Thursday, October 29, 2009

A little philosophy: what is truth?

1 - Frederick Hayek's 1974 Nobel Prize (Econ) lecture: "I prefer true but imperfect knowledge, even if it leaves much indetermined and unpredictable, to a pretence of exact knowledge that is likely to be false." Hayek was speaking about the great unknowns in economics and political science, pointing out the hubris in assuming away the things we cannot measure in order to come up with estimates to the third decimal point of the effects of, say, government spending on unemployment. It works equally well in discussing spiritual truth. It is the humility to say, "I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things" and avoiding the pride that says my model proves there is no God because He does not show up in my experiments.

2 - An economist who writes philosophy (Steve Landsburg) just started blogging, and he argued that 1) the evolutionist who says "Evolution proves there is no God" is missing the point. It's not explaining life that's challenging, but why is there anything? and that 2) since mathematics and other extremely complex things are eternal and self-existent, there is no need for a Creator to create them. I responded thusly:

Y'see, part of the problem both you and he are bringing up is what we mean by "create." There is stuck in Western thought since the councils that create must mean "ex nihilo." But there is no Biblical support for that. The better term for what Gensis speaks of is "organize" rather than "produce from nothing." That is, in fact, the sense we usually mean when we talk of creating anything: we take the parts that are already there, physical and mental, and combine them to form a new thing. "In the beginning ... the earth was without form" not "In the beginning there was no matter."

Joseph Smith, some one hundred years before Einstein said the same thing, claimed that matter "was not created or made, neither indeed can be" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:29). Mormon/LDS theology has long accepted the eternal, 'independent existence' of God, the universe with all its matter, mathematics, and all of us. It's still not proof there is no God. Its eternal, self-existent nature is in fact one more type and shadow of Him.

There is much of that I do not understand. ... That may be a good thing.

3 - On the lighter side, Chris Blattman links us to three questions: Truth is a number? Truth is art? Art is numbers? A Chinese firm that sells art around the world produces composite pictures of the most and least desired art in various countries to show us what we want. For Americans, it appears to be George Washington by a lake. Kenya has remarkably similar taste. One of the artists explained:

"In a way it was a traditional idea, because a faith in numbers is fundamental to people, starting with Plato’s idea of a world which is based on numbers. ... we believe in numbers, and numbers never lie. Numbers are innocent. It’s absolutely true data. ... That’s really the truth, as much as we can get to the truth. Truth is a number."

Oy, my head!

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