Monday, December 19, 2005

The Section in Which I Posit a Question

The Modern Age begins around 1650; interestingly enough it is a break away from the end of the European Renaissance, but has its roots deeply within it. Everything changes around this time. Politics change; technology changes; economics, transportation, industry, science, medicine and culture itself changes around this time. The Renaissance is the age of enlightenment; from the dark ages to the modern age. The Modern Age then reaches from this time to our own times, to the 1960’s to the 1970’s when we begin to speak of ourselves being in a post-modern time. The age of enlightenment also began an age of reason, where reason reigned supreme. Ancient forms of logic are resurrected; for the first time since the ancient Greeks logic and rhetoric become available to the common man. Politics themselves change; no longer are nations ruled by feudalism, but modern forms of government emerge that can involve an individual’s voice with out retribution. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 ends feudalism in England – and it is ended in France in 1789. One might consider the printing press the cause of all this, causing a free flow of information, or one might consider the works of Kepler and Galileo, causing man to view the natural world through different eyes.

It is an age of industry, the height of this industry being in 1950. Three hundred years of scientific discovery and tremendous industry. The face of the world itself begins to change; smokestacks for all this industry begin to clog the air by belching huge gouts of smoke. The population explodes over the countryside, causing more and more of the land to be disturbed for the use of us humans. The quality of life changes; people begin to live for longer periods. People are more educated. The face of warfare itself changes; we now can destroy the entire world in a matter of hours. Religion changes from a governing institution to a personal relationship. David Hume begins work on causality; the problem of synthetic knowledge that is not based on empirical observations. Hume concludes that knowledge is empirical at its root. Immanuel Kant rejects Hume’s ideas stating that analytical reasoning can only state truths about things that are self-evident. Kant begins to argue for things that we cannot have previous knowledge, that we can have a priori truths that are synthetic reasoning. In short, Hume argues for empirical knowledge, things that we know exists; Kant argues for experience – that we talk about what is experienced and how it is experienced.

However, both of these men depended on pure reason. Logic is strong in their argumentation. They argue about knowledge and experience; essentially they are arguing about how we learn and how we understand our world. Others of this period would argue that we learn from scriptures only; others from how things were in the past. From this volatile mix comes the basis of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral; Scripture, Reason, Experience and Tradition. Equal legs most would boast; yet are they? I myself am seduced over and over again by reason. I love logic; I love the study of logic. I am seduced by wanting to state theologies in symbolic logic – using my skills to analyze the great doctrines of the church in propositional calculus. To reduce a statement into a “p” or a “q” and place them on truth charts that have absolutes of true and false. To measure and weight and determine their truth or validity.

Logic began its life in ancient Greece as a way of thinking about and making order of the natural world. It has been co-opted by multitudes of scientists, philosophers and theologians for centuries. Branches of logic have formed: formal, informal, syllogistic, modal, predicate and symbolic. Currently the trend has been toward symbolic logic, which resembles mathematics much more that it does the traditional forms of rhetoric. The rise of symbolic logic has come about in the last 30 years. Its roots only go back to the 1890’s. Undergraduate courses in symbolic logic were not important until the 1970’s – primarily because it is extremely useful in computer design. It is a discipline of absolutes – on and off; true and false. Interesting to note that the rise of this logic is parallel to the rise of post-modern thought, where reason starts to take a back seat. Note that this form of logic is extremely mechanistic – yet post-modern thought is becoming less and less so. As absolutes in our language, philosophies and theologies become less and less important and postmodern thought dwells in the grey areas between the absolute black and white, becoming less and less mechanistic, our most important technological tool requires and depends on this mechanistic thought. We no longer speak of absolutes in theology or religious experience; most liberals will actively make fun of biblical literalists. Yet we are continually seduced by the desire for absolutes, and this desire has set up a dichotomy between theology and science. No longer can we absolutely know anything. I have heard and I have actually used the phrase in counseling sessions “It’s not what the truth is, but what is perceived.” We do indeed act on our perceptions, what we perceive to be truth. This is in essence moral relativism.

The questions I posit then would go like this: What does it mean that we are allowing our machines to think mechanistically? Does it follow that it allows us to think more humanly (whatever that might look like)? What does it mean for our theologies that our logic has become so mechanistic? What does it mean for our educational system that we have become so relativistic? What does it mean for our spiritual transformation that our philosophies and theologies have so diverged? We have created from a single branch of thought to discover the meaning of life, the universe and love multiple branches – some of which cannot even begin to describe the totality of the problem. How do I state the meaning of love in symbolic logic? How do I state in the language of theology the workings of an internal combustion engine? How can we experience true spiritual transformation – a transformation back; a restoration into a whole and complete and unfragmented being made in the image of God when our philosophies and theologies are so fragmented themselves? When on one hand we yearn for absolutes; and on the other hand reject them? True spiritual transformation would need embrace both science and religion to express a fraction of what we call Imago Dei.

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