Wednesday, July 15, 2009

More Logic

Spent a bit of time going over some old ideas, re ancient Chinese pictographs reputed to encode Biblical images. I'd read this book years ago, and had cause to dredge up some of its details. In those days there was no internet, to easily check things out, and I didn't want to become a scholar of ancient Chinese linguistics, so I just exposed myself to the ideas, hoping the facts were accurate. One of the negative Amazon comments, however, tears the book apart, or tries to. The critic makes a few good points, but overplays his case. The fact that there are errors in an argument does not disprove the case, nor does the fact that later efforts are made to make that case.

Point is, we really do hope that the advocates we read are accurate. Their thesis doesn't have to be correct -- we will decide that, based on a fair and diligent presentation and evaluation of the evidence. But we must, must have honest evidence. I'm a little fanatical about this. In my own nonfiction efforts I am, uh, Aspergerian in my demand for accuracy. We should, first of all, respect the intelligence of our readers, as they should respect our good faith. "Should" being a word pendulous of idealism.

What is the origin of humanity, and of life, and of the universe? Randomness, or purpose. Randomness is a non-starter, with me. I prefer science, you see, to superstition, and it is a universally observed fact -- the foundation of science being the systematic observation of facts -- that randomness does not organize. There is purposeless order, the way crystals demonstrate the proclivities of their atoms, or the way sand and gravel sort themselves into levels; but order is not organization, which in information theory embodies what is called the "surprise effect" -- an outcome that in no way can be predicted by purely and merely naturalistic forces. Nothing in the structure of the constituent materials will ever predict the creation of a watch or a computer or a brain. Whereas we can back-engineer a snowflake or a series of geological strata or a stack of poker chips.

We may not know the cause, but we know the nature of the cause, behind life. It is intelligent. Then it's just a matter of deciding what can be known about this cause. What the heavens declare is debatable, since we are assured that, like the poor, the foolish will always be with us. We should never argue about the natural world -- it's measurable, testable. Testimony, on the other hand, has to do with faith. Shall we trust the witness? Thus, we have religions that instruct us about creation. Since they contradict each other, they cannot all be true. Perhaps none of them are. But where they substantively contradict, only one of them can be true, if any.

The Bible? It tells us there was a point of creation, a specific family of man, a historic diaspora of humanity from Babel. This being the case, we would expect to find evidence in the most ancient myths and legends -- there being hardly any history from this period, since history requires writing, and none of that earliest writing comes down to us as primary documentation. Genesis is Moses' retelling, or at best, translation. Nothing wrong with that, since he was a prophet, but that's the way it is. Adam or someone close to his testimony preserved his story pictographically. Like petroglyphs -- just line drawings on rock walls that tell a story in what we might call cartoon format. Upshot is, we have testimony about how creatation was created, and how history got started.

The Chinese? They traveled outward from Babel, moving eventually eastward, settling finally in what we call China. The story of that family's migration? Perhaps it is remembered, as legends specific to their experience. Different clans would travel to different lands. Some survived, some dominated, some were absorbed, some perished. Of course. What we may be assured of is that the journey was not linear. It was an adventure. Peoples are created by epics. But we would expect them to remember, orally through poems and song and tales, or more tangibly through artifacts, pictures and eventually ideographs, both their own story, and the earlier story shared by all mankind. They should remember the Garden, and the Fall, and the Flood, and the Confusion. If they did not, it would repudiate either themselves, as a venerable people, or the reality of the Genesis story.

The idea that ancient Chinese writing remembers the earliest history of mankind supports the claims of Genesis. Here, say, or here. Is it proof? Of course not. It's support. We depend on the rigor of the authors. We hope that their faith and good-intentions are proportionate to their intellectual integrity. All this is elementary logic and basic scholarly etiquette. I am driven to distraction -- you know, talking back to the radio -- on a moment to moment basis, sometimes, when I hear pundits opining on NPR news shows. It's not that someone may be wrong. It's that the reasoning is so shoddy. It's annoying when the other side does it. It's much worse when my own side does it. It shames my cause.

Genesis? The Bible? Jesus? This is what I believe. It is a belief, which I cannot prove. I cannot prove any of it because it is a combination of science and history and logic, and as such it is interpretation, depending on the accuracy of the evidence and an acceptance of the premises. Logic only works if you agree on the rules. A syllogism: All men have beards; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates has a beard. But not all men have beards. And what is a man? And who is Socrates? And is Socrates a man? It's debatable even that all men are mortal. Not everyone will agree that randomness cannot bring about organization. Maybe it does, even though it's never been observed. And how are we to prove an opinion? If we could prove it, it would not be an opinion anymore. Opinions are asserted and supported with evidence. Facts are demonstrated.

See? I can be serious, and not silly, and not morbid. It just seems though that this is more of the same. Whether it's satire, or analysis, or a presentation of facts, why bother? It's just another form of eating and excreting.

And I've pulled another back muscle. I'm getting pretty damned tired of this. I have two real pleasures. Rationality, and physicality. Well, that's all of us, right? Mind and body? But Oprah and donuts don't qualify, to me. You should be ashamed of yourself.

The other thing I wanted to say was about pinching kids. It's a good thing. But I've gone on too long now, and you really will have to beg me, convincingly, to educate you in this matter. But trust me, it's a really good thing, and I can prove it.


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