Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"What is Truth?" Said the Scientist to the Theologian.

Quid est Veritas. by Nikolai Ge
"Pilate therefore said to Him, 'Are You a king then?'
Jesus answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.'
Pilate said to Him, 'What is truth?'  And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, 'I find no fault in Him at all.' " 
John 18:37-38 (KJV)
"... it is still a metaphysical faith on which our faith in science rests--that even we knowers of today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire too, from the flame lit by the thousand-year old faith, the Christian faith which was also Plato's faith, that God is Truth; that Truth is 'Divine' [emphasis added]" Friedrich  Nietzsche, "On the Genealogy of Morality"
Last night I dreamt that I was judge, prosecutor, defense attorney and defendant in a trial about my conversion to the Catholic faith.   Here, as best as I can recall (having fudged the details) is an account of that trial.   (I'm not learned in the law, and it was a dream, so ...legal beagles, please excuse the deviations from procedure.)*

THE INDICTMENT

PROSECUTOR, SCIENCE, Opening Case:
The defendant has foresworn his devotion to reason and truth:  he has adopted a faith that has no rational or empirical basis.   He has wasted years of training (much of it at public or charitable expense).   As an apostate to the devotion of science, he has attempted to reconcile the ideals of his new-found faith with the corruption of fallible humans in the Catholic Church hierarchy, and with the continued criminality and licentiousness of its institutions.

Not satisfied with debasing himself, he has attempted to corrupt others by posting articles in his blog purporting that Science gives only a limited view of reality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 , 10).    Further, he has perverted Science by trying to reconcile the teachings of the Catholic Church with modern scientific theories, particularly those of quantum mechanics (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 1617).

Finally, the defendant has invaded the sphere of public policy, claiming that morality trumps public interest.  His Catholic ideology. with its peculiar notion that human life is endowed by a supposed Creator, requires him to oppose policies for reproductive choice and ending suffering of the aged, policies supported by science and social justice (1, 2, 3, 4).

For these offenses and others too unspeakable to mention, we demand that the defendant be banned from blogging and sentenced to hard time in a room where he will encounter his secret fear**.

THE DEFENSE

DEFENSE ATTORNEY, THEOLOGY: Cross-examination of Prosecutor***:
Question (defense attorney)::  How does science judge a theory or proposition to be true?
Response (prosecutor) By seeing what predictions a theory makes, and then making measurements to see if those predictions are met within some sort of error limits.

Question (defense attorney):  OK, then what predictions would a theory about quality of music make concerning the relative merits of Bach and Berlioz, and what would the measurements be?
Response (prosecutor): That's an easy one--you'd poll a sample of people and ask them to rate their liking for Bach and Berlioz on the standard Likert scale.
Comment (defense attorney):  Gee, there seems to be some missing elements in your answer.    What's the theory;  how do you define who would be in the sample--music critics, teen-agers, or ???;  and what would be...
Interjection (judge):  You're getting off-track, Theologian.   Get to the point!
Reply (defense attorney):  My apologies,  M'Lord****.   I was trying to show that science is not competent except in a very limited sphere and therefore cannot criticize the defendant for saying that science gives a limited view of reality.  It is not competent to make judgments in aesthetics, ethics, or any other matter which can't be subjected to replicated quantitative assay.

Question (defense attorney):  You've said that the defendant has foresworn his devotion to reason and truth.   Do you say that only science has reason and truth?
Response (prosecutor):  Well, I'd say that's the opinion of many scientists.  (Laughter in the court).    OK, that's a joke, but maybe not so much.   Science has given results that have made men's lives better and shown them what the universe is like.   What has religion done for men?
Question (defense attorney):   You didn't answer my question, so I'll repeat it.
Does science have a monopoly on reason and truth.
Response (prosecutor):  I plead the Fifth Amendment--refuse to testify on the grounds I'll incriminate myself.
Comment (defense attorney):  I'll answer for you.   There are a host of theologians and philosophers who have used reason to discover truth, from the ancient Greek philosophers--Aristotle and Plato--through the Catholic saints--Augustine and Thomas Aquinas--on up to present time.
Interjection (judge):  Mr. Kurland, that last comment was entirely out of order (although I agree with it).   Be careful or I'll eject you from the court.
Reply (defense attorney):  M,Lord, Judge Kurland, just to keep the record straight, my title is Dr. Kurland.

Question (defense attorney): You've said that the defendant has attempted to reconcile the ideals of his new-found faith with the corruption of fallible humans in the Catholic Church hierarchy.   Could you be more explicit about that corruption?
Response (prosecutor):  Well, you'd have to go back to the Renaissance, the Borgias and all those, and the Inquisition, and also those pederastic priests.
Comment (defense attorney):  I'll invoke what Queen Kristina of Sweden said after her conversion to the faith: "The Catholic faith must be true since the Church has survived so many bad people."    And your comment about the Inquisition and "pederastic priests" has been rebutted by others*****.

Question (defense attorney):  You said the defendant has attempted to reconcile the teachings of the Catholic Church with contemporary science, including quantum mechanics.    Can you point out any errors in the science he has discussed?
Response (prosecutor):  No I can't, but I bet there are some.


Question (defense attorney):  You said that the defendant has published articles against public policy on abortion and euthanasia.   How does science show that public policies promoting abortion and euthanasia would be correct?
Response  (prosecutor):  I can't in a limited space answer that question.
Comment (defense attorney):  In other words, you can't answer the question and the charge is not justified.

VERDICT

At this point the dream ended, as the Judge was pronouncing the verdict "I 
find the defendant .... "   (Dear reader, you fill in the blank.).   And we never did get around to finding out what was truth, but maybe that will come later.

NOTES

*Some of the Science Prosecutor's comments are drawn from an article by Lawrence Kraus, All Scientists Should Be Militant Atheists  and from comments on a post by Matt Briggs on this article.   I was originally going to do a trial, patterned after that in Prof. Peter Kreeft's audio book "Faith and Reason", in which Socrates would question me and Richard Dawkins, but I'm not sharp enough to emulate Socrates and I'm leery of putting words into Dawkins' mouth that might make him appear more informed and intelligent than he actually is.

**Shades of 1984!   My secret fear is being forced to eat gourmet food cooked by chefs who are "Chopped" judges.   What's yours?

***I told you this dream did not proceed according to standard legal procedures.

****The judge is also me, but the dream is in an English court so he is wearing a wig and addressed as "M'Lord.    (I'd been watching reruns of "Rumpole of the Bailey" that evening.)

*****See Myths about Priestly Pedophilia, Google Search Myths about Inquisition
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About Me

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Retired, cranky, old physicist.   Convert to Catholicism in 1995.   Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith.   Intermittent blogs and adult education classes to achieve this end (see http://rationalcatholic.blogspot.com/   and http://home.ptd.net/~rkurland)

Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC.
Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group.

And, finally, my motivation:
“It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking.
Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.