Thursday, June 26, 2008

What about God? part 2...

In previous posts we have seen that certain things are rationally undeniable. From this we have seen that the universe must have begun, and therefore, had a cause of its beginning. This much is often OK for many people, up to a point. That point being when it dawns on them that God is coming in the conclusion. Richard Dawkins, for example, in his latest book, The God Delusion, illustrates this nicely. On the one hand he recognizes, I think, the need for the regress of causes to terminate. On the other hand, he is definitely not ready for that conclusion to be God.

What I've decided to do is present Richard's argument first. Then I will present mine and you can decide which one makes more sense.

From The God Delusion. On page 77 he is arguing against the "proofs" of Thomas Aquinas. He correctly recognizes that three of them (the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause, and the cosmological argument) are similar in form (they all rely on the impossibility of an infinite regress) and so he takes these three on in the following paragraph.

"All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. They make the entirely unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress. Even if we allow the dubious luxury of arbitrarily conjuring up a terminator to an infinite regress and giving it a name, simply because we need one, there is absolutely no reason to endow that terminator with any of the properties normally ascribed to God: omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, creativity of design, to say nothing of such human attributes as listening to prayers, forgiving sins and reading innermost thoughts. Incidentally, it has not escaped the notice of logicians that omniscience and omnipotence are mutually incompatible. If God is omniscient, he must already know how he is going to intervene to change the course of history using his omnipotence. But that means he can't change his mind about his intervention, which means he is not omnipotent. Karen Owens has captured this witty little paradox in equally engaging verse:
Can omniscient God, who

Knows the future, find

The omnipotence to

Change His future mind?

To return to the infinite regress and the futility of invoking God to terminate it, it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a 'big bang singularity', or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading."

There you have it. This is pretty much (of course there's more - he wrote a whole book about a being that he really doesn't believe exists...) the guts of his argument. "Well who made God?" That is the point he is making when he says that it is "an unwarranted assumption that God himself is immune to the regress." Now, to be fair, I can't tell for sure if he denies that the idea of an infinite regress is problematic or if he is just opposed to the idea of God terminating it. I think the latter because he says that we could "conjure up a 'big bang singularity' or some other physical concept yet unknown." So it's not the termination of the infinite regress that he finds objectionable, it's God. That leads me to believe that he recognizes the logical implications of an infinite regress. That it's impossible and irrational. That said, he also seems willing to toss logic under the bus at the first opportunity. "Conjure up" indeed.

He also says that we arbitrarily end the regress with God because we "need one." As if "we" are desperate to prove God and so stoop to arbitrariness in a futile attempt to do so. For reasons (not conjuring) that I will now discuss, I think his arguments are atrociously bad. I'm not even a competent philosopher or scientist but I can see the massive holes in this line of "reasoning."

Let's talk about the idea of the infinite regress one more time. Claiming that an antecedent sequence of causes is truly infinite is to say that it never began. What could be more irrational? OF COURSE it began else it would have never terminated in an effect. So how do we terminate an infinite regress? We do it by stopping at First Principles. Being, Identity, Non-contradiction, Excluded Middle, and sufficient cause. As we recall, First Principles are called "First" because they are, well, FIRST. There is nothing that can be said prior to them. They do not need to be explained. Indeed, they cannot be explained. No prior reasoning need be done, or can be done, to recognize existence and identity. We exist and that's it. We are who we are and that's it. So how does this help us solve the infinite regress problem?

I think it goes like this. Let's say that we have an effect, the universe, that we want to explain. Let's say that we start with today and travel back along the antecedent chain of causes looking for the first one. (Keep in mind there MUST BE a first one.) So let's now cut to the chase and skip over the 13.7 billion years or so and think about the First Cause. Is it possible that the First Cause is just like every other cause in the chain of causes? No. It is not. Why? Because if it was like every other cause in the chain, it would itself need a cause. And if it needed a cause, it could not be First. This seems fairly obvious to me but then I've thought about it for a minute or two. The First Cause, it seems, MUST BE of a different kind than the subsequent causes. Are we tracking? Good.

Therefore, if each of the causes in the chain of causes had an antecedent cause, we could say that each one of those causes was finite. In fact, we would have to say that they are finite. They had a prior cause or, in effect, a beginning. Therefore, they are finite. The First Cause, on the other hand, CANNOT be finite. Why? If it were finite, it would itself need a cause, and thus it could not be FIRST. The First Cause, since it CANNOT be finite, MUST THEREFORE BE INFINITE. There are only two metaphysical categories and they are: infinite and finite. (If you can think of anything, anything at all that is neither finite nor infinite then don't tell me, publish a paper on it in a philosophy journal and you will be famous from now until the end of time.) I call this "doing the math." If 1 + x = 2, then x = 1. If something is either finite or infinite, and it's not finite, then it's ... INFINITE. (This is called a disjunctive syllogism and every logician that Richard knows understands that it is a valid form of argument. Either P or Q. Not P. Therefore, Q. Either finite or infinite. Not finite. Therefore, infinite.

I would be happy to toss this argument over the edge but no one has ever, EVER, been able to explain how a first cause could be like all the other causes in the chain of causes.

Now we get to the good part. If the First Cause is infinite, we also know something else about it. What is that, you ask? Well, we already KNOW that the First Cause is infinite (it has no beginning). But we also know that the First Cause is UNCAUSED. We know this because something either 1. has a cause, or 2. it's uncaused, or 3. it causes itself. Number 1 doesn't work because we know that the First Cause can't have a cause (else it would be just like all the other causes) and number 3 doesn't work because something can't be the cause of itself (if you don't buy that, think about it for a second or two and you'll get it). "Doing the math" leaves us with number 2. The First Cause is uncaused. It HAS TO BE. It's not a "dubious luxury" it is the conclusion that we find ourselves forced to accept from the exercise of REASON. I'm not finished. Since we know the First Cause is infinite, we also know that it is immaterial. Why do we know that? We know that because if the First Cause was material we could count it. But anything we can count is finite. Therefore, once again, we are FORCED to this conclusion. The First Cause is now infinite, uncaused, and immaterial. What else may we infer about this First Cause? It seems that the First Cause is a PERSON. Why do I say that? Because the First Cause ACTED. There wasn't a universe and then there was a universe. An amazingly finely tuned universe, as it turns out. (See any book on the Anthropic Principle for the details. They virtually all (Hugh Ross is a notable exception) come to the wrong conclusion - "it's a really, really lucky thing for us" but the descriptions of the fine tuning are impressive.) So the First Cause is now a PERSON. Don't we know that as sure as we are reading this? Try to imagine a rock, or any non-living thing acting or having a thought or a purpose. Exactly my point. So PERSON also implies living and purposeful. I don't want to push my luck here but a theologian might use different words to describe the First Cause. A theologian would use words like Eternal, Spirit, Transcendent, Sovereign, and so on. I don't know about you but those words sort of sound suspiciously like Biblically God words. My apologies to Richard, but I think my argument is much better. In order to defeat it Richard must show how an infinite regress is possible. Or he must "conjure" some 'big bang singularity' (how to explain that?) or he must show how something that is finite can be infinite. Oh, he has a way to go, I think. An infinitely long way...

Here comes the best part. It's perhaps, possibly, maybe, an original thought. I can't imagine that no one has never thought of this before but I've read a little bit and I've never seen it put like this. So here goes.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about the First Principles of reason that "Being is" is the most concise way to state them. Being means existence, the most fundamental thing we can say about anything. "Is" implies a predicate (Being is Being) but since we know the Law of Identity we don't need to repeat ourselves. We also know by immediate inference that if Being is Being then Being is NOT non-Being. This is the law of non-contradiction. Also we know by immediate inference that Being and non-Being exhaust the ontological possibilities. Something either is or it isn't. All that is summed up in the phrase "Being is."

Then one day I was reading something this ancient Hebrew leader wrote, the one who got the cosmology right thousands of years before the scientists did. It was in the book of Exodus and I was STRUCK, it was almost like a slap in the face, with the phrase that I ran across in chapter 3, verse 14. First, let me set the stage. Moses had been told by God (if you believe in things like that) that he is to go to the nation of Israel and lead them out of (the Exodus) Egypt. Here's how it sounds. Verse 13, "Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" (emphasis mine)

Here it comes. Verse 14. And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you." (emphasis mine)

Wow. God said, I AM. I've been saying "Being is." It's the same thing. I AM WHO I AM. Being is Being. When God was asked His name, He named Himself REASON. Isn't that interesting? But the more you think about it, the more sense it makes. One of the characteristics of God is REASON. It's part of His essence just like righteousness. So it would make sense that REASON (GOD) is the ultimate authority of what is true about the universe. Even God can't violate reason just like He can't sin. He cannot violate His essence. Well, food for thought, anyway. But it seems to me to be correct to say.

There is one last piece of business tonight and I hate to end on a negative note but I must point out one more bit of irrationality in the passage from Richard. Remember that "engaging" little poem? The one that illustrates that omniscience and omnipotence are logically incompatible? Here's the fallacy. If God is omniscient then He would know everything all at once. We can't begin to get our finite intellects around that but if He knows everything all at once then He's not "changing His mind" as the situation unfolds. If Richard wanted to attack the essence of God he'd be better off trying something like: if God is omnipotent then can He make a rock so big He can't lift it? The idea being that we have some sort of fatal dilemma here. Because either way God is not omnipotent. Here's the fallacy. You've seen it already, I'm sure. It's called a category mistake. A rock is finite and God's omnipotence is infinite. It's like asking, "What does blue smell like?" The question is nonsensical because blue is a color and related to the sense of sight and smell is a different sense that is concerned with odors, not colors. We would ask what some things would smell like, but a color would not be one of those things. So the question makes no sense. I'll have more to say on that subject (apparent contradictions) later. In the meantime, please feel free to let me know where I'm wrong.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

So what about God?

Isn't this the real question? IF God does not exist, THEN there can be no Son of God or Word of God or acts of God (miracles). This much seems clear. On the other hand, IF God DOES exist, THEN there can be a Son of God. There can be a Word of God. And there can be acts of God (miracles). Pretty hard to argue with that, I think.

So how do we answer such a question? Philosophers and theologians throughout history have wrestled with this and what you are about to read is not original with me. But I think I can explain it better (we'll see) so here goes.

In order to answer this question we need to do a couple of things. We need to start at the beginning and we need to follow the evidence, interpreted by reason, wherever it goes. It is apparent to me, and surely to you too, that believing in a God that doesn't actually exist is about the most brainless thing a person could do. But it should also be clear that not believing in a God that does exist doesn't seem to be a very shrewd move either. We live in a binary world of true or false. Things are a certain way (God exists) or they are not (God does not exist). There is no hedging this bet. If you have ever seen Texas Hold 'Em on TV you understand that when players go "all in" they are risking every chip, every dollar, that they have. So it is with us. Perhaps this is Pascal's wager updated to the 21st century. Regardless, we, all of us, are going "all in" with the biggest cosmic bet one could ever possibly make. If we have eternal souls, then we do, and we will spend eternity in one of two places (if it turns out that the Bible actually is the Word of God). If we don't, well then, we don't and as soon as we die that's it and who cares. But whether we believe in the "God universe" or the "not God" universe, one of them surely exists. I'm not trying to put a lot of pressure on this choice but it does seem to be significant. That's why I will be very careful with the arguments. Please note that one of my arguments for the "God universe" will not be "to hedge your bets." It's either true or it's not. I think we should figure that out and act like it. Whatever that way is.

The cosmological argument has a long and illustrious history and if you want to read more about it may I suggest you get William Lane Craig's book The Cosmological Argument From Plato to Leibniz. Meanwhile, I will walk through the background to it in my own way.

The key insights are two in number and both of them involve the concept of infinity. If you get this then the rest will make perfect sense. Infinity is the idea that something has no beginning and no ending. For example, the set of all integers has no beginning (what is the smallest negative integer?) and no ending (what is the largest positive integer?) On the other hand, if something is finite (that is, not infinite) then, it has a beginning and is countable. Note that a finite series may not have an ending but it will never be infinite because you can't make something finite into something infinite by adding one more. Why? Because you can always add one more. This may seem trivial or pedantic but bear with me. This is an exercise in pure reason and it will pay off because it will make your brain bigger. Or something like that.

The first thing we notice is that it is impossible to traverse an infinite amount of time or an infinite distance. Let's pretend for a moment (philosophers call this a "thought experiment") that we have a combination space ship and time machine. It is a most powerful vessel. It can leap through time at the rate of a trillion years per second and it can travel through space at a trillion times the speed of light.

Now, here's the question. Can we, in this space ship, cross from point A to point Z if there is an infinite distance between A and Z? (Assume for a moment that an actual infinite is possible in the physical universe, which it isn't, but we'll get to that in a moment. For now, pretend.) Obviously not. For even if we traveled for trillions and trillions of miles, we wouldn't even be started on getting across an infinite distance. Why? Well because for every trillion miles we covered there remains an infinite number of miles to cross. In the same way, if point A is sometime in the past and point Z is some time in the future and an infinite number of seconds lie between A and Z, we can never get from A in the past to Z in the future.

So we know that we cannot traverse an infinite time or distance, because, by definition, an infinite number of seconds or miles is without beginning or end.

The second insight about infinity is that nothing that is material, that is, is part of the physical structure of the universe, can actually be infinite. This includes space/time. We've already seen that an infinite series of miles or seconds cannot be traversed but the fact of the matter is that it is impossible for an actual infinite to exist. Here's why. Just imagine, if you can, an infinite number of seconds (or miles or rocks or atoms or whatever). Now it's not infinite because we can always add one more second or mile rock or atom or whatever. In fact, we can add a trillion more. A trillion plus a trillion more. A trillion times a trillion more. A trillion raised to the trillionth power more. You get the point. It is impossible to have an actual physical infinite. (Space and time, or space/time, is part of the structure of the physical universe - Einstein proved that with General and Special Relativity.) Here is an easier way to understand that nothing "material," including space/time, can be infinite. It's because if something is physical, or measurable, then it can be counted. It might take a long time, but it can be counted. And if it can be counted, it isn't infinite.

This allows us to understand that the universe had a beginning. It HAD TO HAVE A BEGINNING. Why? Because if it did not, if time were infinite in the past, we could never have arrived at today. But we are here, today. Therefore, time had a beginning. Another way to think of this is to imagine that the series of seconds that terminates at this instant had to START sometime. If it never started then how could we arrive at today? If we say that it didn't have to start, then we say that the beginning of our series of seconds had no beginning (is infinite). Which, of course, is nonsense - to say that the beginning had no beginning. As we remember the law of Identity and the law of non-contradiction.

This is pretty "out there" if you've never thought about it before so I'll try to explain it in a slightly different way and perhaps that will help. This time we'll think of it in terms of causes.

Let's conduct another thought experiment. Let's assume that we have a pot of water sitting on a stove and it is boiling. Let's also assume that we want to investigate this scientifically. That is, we are engaged in the investigation of the causal chain that is producing the effect of the boiling water. So we see the water in the pan. We see the bubbles. We see the steam rising. We see the flame from the burner. We see the stove. We see the gas line. We wonder about these things. They must also have explanations. If we keep tracing things back in time we will eventually trace our chain of causes back to the beginning of the universe. But wait, you say, what if the universe, and thus our antecedent chain of causes never began? Then you are saying that the antecedent chain of causes is infinite, which is to say that it never started. But it did start because we are looking at the boiling water. To claim that an infinite regress of causes could actually terminate in an effect is to say that the antecedent chain of causes that resulted in the effect, in this case, the boiling water, never began. But it obviously did begin. Witness the boiling water.

From this, we KNOW beyond all doubt, because it is an exercise in pure reason, that the universe had a beginning. Not surprisingly, science has confirmed this and not so long ago. It started around the time of World War I with Einstein and his theory of General Relativity and continued on to include Hubble's observations in the late 20's about the red shift of star light and the background radiation found by Wilson and Penzias in the mid-60's. (For which they eventually were awarded a Nobel prize. It's a funny story in a way. They were looking for something else, quasars or something, who knows, and they kept getting this interference that they couldn't explain. They even cleaned the pigeon stuff off of the satellite dish but the "noise" wouldn't go away. The "noise" turned out to be the left over radiation (heat) signature of the "Big Bang" creation event.) See? We KNEW that the universe had a beginning from our reasoning exercise and that's exactly what science found. It's what we would expect since nothing can contravene reason. Interestingly enough, science had pretty much settled on an infinite universe for a couple thousand years. It was called the "steady state" theory by Sir Fred Hoyle (Who also "named" the Big Bang. It was a term of derision at first.) It's biggest plus was that it avoided the implication of God. For after all, if the universe was eternal, if the universe "always was," then its existence didn't have to be explained. But since the realization has slowly dawned that it did begin, cosmologists have been desperately, and to no avail, trying to explain the beginning of the universe without recourse to God. (That would be "unscientific" I guess.) Would it be uncharitable of me to mention at this point that an obscure Hebrew leader got it right thousands of years ago when he wrote: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." It took modern science a while but they finally caught up to Moses.

Now here's where things get interesting. If something begins, then something caused it to begin. This is the essential insight of the cosmological argument, which we'll explore in more detail in the next post. But for now, it goes like this. (I believe this is William Lane Craig's formulation of it.)

Major Premise: Every thing that begins has a beginner. (True by definition.)
Minor Premise: The universe began. (True by reason and confirmed empirically.)
Conclusion: The universe has a beginner. (Necessarily true. It can't possibly be false.)

Details next time. Plus a bonus. Deriving God as an exercise in pure reason.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Some thoughts on worldviews

In case you are not familiar with the word "worldview" (or Weltanschauung if you are Deutsch) I will take a moment or two and tell you what it is.

Simply, a worldview is how we look at the world. It is the sum total of our fundamental assumptions about "how things are." It is usually used in the context of the greater issues in life. Does God exist? Do souls exist? Are humans special or important? Do we have free will? Is there a moral law? Is evil real? Is good real? Are heaven and hell real places? Can I go to either place? Is there life after death? What exists? How do I know? What is truth? Does God "talk" to us? Can I know it? Stuff like that.

Think of your worldview as a pair of glasses. If you are wearing a "Christian" worldview pair of glasses when you look at the universe then you believe that God exists in three persons and one essence. You believe that souls exist. You believe that humans are special in an almost unbelievable way because we are created in the image of God. You believe that there is a moral law. Good and evil are real. You believe that we have free will and that we make moral choices. You also believe that heaven and hell are real places and that you get to freely choose your eternal destiny. You believe that both material and immaterial things exist. You believe that reason applied to empirical evidence is the ultimate truth standard. You believe that truth is that which corresponds to reality. You believe that God speaks to us through nature (reason and evidence) and His Word (revelation) and that they are never in conflict. (How could they be?) You believe that purpose and design are all around us and that we are the objects of His purpose. You see the glory and majesty of God in the intricate design and unimaginable vastness of the universe. You believe that we can know what He says.

From this, certain things necessarily follow. If God exists and He is as we typically think of God, then we had better not ignore Him. If we are created in His image (thinking, intentional, moral, sensing, feeling, rational) then every human being has great value, regardless of skin color, eye color, hair color, nationality, sexual orientation, political preference, religious background, IQ, talent, gender, and every other way that we categorize ourselves. EVERY human being has intrinsic value because every human being is created in the image of God. (If it's actually true, that is.)

It also then follows that every human being, created in the image of God, has the same fundamental value (priceless) and therefore has the same rights and responsibilities as every other human being. It follows that we would want to go to heaven (eternal bliss with our Creator) rather than go to hell (eternal torment away from our Creator). We'd want to know how we could do that and hope that we could actually do it. It seems that we would be inclined, at least, to treat other human beings as if they were intrinsically precious since we know that they are. We would understand that it is wrong to take advantage of those that are weak, or less able to fend for themselves, whether by lesser physical, mental, financial, or other resources. Perhaps, most importantly, we would know that we are ultimately ACCOUNTABLE for our thoughts, words, and deeds. We might feel motivated, on occasion, at least, to do the right thing. We may even feel an obligation to be good stewards of the planet God has given us to live on. Who knows? Stranger things have happened. We might think that God had actually created us for a purpose and that we would want to fulfill that purpose. This is not an exhaustive list, by any means, but I trust it is detailed enough to give you a sense of how a Christian worldview would play out in life. Or should.

On the other hand, if we had a materialist worldview, we would believe different things about the universe we live in. If we had on "materialist glasses" we would see things in other ways. For one thing, we wouldn't believe that God exists. (God is a "spirit" and spirits are not real by a materialist ontology.) Minds or souls do not exist. There is no purpose or design or point to the universe. Everything can be explained by physical laws. (After all, if everything is matter and energy and they are governed by physical laws, then EVERYTHING can be explained in terms of the laws of physics.) Human beings are just another form of life, accidental and meaningless in the vastness of the universe. We are here strictly by chance and we have no more value than any other form of life. Say a cockroach or a lizard or a weed. They are all fundamentally the same. They are merely different outworkings of neo-Darwinian evolution. Mindlessly chugging along it produced everything from human beings to bacteria and everything in between. We believe that survival and perpetuation of the species is all important. We know that there is no such thing as a moral law. Laws are immaterial creations of mind and since minds do not exist neither do laws. Or information. Or design. Or purpose. There is no such thing as free will. How could there be when free will is immaterial and would somehow not be beholden to the laws of physics? How do we explain information in any coherent way? Information requires contingency but the laws of physics provide no contingency. I will spend a fair amount of time on this.

I'll be first in line to say that if the materialist worldview is true then it is and so much the worse for us. Believing something that is NOT TRUE (Christianity, in this instance) is foolish and pathetic if the materialists are correct. No matter how much we might want it to be true, or how much better we think the world would be if it were true, it only matters IF IT IS TRUE. On the other hand, if the materialist worldview is false (I think we've seen that already. Although I will gleefully continue to point out the absurdities, contradictions, and patent falsehoods as long as I draw breath.) what a ridiculous thing to believe. Can you imagine anything more hideous? To reject truth. To spend eternity away from your Creator by your own choice. To spend your whole life thinking that you are no more important than rocks, or dirt, or slugs. To think that there is no meaning or purpose AT ALL. To think that nothing that you do while you are "alive" EVER REALLY MATTERS. How breathtakingly stupid and depressing is that? Well, I hope we'll see in the days to come.

I suspect that you are already beginning to see some of the inherent contradictions in a materialist worldview. How can I say that everything is governed by the laws of physics when my fundamental belief about the nature of the universe denies the existence of those laws? How can I have choices when there is no free will? How can anything be wrong if there is no moral law? How can purpose of any kind exist in a purposeless universe? Why should I pay attention to any social conventions? Why should anything matter to me, including me? Why would reason exist in a purely material universe? Is reason comprised of fermions and bosons? Do the four forces of nature affect reason? These are the kinds of questions that need to be definitively answered.

Meanwhile, let me put in another plug for reason. Just like there are causes and effects in the material world, there are causes and effects in the immaterial world. Ideas matter. Ideas eventually play out in public ways. Remember Nazi Germany if you think ideas don't matter.

It seems fairly obvious to me from the discussion above that above all, what we need to demand from our worldview, is that it give us a true picture of reality. Does God exist? Is Jesus the Son of God? Are we special in any way? Are we merely random collections of sub-atomic particles suspended in really cool bags of water? Does any of this matter? Of course it does. Read on...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The end of materialism

I do not have the words to express the utter contempt (user friendly mode "off") that I have for the intellect of anyone who espouses the "truth" of materialism. Said another way, you don't have to be stupid to be a fool. OK, so maybe that's a little harsh. Let me dial it back some here. Maybe these people really are able, in some way, to hold opposing positions in their heads simultaneously and believe both of them. It's kind of like believing at the same time that white is black and black is white and not feeling any sense of unease about it. That's what materialists have to do, as we will see, and some of them are quite adept at this game. I will argue that it is really a fool's game since reason forbids such a move. Oh, you can still do it but count on believing nonsense when you do.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the default position in "Western" (European and American, not closer to the west coast of the U.S.) universities. Oddly enough, "regular" people, in general, have little or no problem understanding the dual nature (immaterial and material) of the universe. And we are roundly mocked for it. But make someone a cosmologist, evolutionary biologist, or a philosopher of mind, for three examples, and they generally run like lemmings to this ridiculous ontological position. (There are notable exceptions, of course.) Although I am usually loathe to ascribe motives to people I don't personally know (and generally not even then), it seems to me that the big draw to materialism is the obvious one. If all that exists is matter and energy, then there is no God. It's an immediate inference, virtually, from the premise. If all that exists is material, and God is immaterial, then God does not exist. And certainly it makes no sense whatsoever to pay attention to a non-existent Being. How ludicrous would that be? Therefore, we see that the materialist program, which includes neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory in biology, the "landscape" theory in cosmology, moral relativism in ethics, mind/brain identity in philosophy of mind, and the intellectual E bola virus of post-modernism which infects everything that it touches, rises or falls on its fundamental premise.

I don't recall if I've said this out loud or not yet, but for an argument to be persuasive (for me, at least) it must be grounded in First Principles and/or physical laws that explain everything "we" currently know about the material universe. If a conclusion cannot be grounded in this way then it is probably not much of a conclusion. On the other hand, I distinctly remember saying that if we don't start with reason and our data and follow it wherever it goes then we are not being intellectually honest. Keeping that in mind, let's take a coldly rational look at materialism.

The fundamental truth claim of materialism (I use the term somewhat loosely to encompass all flavors of "isms" from physicalism to naturalism that essentially claim that nature, or the physical world, is "all that there is.") is that what is physical is all that exists. In other words, all that is real is matter and energy. It's pretty easy to understand. Even a child can understand it. In fact, children are the original materialists. They don't understand abstract thought until around age 7 or 8. Or so I've been told. Be that as it may, materialism, I believe, is probably the most destructive piece of nonsense the world has ever seen. Much evil has been done in the name of materialism. But rather than rant about that now let me get to the point of this which is to render its landscape a nuclear wasteland, uninhabitable by sane, reasonable minds until the end of time.

In order to expose the irrationality of materialism, we need to further define matter and energy. I think it's reasonable (I checked with a theoretical physicist and this is close enough) to define matter and energy as follows. Matter is extended in space/time and/or has mass and/or has inertia and/or is affected by gravity (so is light) and/or can be converted to energy and/or can be empirically detected. Energy can move and/or heat matter and can be empirically detected. Energy can be used to "do work." I think that is sufficiently basic to get at the essence of it. This definition, as best as I can tell, includes all of the particles of the Standard Model and the four forces (nuclear strong, nuclear weak, electromagnetism, and gravity). So we should be covered for anything and everything that is physical in this universe.

With these definitions we can analyze different "things" and see if we can demonstrate that something that exists, something that is real, is not matter or energy. If we can, then materialism fails. It fails forever. I am going to deliberately insult your intelligence here by dragging you through an obvious example but only to make the ultimate contrast more glaring.

Is a lump of uranium material? Is it matter or energy? Let's ask the relevant questions.
Is it extended in space/time? Yes. (We can see it.)
Does it have mass? Yes. (We can weigh it. I understand that mass is not the same thing as weight.)
Does it have inertia? Yes.
Is it affected by gravity? Yes. (Drop it and see.)
Can it be converted to energy? Yes. (Think nuclear power.)
Can it be empirically detected? Yes. It can be seen and felt. It may smell, too, for all I know.
So we have our answer. A lump of uranium is matter.

Is mathematics material? Is it matter or energy?
Is it extended in space/time? No.
Does mathematics have mass? No.
Does mathematics have inertia? No.
Is mathematics affected by gravity? No.
Can mathematics be converted to energy? No.
Can mathematics be empirically detected? No.
Can mathematics be used to move matter? No.
Can mathematics be used to heat matter? No.

Is mathematics, nonetheless, real? Yes. Therefore, materialism fails.

Let's take another example.
Are the laws of physics material? Are they matter or energy?
Are they extended in space/time? No.
Do they have mass? No.
Do they have inertia? No.
Are they affected by gravity? No.
Can they be converted to energy? No.
Can they be empirically detected? Actually, this is an interesting question. But upon further reflection we will realize that the laws of physics are discovered, or identified, by our minds. They cannot be touched, seen, heard, tasted, or smelled.
Can they be used to move matter? No.
Can they be used to heat matter? No.
Are the laws of physics real? Yes. (Jump off a roof if you don't think so. Or hit your thumb with a hammer. Either experiment should do the trick for you.) Therefore, materialism fails.

Here a few other things you can run by these questions. I've made this very user friendly so even a materialist can do it.

Information. Is it matter or energy? No. Is it real? Please.
Love. Minds. The rules of golf. The rules of anything from canasta to economics to weight loss. Reason. Justice. Right. Wrong. Design. Purpose. Gross national products. Statistics. I'll leave it to your imagination to come up with other examples. All of these things are clearly NOT matter or energy. Yet they are clearly real. Materialism fails. It fails spectacularly, obviously, and simply. Anyone with a normal mind can understand this.

So what's a materialist to do? Well, they do what any charlatan does. They lie. They confuse. They deflect. They avoid. They deny. For example, they deny the existence of mind. They say that there is no such thing as a mind apart from the brain. This is true. I've read them. They say that there is no such thing as purpose. They say that there is no such thing as good and evil. (Or a moral law.) They say that there is no such thing as design. They say that all of these things are ILLUSIONS. They aren't real. Just to give one example, Richard Dawkins (of "The God Delusion" fame) says that "biology is the study of complicated things that appear to have been designed for a purpose." Thus begins "The Blind Watchmaker." I will devote a full measure of time to Richard but not tonight.

Here's another way of looking at it that's just a bit different but may help. Consider the fact that all things material are governed by the laws of physics. Another way to say this is that all things material can ultimately be explained by recourse to physical law. Material things - laws of physics. Easy enough. But now we can ask if there any real things that the laws of physics cannot explain? If there are, then there are things that are not material, because the laws of physics can explain all things material.

Do the laws of physics have anything to say about 1+1=2? No. They do not. Do the laws of physics have anything to say about the use of nuclear weapons? No. They do not. Do the laws of physics have anything to say about whether a propositional statement is true or not? No. They do not. Do the laws of physics have anything to say about whether I play golf or tennis next weekend? No. They do not. So, you get the drift.

For now, can we agree that the fundamental premise of materialism is false? Utterly and completely FALSE? As you might imagine, this will have serious consequences for other things that they claim to be true.

Interim Summary - axioms

So maybe it is time for a short review. If you are already attuned to the supremacy of reason as the way to come to a knowledge of the truth then you won't need to read all of the detail in my previous posts.

Axioms, or First Principles, or what cannot be avoided (by a rational person).

1. There is a way that things are. Or, we can say there is a way that the universe is. This is a fundamental ONTOLOGICAL truth and cannot be denied without self-contradiction.
2. Reason is the ultimate authority, the only authority, actually, for determining what is true about the universe. This cannot be denied without self-contradiction.
3. Opposing truth claims cannot both be true. This cannot be denied without self-contradiction. We generalize to say that all self-contradictory statements are FALSE. In English, we can't have it both ways. We can't have our cake and eat it too.
4. Since there is a material world as well as a world of reason (an immaterial world*) we need something besides reason to determine what is true. We need empirical evidence. Or sense experience. This is not a first principle but it should be apparent to even the biggest skeptic. It's certainly undeniable that physical things exist.
5. Therefore, empirical evidence plus reason = the best truth that we can have about the way things are. (This is essentially the scientific method.) This is a combination of axioms 2 and 4.
6. My (and your) best interests are best served by knowing what is true. This isn't axiomatic but it certainly seems true to me. It may be possible to envision a circumstance where I might be better served by a lie but I'd bet not. In any case, in a general way, I think it is safe to claim that our best interests are served by truth rather than falsehood.

There are more axioms but I have not yet given the rationales so I will add to this list later.

*The next post will be a deconstruction, or destruction, of the ontological position of materialism, or physicalism, or naturalism. Or whatever "ism" you want to call it. The fundamental idea is that all that exists, all that is real, in the universe is matter and energy. Or we may say sub-atomic particles in energy fields.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

So what is Truth?

Given the fact, as we have seen, that reason is the ultimate judge of truth and falsehood, a question immediately comes to mind. What is truth? This is a very fine question and it has a very simple answer. This short discussion will save you from wading through boring and confusing philosophical treatises on the subject, which rarely ever get to the correct answer anyway. Here goes...

We remember that "there is a way that things are." I will call this "reality." It's the definition of reality, after all, so no big stretch here. We also remember that this is another way to make the most fundamental claim that can be made about anything, and that is being, or existence, coupled with identity. We also remember that this is UNDENIABLE since to claim that there is not a way that things are is, in fact, to make a claim that there is a way that things are. Given this, and applying the law of identity, we can say that truth claims that correspond to (or match) reality are said to be TRUE. And truth claims that do not correspond to (do not match) reality are said to be FALSE. See how easy that is?

In epistemological circles this is called the correspondence theory of truth. We see, however, that this is no theory. Rather, it is a definition. Truth is that which corresponds to reality. Now many philosophers have gone off the rails (Hume and Kant, for two) by making the fundamental mistake of confusing ontology (Being) with epistemology (Knowing). This is called a category mistake. By analogy, it's like saying: That fabric sure feels loud. Feel is a word that we associate with the sense of touch and loud is a word that we associate with the sense of hearing. So we have made a category mistake when we do that. In English we say that we need to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges. If we are making a category mistake we say that we are comparing apples and oranges and immediately we understand the error.

The confusion in (a lot of) philosophy is a confusion between ontology and epistemology. It's undeniable that truth exists. This is an ontological certainty. The problem comes in our epistemology. How do we know what that truth is? As it turns out, we have two tools for discovering what is true. Those tools are reason and sense experience. Now, ultimately, it doesn't get any better than this. There is NO BETTER WAY to determine what is true. But this need not plunge us into skepticism (all knowledge is uncertain) or agnosticism (reality is unknown or unknowable). In fact, I hope to show that what we call today the scientific method is well and truly the absolute best way to discover the truth about the material world. More on that later.

To say that truth is that which corresponds to reality is an exercise of pure reason. It's merely a definition. But that's not the end of the story. It's not the end of the story because not only is there a mental world of reason but there is also a physical world of sensation. We are directly aware of, or we can say that we directly experience the world of reason, with our minds. We also directly experience the material world, the world of sensation, by the use of our five senses. Those are: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

So in order to know what the material world is like we use what has come to be known as the scientific method. It's pretty simple, actually. It goes like this. (You can find other ways to say this, but essentially, this is it.)

Step 1. Gather, or observe data, or evidence. (This is an empirical [empirical means originating in, or based on, observation or experience] exercise. What qualifies as data is what can be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or felt. In other words, the material world.)
Step 2. Analyze the data. (This is a rational exercise and it is accomplished by the mind.)
Step 3. Make an inference to the best explanation which means to propose a hypothesis that best explains the data. (This is also a rational act.)
Step 4. Gather, or observe more data. (Empirical exercise.)
Step 5. Compare to previous hypothesis. Modify as necessary to account for new (and old) data. (More reason.)
Step 6. Repeat until "all" of the data has been explained.

So we notice a few things about this method. The first is that its data come from the physical world. Science is empirical. It is about the physical world. The second is that the scientific method includes not only empirical observations but it also begins with the use of reason. Data without reason cannot be analyzed or interpreted or rendered meaningful in any way. Logically speaking, REASON MUST PRECEDE DATA. Without reason (mind) the very idea of data is incoherent. The third thing we notice is that reason is reason and data is data. (Law of Identity.) By that I mean to say that facts are facts. They are neither true nor false. They just are, or they are not. They are not subject to reason in their existence because they are a part of the physical world. The interpretation of the facts (or data), on the other hand, is an exercise in reason. And unless that reasoning is done correctly, then wrong answers are likely to result. I say likely because it is possible to reason incorrectly and still get a true answer by luck.

For example:
All cats are mammals.
All snakes are reptiles.
Therefore: All frogs are amphibians.

The conclusion is true but the syllogism is invalid. (For reasons I won't go into here.) So we have reasoned incorrectly with true premises and managed to get a correct answer. This is not the real beauty of deductive reasoning (reasoning from the general to the particular). The real beauty of deductive reasoning is that IF one has true premises AND a valid (structurally correct) form of argument, THEN the truth of the conclusion is CERTAIN. By certain, I mean 100% of the time. Necessarily true. Impossible to be false. This will be so important in so many ways that I must belabor it one more time. If a deductive argument is valid (structurally correct) and the premises are true (the argument is sound), THEN the conclusion HAS TO BE TRUE. It is impossible for the conclusion not to be true. I will demonstrate this later. Meanwhile, back to the scientific method...

To reiterate the most important observation we make about the "scientific method." It starts with reason and data. This is fundamental and probably the most important observation about the scientific method that we can make. It starts with reason and data. This means that we reason from evidence to conclusion. Let me say that again. We reason from evidence to conclusion. If we start with something besides reason and evidence (for example, a metaphysical assumption that is not a first principle, or directly deducible from first principles) THEN WE ARE NOT "DOING" SCIENCE. We are engaged in (poor) philosophy or (poor) religion or (poor) theology or something else but it is NOT SCIENCE. Nor is it intellectually honest in any way, shape, or form. If we want to have intellectual integrity we must start with reason and the evidence and go wherever that takes us. Wherever that may be. Whether you like where that is going or not. Intellectual integrity DEMANDS that we do not reason improperly or lie about, or misrepresent, our evidence. The two major crimes against Truth are reasoning incorrectly and corrupting the evidence. If we do either one of these things, particularly if we do them deliberately, we have forfeited the right to be taken seriously and are deserving of contempt. In my opinion, anyway. I will have much more to say later.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A few more thoughts on reason...

There is one more thing I think we need to be clear on before we go much further. And that is: Who, or what, is the ultimate authority when it comes to what is true? It's a fair question. Particularly since most (based upon my admittedly unscientific sampling techniques) people don't really even grasp the nature of the question. Usually the answer is something like, "Huh? What do you mean by that?"

Well, what I mean by that is, when we are forced to evaluate opposing truth claims, what is the final authority? Is it force of some kind or another? There are many examples of this. They range from parental authority to peer pressure to physical intimidation to lethal violence. Believe this or I'll kill you. Believe this or we won't accept you into the group. Believe this or you can't have the car keys. Or is it something else that really tells us what is true? I trust that you see that however compelling these "arguments" may be from a social point of view, they are completely irrelevant in determining what is true. No, for that, we need reason. Reason is the ultimate authority for what is true in and of the universe.

That's a bold claim, perhaps, but I think I can back it up pretty easily with a simple example. Let's say that you deny my claim that reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth claims in this or any universe that could possibly exist. Fair enough. Now what I will ask you to do is to justify your claim. Why is it that reason is NOT the ultimate arbiter of truth?

Now if you want to be taken seriously, this is when you have to make an argument for your assertion. But the problem is (for you), that as soon as you begin to give me reasons why reason doesn't rule, you are, guess what, reasoning. Yes, reason is another one of those "first principle" kind of things. It is inescapable. It is part of our nature. It is part of the fabric of the universe. It is a universally effective method for arriving at truth. It is universally effective today. It was universally effective yesterday. It was universally effective 14.7 billion years ago and will still be universally effective 300 billion years from now. It is just as effective on the moon, or on some distant star in a galaxy far, far, away. So, we see that reason is pretty powerful. In fact, I will again say that even God, if He exists, cannot defy reason. One of the things we will consider later on is why this might be so. Why is it that reason, or we might say "the law of thinking," is universally valid at all times and everywhere?

So the bottom line is that to deny reason is to use reason. Therefore, it is self-contradictory to deny that reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth. And since we cannot deny it, we must accept it. Well, we must accept it if we want to retain any sort of intellectual credibility or integrity. After all, how can one be expected to be taken seriously if one denies what is obvious to everyone? Or if one denies what literally cannot be rationally denied? I belabor this point only for the reason that eventually I will point out example after example of "intellectuals" who, on the one hand, claim that they are disciples of reason. They claim the intellectual high ground because of their unshakeable commitment to reason. Yet, as we will see, they could not possibly be more irrational. For time and time again, they will deny the very things that they profess when it suits them. They will violate the law of non-contradiction. They will violate the laws of being and identity. They will deny the rules for making valid inferences. They will commit all kinds of logical fallacies. It's really an interesting thing to see this. And they get away with it, by and large. But not here.

Monday, June 9, 2008

In the beginning...

Before I launch into all that I have to say about things, I think it only fair to let you know how I think. How I determine what is true. My epistemology, if you will. It's pretty simple, in the end, so you be the judge if it makes sense or not.

If you read any philosophy at all you will quickly see that different philosophers throughout history have started in various places in their search for truth. I have read a lot of philosophy (but still only a tiny fraction of what's out there) and frankly, I find most of it wanting. So rather than try to critique different philosophers like Descartes, Hume, Kant, and so on, I will present my point of view and just take cheap shots at the "dead white guys" when it suits me. I need to do this because these men (Descartes not so much) still have influence today even though their thinking is deeply flawed. You may be wondering "who are you to be critiquing famous philosophers that are still read centuries after they died?" Well, that's a good and fair question. My answer is that in the end you will just have to judge for yourself if I make my case or not.

After much thinking about it, I have decided that the place to start is at the beginning. That is more profound than you might think at first blush. Unfortunately, I'm not the first guy to figure that out (see Aristotle), but rather than try to explain him, I'll just explain me. There is no claim to originality here. Perhaps some synthesis at most. I think I have had two original ideas in my whole life so far and I will let you know, with great fanfare, no doubt, what they are when the time comes.

(As an aside, if you read a lot and think a lot about what you read, then you will have many "a ha" moments. Moments of discovery when you, well, maybe not you, but I, think, I just had an original idea. No one has ever thought of that before. It's exciting but unfortunately, almost every time I subsequently read something else soon after where the author not only has thought of what I thought but explained it much better than I ever could. Damn them. Except for those two times.)

I think the place to start in our quest for knowledge is with what we cannot deny. In other words, I think it best if we build our foundation of knowledge on rock solid truths that are literally undeniable. (Everyone knows them even if they are ignored or suppressed.) So if we start with undeniable principles, and reason correctly from there, we should have a pretty good shot at arriving at the truth. But, you say, reason isn't enough, we need data, or facts, or empirical evidence, too. That is correct. There have been people in the past who said that reason is the only way to knowledge (I'm grossly oversimplifying here) and there have been people who say that the only way to knowledge is by sense experience. The former are called rationalists and the latter are called empiricists. They both have a point, but coming to the truth requires BOTH reason AND empirical (sense experience) evidence.

So what are these truths? Again, with apologies to Aristotle, I think we start with what we cannot deny. So what can we not deny? The first thing is that we exist. If you exist, then the most fundamental thing you can say about yourself is that you exist. It's undeniable because in order to deny your existence you would have to exist. I hope at this point, we are all still in agreement. So we exist. Let us abstract from the fact of our existence that "existence is." Or we may say "Being is." This is the fundamental ontological claim that can be made. So what else do we know that is undeniable?

We know that we are who we are. We have identity. I am I and you are you. This may seem ridiculously simple minded to you but please, please bear with me because you will see later on that many people today who loudly proclaim "truth" routinely deny these fundamental principles. We may also describe Identity by saying that "Being is Being." A thing is what it is, in the common tongue.

So we know that we exist (Being) and we know who we are (Identity). These are called First Principles of reasoning. Being and Identity. They are undeniable. They are known by everyone (with a normal mind). They also are not material. (This will be HUGE later on.) They also are therefore not explainable by physics or chemistry or biology. (This will also be HUGE later on.)

Now, if these first two principles are true, and they are, we can state them in a little different way which will be more useful to us. I like to say: "There is a way that things are." "There is a way" is another way of saying Being and "that things are" is another way of saying Identity. We can see immediately that this is an acceptable way to express Being and Identity because it is impossible to deny that "there is a way that things are." It's impossible because if I deny that there is a way that things are, I am, in fact, claiming that there is a way that things are. Perhaps this is a bit too abstract so let me illustrate with a concrete example. If I claim that the way things are is that God exists and you say that is not so, then you are claiming that there is a way that things are that God does not exist. In either case, THERE IS A WAY THAT THINGS ARE. I hope I have made this crystal clear because it is so important. It is important because it is, as far as I can tell, the fundamental ontological truth upon which all other truth is based.

Now, you may be thinking, well so what. What have you really said so far? After all, I don't know a thing about HOW THINGS ARE. Granted, but we are just getting started so again I beg for patience. There is a distinction that needs to be made here and perhaps now is the time. Ontology (the study of what exists, or being, if you will) is different from epistemology (the study of knowledge, what we can know and how we can know it). Unfortunately, this fundamental difference is often ignored and as a result, contemporary "intellectuals" (an intellectual being someone who writes a book about philosophical or scientific things - in other words, not me) often say some really, really stupid things. Let me give you an example. In the field of ethics, which is notorious for this kind of thing, and I will argue strenuously for my example later, people often say something like: "well in this situation I do not know what the right thing to do is, so... (here it comes) there must not be a right thing to do." NO. NO. NO. The fact of the matter is that THERE IS a right thing to do but maybe we just don't know what it is. That is the difference between ontology and epistemology. There is a right (and wrong) because there is a way that things are (ontology).

Just because we may not know what that is in some, or many, circumstances, just means that we don't know (epistemology). It doesn't mean that right and wrong, for example, don't exist. This confusion is profound, as we will see, and it is also pervasive in some circles where people should know better. You don't have to accept, at this point, that right and wrong exist, I haven't made that case yet. I merely used it as an example to illustrate the confusion that often exists between ontology and epistemology. I could have used a different example, in fact, let's do that. Let's say that just because physicists have not yet discovered a way to unify quantum field theory and gravity that there is no unification to be had. But this seems clearly false to me because there is a way that things are and they can't be different in the same universe. So this is an epistemological issue and not an ontological one.

Now if you are observant, you will have noticed that I just made an assertion for which I gave no arguments, or reasons, for its truth. I said that there is a way that things are and they can't be different in the same universe. What I mean by that, and I hope this is a good way to get back to First Principles because we are not finished with them yet, is that if there is a way that things are, then, we know, by immediate inference, that is, no further reasoning is required, that there is a way that things are not.

How do I say that? If Being is Being, and it undeniably is, then we must immediately know that Being is not also non-Being. I hesitate to get too pedantic here but this is the crucial and most fundamental rule of logic (or reason, if you prefer) so if I insult your intelligence in the next few sentences it is only out of necessity. Let me say it again in a slightly different way. Being cannot be non-being. Something cannot BE, and NOT BE, at the same time and in the same way. This should not require a lot of reflection. Let me say it with a couple of examples just to make sure we are clear on this. A "1" cannot be a "2." Because a "1" is a "1" and a "2" is a "2" (or to follow the syntax of my claim, a "2" is a specific instance of a "not 1.") So it is impossible for a "1" to be a "1" and a "not 1." It is impossible for me to both exist and not exist. You can't have a million dollars in the bank AND not have a million dollars in the bank. It is impossible for God to exist AND not exist. I use the word impossible in a literal sense. It is not possible for opposing truth claims to both be true.

Okay. This is called the law, or principle, of non-contradiction and it is absolutely critical and necessary that we are all on the same page with this. Because this is part of the foundation. We have to start in a place where we agree and we must agree on first principles because they cannot be denied. That's the thing about first principles, they are FIRST in the chain of reasoning. There is nothing prior to them. We all know them because we all experience them directly with our minds. They are apparently built in to the structure of our minds because every normally mentally functioning human being knows them regardless of language, sex, culture, race, or whatever. At the risk of offending you one more time let me explain one more time in a little different way why the law of non-contradiction is undeniable. Here is perhaps an easier way to say that Being cannot equal non-Being. Let's say that "opposing truth claims cannot both be true." That's another way of expressing the law of non-contradiction. Opposing truth claims cannot both be true.

So how is that undeniable? Here's how. If I say that opposing truth claims can be true AND not true, what am I saying? First I am saying that they can be true and not true, but I am also saying that they cannot be true and not true. Thus my statement is self-contradictory and therefore false. I'll tell you how powerful these laws of Reason are. Even God, should He exist, can not do something logically impossible. Even God cannot make 1 = 2. Or, for the empiricists (scientists), an electron cannot be an electron and a photon at the same time and in the same way. The speed of light in a vacuum cannot be (approximately) 186,000 miles per second and not be 186,000 miles per second. The laws of thermodynamics cannot be true and not true. Well, I trust that we are all on the same page so far.

The law of non-contradiction is closely connected to our next bit of immediate inference which is that something either exists or it doesn't exist. There is no middle ground. Either being or non-being. Either 1 or not 1. Either true or not true. Either, well, you get the point. This point is called the law, or principle, of the excluded middle and it goes hand in hand with the law of non-contradiction. Opposing truth claims cannot both be true and a truth claim cannot be both true and false. In fact, it is either true or false. Concerning all truth claims, true and false are the only two possible answers in an ontological sense. We may not KNOW which is true and which is false but in all truth claims, the answer is either true or false. I hope this makes sense. I will have more to say about First Principles later but for now let's summarize.

Principle 1. Being is. This is called the law or principle of Being.
Principle 2. Being is Being. This is called the law or principle of Identity.
Principle 3. Being cannot be non-Being. This is called the law or principle of non-contradiction and it can also be expressed as "opposing truth claims cannot both be true."
Principle 4. Either Being or non-Being. This is called the law or principle of the excluded middle. It means that EVERY truth claim is either True or it's not.

If we can agree on these, and I don't see how we cannot, then I can continue with the remainder of my epistemological stance. Or, said plainly, how we can know what is true. But not tonight.