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  • Somewhere to Start – Thoughts on Thinking

    2012 - 01.29


    Somewhere to Start  


    © 2012   by Charles P Mosley


    Where do you stand to view truth?  This is a question fraught with difficulties in the minds of many young people.   Having learned multi-cultural appreciation, along with a sense of their finitude, doubts about the “truths” they learned in a more insulated environment can be overwhelming.   They become aware of unanswered questions, challengers of their faith, hypocrites in the camp, and the sincerity of others who believe differently.  This can lead to a desire to start a new search for truthSo where does this search start?  How can dads help?

     The problem of finiteness

    Whether we want to admit it or not we are finite.  Finite mean limited.  This fact haunts us in our search.  We start from where we are both in time and space. We live in bodies.  We are limited in where we can go in time and space. We can only physically be one place at a time.  Not only is that so, but our ability to know limited.    In light of this how reliable are any positions we take?  The realization of our finitude and our desire to know can drive a young person to cynicism about claims of truth and living in a state of doubt.    All things seem to be relative.

    Does being finite really mean we can’t know?  I think not.   For instance consider the statement, “I know that it is true, we can’t know anything.”  It is a statement of existence.  The thinker asserts his own existence.    The statement is self-negating since it cannot both be a true statement and true.  The fact that we can make the observations that we have made about the statement points to the concept of objective truth.  Objective truth is truth which is not dependent upon our recognition or point of view (hence relative); it is real outside of the knower.

    Knowing that we can know objective truth does not mean that there are truths we can’t know for sure.  In deed many things are beyond our ability to be sure based simply on reason.  For instance, how did the universe originate?  What is the nature of the spiritual world?  Does it exist?   Some might even add, the question, “ Is reason reliable?”.

    Some of these questions would require a way to clearly dismiss various reasoned systems (philosophies) regarding these matters.  This is not always an easy undertaking.   History is certainly a tool in such a forensic endeavor.   Consistency with known truths is another approach.   But, what if there are no observers or records?  What if the observers and recorders are biased, mistaken, or simply liars?

    This is the dilemma of our finiteness.  We conduct our lives within a set of beliefs, yet only a few of them seem not to be subject to question from other systems of thought.   In short, how much can we really know?  How do we, in light of this uncertainty, decide which system to follow in the business of living?

     The Blessing of Revelation

    Our limitations are basic and significant.  We are not self generating creatures.  We must be given things.  We are given our bodies, our minds, and even our souls.   Each one of these things is not sufficient of itself.   Our bodies need food, but which foods is life sustaining?   Our minds need input from our senses to deal with the world around us, but which information from our senses are reliable?   Our souls yearn for life, yet there are ways that seem like life but lead to death.   We need to connect to things outside of ourselves.  We need objective truth.  Things that are true not only when we see it, but even when we don’t see it.  Just like America existed before European’s arrived, objective truth exists even we don’t see it.

    Our minds work though a process of deduction which is based on a concept of negations when it comes to discerning objective truth.   Negation[1], as used here, means elimination of something because of lack of fit.  For instance a person may decide that a red socks do not go with a brown suit.  This does not mean that no socks go with the suit.  It simply means red socks don’t go.

    Negation does not affirm that that which opposed the eliminated something is objectively true.   In our example, just because we reject the argument of the person supporting the red socks, does not mean we support the person arguing that green socks are appropriate.  Because of this we can hold many related and unrelated ideas.  (Tan socks are ok, as well as leaving for church at 9:45 AM) These ideas become points of reference for negation of ideas that may be attacked by a number of held ideas.  The more ideas an idea is attacked by the more likely it is to be eliminated as relating to objective truth.

    In order to use negation we must have information to compare received information to.   From the moment we are conceived we begin to receive input.  We take information in through our senses.  To the extent the inputs can be accepted together they begin to form a system for fitting other inputs into.

    Information is constantly received through our senses.  We react consciously and unconsciously to this information.   For instance we may be unconscious of our reaction to sensing cold or warmth on our skin, but very aware (conscious) of thinking through what we are going do about an offer of free tickets to an event.  If the information does not fit our currently accepted system we adjust our accepted system to manage the information.  In some cases we modify our system to include the information with favor.  For instance information about ancient Jerusalem will be accepted as expanding our understanding of the Bible.   In other cases, although we acknowledge receipt of the information, we place it in the category of things that are not objectively true.   The category, depending on our age, may include the Easter Bunny , elephants with wings, and uncritical trust of strangers .  In some cases we s worldview, faith, revelation, reason, bible, dad, uncle, negation, contradiction, christian uspend categorizing the information.  Most systems have a place to hold information that seems to contradict our accepted system while we await more information.  For instance if we suspect someone is playing a joke on us.    By contradiction we generally mean that the information seems to call for an adjustment to our accepted system, but the current system seems to have a defense that the information does not seem to overcome.  In light of this a system adjustment is not made.

    A system may adapt through small changes or major changes.  For instance an apology and the conversion of Paul are radically different in magnitude.  The adaption means that the senses must introduce information that overcomes defenses of the currently accepted system.   The number of defenses that topple will determine how foundational the system change is.  If the defense of  a foundational idea is overcome the change will be radical since all lesser defenses tumbled with that of the foundational idea.    By way of analogy consider accounts of cities be captured by forces gaining access to the inside of the City by false gift, tunnels, or diversion of rivers flowing through the city.  The fall of central portion of the City resulted in the resulting fall of the remainder.

    The giving of truth we call revelation.  Revelation is something that we have been involved with since we were born.  Our parents reassured us through how they stimulated and responded to us that they cared or we were safe.  We did not know but they did.   They introduced us to our relatives.   We proceeded based upon this knowledge in our relationships.   They related their life experiences in hopes that we would benefit from proceeding based upon their experience.   As we grow there are other sources of revelation.    It may be through a history book, other relatives, or some other source that relates what we can’t deduce or see.   Proceeding based upon this input allows us to get past obstacles of knowing in our finiteness and reach higher heights of truth.

    Many things we know did not come from our own experience or deductions.  We were given them.    Yet through proceeding based upon this knowledge we have seen the truth of it.  This type of comprehension of truth through starting with an assumption and having it confirmed in experience is the type of understanding spoken of in John 7:17.   Several passages in the Bible point out that outcome are a way that truth can be evaluated. (Matthew 12:33; Gal. 5:22; James 3:11; Hebrews 13:7).    This is the pragmatic revelation of truth.

     The Validity of Faith

    When we consider how we know objectively we can understand the validity of faith.  Coherence of our reasoning (which is really the fitting of ideas together) is how we understand the nature of our existence.   This includes how we understand relations of the past, present, and future.

    We realize that we are always subject to being deceived, because we are limited.  Even when the truth we assert is based in history, or pragmatic demonstration it can always be asserted that we could be deceived.   It is a case of the tragedy where all seems well till the very end and some cruel twist renders appearances in a different, if not cruel light.  Our reasoning was faulty due to some missing information or a misplaced idea in our system.

    In spite of the possibility of deception we find we must conduct significant aspects of our life based upon “facts” that are not unquestionably demonstrated.  Our proofs do not silence all the objections raised by others.   This we call faith.   The truth of the matter is that we all act in faith.  We believe that the past gives indications of the future.  The present bears signatures of the past.  Otherwise we are paralyzed by the concept that there is no basis for understanding.   So all our actions would be plagued by doubt.

    Does the possibility of the tragedy of deception render faith invalid?  Or as some would assert, does it mean all faiths  are equally valid?   No.  Faith is to be distinguished from wishful thinking.   Faith is the extrapolation of that which we “know” to be true. It is not cut loose from objectivity.   Wishful thinking is guiding by what we think ought to be or what we would like things to be like.   It is hope moving without the guidance of evidence.   Through faith we act for the future, in light of what we know.  (Hebrews 11: 1 -6).  To the extent the faith is devoid of wishful thinking it will be more valid.


    The issue this paper sought to address was where to “start a new search for truth”.  The conclusion is that the search starts from where a person is.  Dads need to teach their children that they will constantly be assimilating new information into the system of belief they now hold.   Any system will always rely on revelation and faith for completeness.   In the process of assimilating the new information they need to beware of wishful thinking and making revisions to their system of belief prematurely.  Understanding reality through faith in God produces the greatest consistency for understanding the world we live in.

    [1] Negation as used here is not fully the logical concept of “not”.  This philosophical concept deals with not only with what it means to “not be”, but the otherness and distinction of “being”. For example “not white” is not necessarily as clear as being “blue”.  We are here dealing with the concept of “not real  vs real”, “fit vs not fit”.  Howeve,r the number of points at which a system views information as “not real” begins to build a refutation of it as not representing reality.  Similarity the number of points at which the system views the information as real builds a case for certainty.  This note to some extent based upon an article by Dan Faust titled The Concept of Negation; Logic and Logical Philosophy ;Volume 5 (1997), 35–48









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