A vehicle for venting on philosophy, religion, and the general state of things. Proprietor: C. W. Powell

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Dead Men's Voices

You should keep up with reading Dead Men's Voices. This is really good stuff.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cherry Picking and Truth

Cherry Picking Posted by Picasa

This blog has been revised and updated.

This is to continue the theme of my last blog. Because it is impossible to know everything about anything we resort to "cherry picking." President Bush was accused of "cherry picking" the facts concerning intelligence prior to the war with Iraq in order to gather those facts which would justify entry into the war. Cherry picking one set of facts, some come to the conclusion that Bush is very evil and lied to get us into a war with a nation that was no threat to us. Cherry picking another set of facts, some conclude that he is a saint and a great American hero for having the courage to face evil and spare our nation from that evil.

But what else was he to do in the modern intellectual climate? Literally millions and millions of factoids are gathered every day by the sophisticated electronic and photographic intelligence, people on the ground, agents in other countries, and the intelligence of other countries that is shared with the United States. How is this organized? I suspect that it is filtered and reviewed electronically first by computers to sort out what appears to be relevant and reports are printed. These are further analyzed for "relevance." Then people look at them and put together reports for other people to look at. Along the way literally millions and millions of facts are discardeded. Who is to know what relevant factoid may be in that mass of discarded information? How is relevance decided? At what point in the long, long continuum from knowing nothing to knowing everything does the information become true? And even with our great technology, how far are we from knowing everything?

To change the illustration: in the millions and millions of factoids about people's lives, how does the historian decide what factoids are important? What filter does he use? Has he read all the books? The simple truth is that the further we go back the fewer are the sources. What do we know about the daily lives of the people of Europe in the first century after Christ? How many sources are there? How many firepits dug up, how many dwellings have been excavated? How much information is lost completely, and how much information is still buried and will never be found? How can such things be known? If we knew more about Gaul we might conclude that Caesar was justified in killing a million or so of them. At what point in the long, long continuum from knowing nothing to knowing everything does the information become the truth? If we cannot understand that, then what is the purpose for history?

Gilbert's policeman did not have a happy lot because as he put it: "When a 'coster's finished jumping on his mother, he loves to lie a-basking in the sun." If all we knew about the man was that he loved to get a good sun-tan we might think him a jolly good fellow, but one other factoid--the fact that he regularly assaults his mother--changes our perspective. On the other hand, additional information about his mother might change again our perspective on whether he might be justified in beating on his mother. At what point in the long, long continuum from knowing nothing to knowing everything does the information about the 'coster become the truth?

But what if character is revealed by what facts you choose to "believe." If I believe that my character is revealed by the facts I choose to "believe" and yours is revealed the same way, then I can be certain that I am a good guy by carefully cherry-picking. You will be convinced that you are a good guy, too, by carefully cherry-picking another set of facts, how are we ever to talk to each other? At what point in the long, long continuum from knowing nothing about ourselves to knowing everything about ourselves does the information about ourselves become the truth? If we compare ourselves among ourselves are we wise?

Still another illustration. Darwin was certain that the "fossil record" would prove the truth of evolution. So for a hundred years or so, millions and millions of dollars and man/woman hours have been spent assembling the "fossil record." It seems to be more and more elusive the farther we go. But have we only scatched the surface? How many milliions and millions of bones and petrified objects and other objects of interest lie beneath the ground and beneath the oceans, or even in the oceans. What lies fourteen thousand feet under Pikes Peak? At what point in the long, long continuum from knowing nothing to knowing everything does the information become the truth?

Still another illustration. Does the truth of a proposition lie in its utility, as "evolution is true because it enables us to explain things we couldn't explain before"? If so, then what keeps magic from being a reliable tool for explanation. Why can't a curse be the reason for the calf having two heads, or the house burning down, or the hail destroying the crops? Could homosexuality be the result of a curse, or is it a blessing? But, science doesn't permit the supernatural, does it? No, but who is to say a curse is supernatural. Why cannot a curse have a perfectly natural explanation? Is it even possible to define a curse? People lie, and may pretend to cast curses when they cannot do so. Are there those who can? Does a pretended curse have the same effect as a real curse if the person cursed believes he is cursed? Maybe, but maybe examining a curse has the same effect as observing a photon: the observation changes the properties. If that would be true we would have no way of knowing whether the curse was cast or if it was a real curse at all or not. Has all the information been gathered about curses? What effect does bad language have on plants and children and people and pets? Maybe there are forces and influences in the world that "natural" science hasn't studied and cannot study because observation changes the properties of that which is studied. Why is this unreasonable? Some work has been done on the paranormal, but what are we to make of such things? The Bible and other ancient sources say a great deal about curses. Hiel felt the effect of the curse of Joshua many years later, when he rebuilt the city of Jericho. Noah cursed the Canaanites. Have all the curses been studied? At what point in the long, long continuum from knowing nothng about witchcraft to knowing everything does the information become the truth? To reject it out of hand is to go against the testimony of a great many people. By what art is that rejection done?

Is the only solution agnosticism? Is there nothing that can be known for certain? One young postmodern expressed it this way, "There is nothing I would die for, because I might be wrong." Is this the way the world ends, not with a sigh, but a whimper?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Historical Fictions - Books & Culture

At the link above D. G. Hart reviews Peter Charles Hoffer's Past Imperfect . It is well worth the read and is a good diagnostic of the state of historical studies today.

This is an important and relevant article, in my view, but the author may be spitting against the wind in the present climate of history. I am reading David Fischer's 1970 book, Historians' Fallacies, right now. He was trying to come to a "logic of historical thought." It evidently didn't "take."

Michael Polanyi's irrationalism has had a great influence on all the "sciences" in the last half of the last century. How can you know anything if you can't know everything? If history is more than storytelling, then how do you choose which facts to tell? Polanyi denies the possibility of objective science in favor of the art of science, that the scientist must study under a master until he is instinctive about his choice of which facts to accept and which facts are "anomalies."

Do we practice theology that way? Some do, and they shelve the verses that don't "fit" or they torture them to fit. They get a bigger hammer. But IS theology an art by which we pick and choose which "fact" of the Bible or "nature" we choose and which are anomalies that can be safely discarded? I think not.

I think Hart is looking over the bottomless pit and asking himself the question "In the long, long continuum between telling everything and telling nothing, at which point does the story become a lie?" The Iraqi was will look very different from the perspective of the man whose house has just been destroyed by a terrorist bomb from that of a member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs. Everyong knows THAT, but what is TRUE?

On a more fundamental level, how can there be a logic of anything if words have no meaning? It is the crisis that Postmodernism has brought us to from Kant and the others. We are as foolish as Hart's modern historians if we take these presuppositions into theology.

"All that hate me love death" Prov. 8:36

Monday, February 20, 2006

Media Ignore Saddam's Uranium Bombshell: "Tape recordings released over the weekend show that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program at least as recently as 2000 - but the press has decided the bombshell development isn't newsworthy."
The Vice Presidential hunting mishap is much more worthy news, because the feckless democrats can make immediate political hay from it. If Saddam DID have WMD's and successfully hid them, that would make Dubya look like a rocket scientist, and we can't have THAT, now can we?

The problem is moral rot, of course. When too large a segment of a society cannot tell the difference between truth and error, then they are open to political and social pipedreams and conspiricy theories and the very fabric of institutions begin to unravel, and the fissures between warring factions become greater and greater. When too many people are willing to say ANYTHING and make ANY charge, no matter how irresponsible and far-fetched--in order to gain an immediate politcal advantage, everything begins to fall apart. May it not be so with us, but may the citizens of this great country understand the grave issue involved.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sun Feb 19 2006 10:57:36 ET

If the nation's top magazines have the pulse of the country -- get ready for another exhaustive week of exhaustive Cheney shooting coverage!

This just in... Both TIME and NEWSWEEK are planning high impact covers of Cheney for newsstands starting tomorrow, with each magazine rolling out top staff bylines and thousands of words on the hunting incident: TIME: With deep reporting by John Cloud, Mike Allen and Matthew Cooper/ Washington, Cathy Booth Thomas and Patricia Kilday Hart/ Austin, and Hilary Hylton. NEWSWEEK urgently brings in its big investigative guns: Evan Thomas, Michael Isikoff, Daniel Klaidman, Richard Wolffe, Holly Bailey, Mark Hosenball and Eleanor Clift in Washington and Carol Rust in Texas. "
They are completely out of touch with reality.

Dick Cheney is a real patriot to put up with this stuff. He doesn't need the money, the stress, the foolishness, but he is faithful to his office and does his job because he loves his country.

Do these reporters who live by lies and slander love anything?


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