’m often reminded that homosexual behavior is observed in some animals, so this proves it is natural and therefore normal. I often need to remind others that some animals will also eat their young. When we look to animal behavior as a guide for human behavior the effect of original sin that dims the intellect is easy to see.

Conversing with skeptics can be very interesting if it’s done civilly, but it is regrettable how many scholars need to spend a lot of time showing how God exists rather than taking that time to help discern God’s revelation in the modern world. It’d be like continuously debating your own existence as opposed to discerning the best way to live. Years ago I too was a skeptic, but I made a decision to enter the faith experiment in the laboratory of my life. If I had not made that decision, I may have been permanently paralyzed by wrapping my own head around a metaphysical axle, as I see many others doing today. No wonder the end of the Bible seems to push us for a decision…

“I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev 3:15-16)

Interesting Aside:

This article from the New York Post describes yesterday’s Texas shooter as a militant atheist. Not to pick on atheists, but if the shooter were militantly religious, I’d bet we’d all know about it quickly. If he were militantly Christian, we’d never hear the end of it.

 

 

Top photo by Deutsche Fotothek‎, CC BY-SA 3.0 de

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7937579