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Finding Truth

May 16th, 2015

Finding Truth book

I had never heard of this book or its author until a friend bought it for me as a present. But it proved to be a really worthwhile read.

Nancy Pearcey

Nancy is Professor of Apologetics and Director of the Center for Christian Worldview at Houston Baptist University. She is involved in other organisations and projects, and has also written a number of books.

With that background, we can expect her to be knowledgable and able to express her ideas well. This book bears that out.

Nancy grew up in a christian family, asked a lot of questions in her youth which weren’t answered, and so became an agnostic. She later reconverted when she found answers to her questions.

“I lost my faith at an evangelical college”

One of the motivations behind this book is the story, which Nancy has heard many times, and which she lived out herself, of a child of a christian family giving up on their faith in their teens because they couldn’t get answers to the questions they were asking about God and life.

Some conservative churches and christians oppose “critical thinking” and intellectual approaches to christianity, apparently thinking that God’s word is enough, and human thinking is opposed to God. But Nancy argues opposite to this, that “critical thinking saves faith”.

We cannot hide from information these days, she says, even if we wanted to, so we must all “become independent thinkers with the tools to think critically about diverse points of view”. We must learn to be able to examine both sides of arguments.

False gods and truncated philosophies

Nancy argues that alternative belief systems – materialism or naturalism, postmodernism, determinism, etc – all take some aspect of truth and magnify it to be the full basis for their worldview. So materialism makes the created, physical world to be all that exists, empiricism says that the only things that can have meaning are what we can detect with our senses, and so on.

She then suggests a 5 step process to ….

  1. identify the thing that has been chosen as the centre of the belief system,
  2. identify where it is reductionist,
  3. test whether this view contradicts what we know about the world,
  4. test if it is contradictory, and
  5. show how christianity better accords with what we know about the world.

Take materialism as an example …..

  1. Materialism is the belief that the material, physical matter, is all there is.
  2. This is reductionist because it leaves out the non-material. Thus it is claimed that things like our minds, consciousness and ethics can all be explained in material terms. For example, if matter is all there is and matter is governed by physical laws, then logically we cannot have any genuine freewill choice – all our thoughts and choices are governed by the physical processes in our brains, and there is no “us” outside those processes to control them.
  3. This view contradicts the way we experience the world, where it seems like we have free will, and our ethics and law are based on that perception. Nancy shows from direct quotes that while scientists and philosophers may accept this consequence of materialism when thinking about it, they cannot shake the feeling at other times that we do have free will, and in fact most admit that we couldn’t live any other way. So, she argues, if everyone experiences free will, the view that we don’t have it contradicts our experience.
  4. Further, the view is self-refuting, for if our brains operate on determined physical laws, our conclusions are determined by those laws and we couldn’t have concluded anything else. Our brain states are biological facts, and such facts can’t actually be true or false, they just are. So we have undercut our ability to know truth, including our ability to “know” that materialism is true.
  5. So we have good reason to think materialism is false. Christianity, on the other hand, says we are more than material, that we are made by God with minds that really can perceive truth, however we may sometimes make mistakes. Christianity explains the world we experience better than materialism.

Strengths and weaknesses

These thoughts are not new – writers and philosophers like CS Lewis, WL Craig, Alvin Plantinga and Thomas Nagel have pointed them out before now. But Nancy has expressed them in a clear way with many, many quotes and references, within a systematic framework that makes it easier to apply the thinking she recommends. I will certainly be using those quotes!

But I am doubtful if this book will make a big impression on non-believers, for it seems to me that many people these days have inconsistent worldviews, and it doesn’t seem to bother them much.

Nevertheless, I recommend this book as a good introduction to some interesting and helpful philosophical ideas.

14 Comments

  1. A CHALLENGE TO USE SCIENTIFIC PROCESS STANDARDS =
    Because it is the only way to find reality rather than myth, magic, and wishful thinking =
    ==

    Forget about “Prove it”. How about “Produce even the tiniest shred of faintly suggestive evidence”?

  2. Hi Norm, thanks for continuing to read my website.

    The book I reviewed here claims to produce much more than the tiniest shred of faintly suggestive evidence. So let’s discuss some of it shall we? I wonder whether you would be willing to share your answers to these questions please:

    1. Are you a naturalist or materialist (i.e. you believe the natural world/matter is all there is)?
    2. Do you believe people have free will (i.e. the ability to interrupt or change the physical flow of events so they are different from what they would have been)?
    3. What do you think consciousness is?
    4. Do you believe there are some things that are truly ethically right or wrong?

    Thanks.

  3. for it seems to me that many people these days have inconsistent worldviews

    This looks right on the money. Our society seems to conflate tolerating or even accepting diversity of opinion with the absence of a duty to challenge them, as long as it suits the agenda of some.

  4. I don’t want to complicate this thread, which I hope yields a fruitful discussion. But here’s an idea for a follow-up post. Assuming the book referenced above (which I haven’t read) and others like it (which I have read) conclusively establish that scientific discoveries point toward the existence of a god, how far does that move us toward Christianity and its God of love? Personally, I have no interest in a god who isn’t interested in me and in other human beings, a deity who just popped the expanding, evolving universe out of nothing and then moved on, maybe to pop out some more or just to chill with his/her/its divine attributes. In other words, even if we Christians could win this war about God’s existence, where does that get us? Kierkegaard once said something to the effect that God (the Christian God) is not too “low” for scientific-types, but too “high” for them. What he was getting at is that what REALLY puts most materialists off, when it comes to Christianity, is not the existence of some sort of primal creative force but rather that this primal creative force is also our Heavenly Father, that the creator of the almost infinite, incomprehensible universe would have to do personally with us. Maybe down the road, we can chew on that one.

  5. “a duty to challenge them”

    Hi IN. Do you think we have a duty to challenge people on philosophical matters? I think ti would be best if people allowed themselves to be challenged, but most won’t. What did you have in mind here?

  6. “Assuming … [we can] conclusively establish that scientific discoveries point toward the existence of a god, how far does that move us toward Christianity and its God of love?”

    I think this is a very important question. And I think the answer is that our view of God must be based on all the evidence. So I think (and write on this website) that four lines of evidence point to the christian God:

    1. Science (cosmology) points to a creator designer God via the first cause and fine-tuning arguments.
    2. Neuroscience and philosophy point to a personal God as the only explanation for consciousness, free will, objective ethics, rationality, etc – naturalistic science has to explain these things away, or at least explain them in a reductionist way.
    3. Human experience of God via healing, visions, peak experiences, etc.
    4. The historical record of Jesus.

    Clearly for a christian, #4 is crucial, but historical evidence doesn’t bring certainty. But the other 3 cumulatively do bring me at least close to certainty, by demonstrating that the God Jesus revealed is the best, or perhaps only, explanation for #1-3. So the matters raised in this book play their part in either confirming what we learn from the historical information about Jesus, or preparing a person to listen to that information.

    So I agree with what you say, and that is how I resolve things. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. And thank you, unkleE, for the perceptive response, which makes me even more intrigued with your blog. Teilhard insisted that God (holding all things together from “on high,” drawing evolution ever upward, moving humanity toward the Omega Point) could not be thought of as being less personally developed than his most evolved creatures. So He was not a “someone” but a “Super-Someone.” In retrospect, Teilhard may have been too enamored of technology, but he was “on top” of this issue and in agreement with your four succinct observations. Now I’ll shut up for a while. Nothing worse than a blog-hog.

  8. Hi Newton, I certainly don’t see you as a “blog hog” – your comments are welcome. If you want to see where I have addressed the evidences I mention here, it is at Is there a God?. I have never read anything by Teilhard de Chardin, but if he even half agrees with me then he must be OK! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Hi IN. Do you think we have a duty to challenge people on philosophical matters? I think ti would be best if people allowed themselves to be challenged, but most wonโ€™t. What did you have in mind here?

    Hello UnkleE: Yes, I think we all have a duty to implore for critical evaluation, though it’s often probably best done societally and via the media than personally. Constantly challenging people’s views in person turns a great many off, which is no surprise.

    The problem with the modern condition is that it allows all kinds of unsubstantiated and incoherent opinions to fester, esp. on topics like migration, religion. I think the tendency of some people to defend their views by only invoking their freedom of speech, thought and conscience when challenged is a related phenomenon.

    This column gives a good idea of the type of ‘personal opinion’ I’m after:
    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/04/religious-studies-ditched-subject-schools

  10. Yes, I agree with you about the “modern condition”, though I’m less sure of how to combat it and how much we ought to – not because it isn’t worthwhile in principle, but because for many people it may be a waste of time. I guess we need to be judicious – we can’t correct every wrong!

  11. A question for each reader, = What is really most important to your life
    @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@
    Living your life with the feeling of being fairly secure with the knowledge you have.
    Or
    Living your life somewhat insecure because your understanding of the universe is always changing and you must search for verifiable truth/facts. Study and research has allowed many humans to reject claims of supernatural.
    @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

    If you have the need the feeling of security. Then it is obvious, you must select one of the thousands of religions ( and their books) and reject the other choices..(ie: Jesus is the only real god ) Reading the unkleE listing should be a waste of your time..ie; If Jesus ( or Allah) is absolutly real, why are you reading this?

    On the other hand, if you suspect that the information you have been given may not be factual. Some folks like unkleE, investigate the question is there a god or some supernatural being that may effect humans or not? == Well, it has been accepted long ago that there is no way to prove that any supernatural does or does not exist..

    Science is the only process humans have to have solid evidence because claims can be tested with known tools . When a claim of physical effect is made, it can be tested to be accepted or rejected
    The Big History Project is a joint effort between teachers, scholars, scientists, and their supporters to bring a multi-disciplinary approach to knowledge to lifelong learners.
    https://www.bighistoryproject.com/home
    http://edge.org/conversation/david_christian-we-need-a-modern-origin-story-a-big-history

    COMMENTS ABOUT SUPERNATURAL
    VIDEOS = with William lane Craig = watch the series

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Her0NJLGkpY

    Norm

  12. Hi Norm,

    Thanks for the link to the Big History Project – that is a great website. I was particularly interested in the chapter on “How humans are different”, but it didn’t seem to say, at least in the part I looked at.

    That was why I asked my questions of you, which you seem to have missed. I would be interested to see your responses if you were willing please. Here they are again:

    1. Are you a naturalist or materialist (i.e. you believe the natural world/matter is all there is)?
    2. Do you believe people have free will (i.e. the ability to interrupt or change the physical flow of events so they are different from what they would have been)?
    3. What do you think consciousness is?
    4. Do you believe there are some things that are truly ethically right or wrong?

    They are all questions that directly relate to the material in the BHP, so it would be interesting to see what you think. Thanks.

  13. Finding truth is almost an impossible task, when it comes to the abilities of the religious “believers”.

    It is to be noted that if you are directly connected to the truth, then in such a circumstance you obviously need not be dependent upon mere beliefs nor disbeliefs.

    However, if you are located at a distance from the truth, it is only then that you may become dependent upon mere beliefs/disbeliefs. Also, it is to be noted that if you are therefore located at a distance from the truth, then obviously you are now located within the zone of “Less Than Truth”. Thus in turn, if you stick to your religious beliefs/disbeliefs, then you also have chosen to stick to being located at a distance from the truth, thus you have also chosen to stick to being located within the zone of “Less Than Truth”.

    As a consequence of this phenomena, multiple religions exist, and each are endlessly maintained.

    As a second consequence of this phenomena, if truth concerning proof of the existence of God is presented to any religious believer, it is immediately condemned, for a “religious believer”, by sticking to his or her religious beliefs/disbeliefs, has also chosen to accept only “Less Than Truth”.

    For instance, if you go to http://goo.gl/38qhp and click on the yellow flashing words “Watch / Listen”, proof of God’s existence is presented. However, a religious believer will want nothing to do with such proof.

    The religious believer will not even be able to see such truth, since a religious believer can only see truth as best as it can be seen from a distance. In turn, you can also not speak truths “directly” in the here and now to religious believers, for they only accept truth as best as it can be seen from a distance. In turn, one is forced to speak to such people indirectly, thus one is forced to speak to such people by speaking to them via parables.

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