Reason and Truth

I’ve been following the US presidential nomination process for the Republican Party with both interest and bewilderment. The following are the talking points put forward by some candidates:

Michele Bachmann says should she be elected president next year, gasoline prices would come down from the current $3.6 to under $2 per gallon. Of course she did not mention how she could do it with rising oil demands and dwindling world reserves. Does she know that oil prices are controlled and set by OPEC and not by the US? Is this wishful thinking, deception, or possible policy?

Rick Perry says evolution is a “theory with gaps”. The gaps probably refer to his unwillingness to believe in evolution. He also says that global warming is based on manipulated scientific data. This reminds me of the old times in the 18th century and before when the Catholic Church in Europe ruled that new thinking and scientific discovery were heresies because they contradicted its religious doctrines.

Are we going back to the old times of un-reason and indoctrination? I don’t think so. In the end, truth and reason will prevail, as we have witnessed the broad and deep progress made since the 18th century. Let me show you the power of reason and truth that should be employed in daily life to guide us in this time of great change.

Reason is a gift (from God if you will) that shows the capability of the human mind to question its surroundings. Even a child knows asking why without being taught. He will ask more whys as he grows up. The fruit of reasoning is discovering the truth, which satisfies the mind and brings us progress. The truth seldom reveals itself fully. Reasoning opens more windows about the complex world around us. The truth will reveal itself more and more as we continue to reason and discover.

Unfortunately, this reasoning capability can easily be switched off by the individual out of his own free will (also a gift). It can also be suppressed by external forces. An authority such as a strict religion, a bad government, or a dictatorial regime can suppress the gift of reasoning through indoctrination or persecution. One can even suppress reasoning in a subtle way by misinformation, false advertising, or appealing to public fear and bias, which is usually employed in the political campaigns in democratic countries.

You will be surprised that in the long history of human existence, the age of reasoning only began to dawn as late as the mid 18th century in Europe, known as the Enlightenment. Since then, the world began to change faster and faster, especially as a consequence of the advancement of science and technology.

Have you thought about the handicaps that prevent humans from using their brains to reason? The following lists the handicaps, which still exist in many parts of the world today:
*Ancient customs or religions that suppress or discourage reasoning.
*An absolute monarchy thought to derive its mandate from Heaven.
*A government whose sole aim is to maintain power and control.
*A state-supported church with strict teachings and indoctrination.
*A hereditary aristocracy or upper class that controls most resources.
*A stratified society favoring certain elite groups.
*State of war or chaos that threatens everyday survival.

You will find that in the developed world, the above conditions no longer exist, or barely exist today. Once those stifling conditions start to disappear, progress will take root, launching the society on a path of advanced development.

What were the forces that caused those oppressive institutions to start crumbling in the mid 18th century? They were a combination of reason, truth, courage and faith. The critical part was that some great thinkers broke the negative attitude against applying reason.

On the other hand, some philosophers still adhered to the old negative attitude, one being David Hume (1711-76). According to him, the mind was an internal organ of the body. Although it could think, it could not know or be certain about what was going on outside the body. Although sounding somewhat logical, Hume’s argument contained a big flaw. The mind might not be absolutely certain what was going on outside, but it knew what was happening through the five senses connected to the outside if a person tried to apply them. That is why the hunter learned how to catch the prey; and the farmer knew when to plant and reap by observing the seasons and applying some common sense. So Hume’s skepticism about the human mind did not gain much traction. Besides, the benefits derived from reasoning were so great and so practical that they were impossible to ignore.

A series of new philosophical thoughts and scientific discoveries finally buried the negative ancient attitude. The mind could indeed reason and discover the consistent laws of nature to enable the improvement of the human condition. It required courage to pursue the truth without fear of persecution from the authorities. It also required faith in the consistency of truth being discovered, and faith in one truth leading to another as more windows were opened through reasoning, observation and experimentation.

The following lists some great thinkers and inventors and their works in the Enlightenment period that helped launch the world to a new era of modernity and progress:
*Copernicus (1473-1543): Modern astronomy rejecting the earth as the center of the universe.
*Bacon (1561-1626): Empiricism, scientific methods.
*Galileo (1564-1642): Observational astronomy, kinematics, dynamics.
*Descartes (1596-1650): Cartesian coordinate system, analytical geometry.
*Locke (1632-1704): Rights of life, civil liberty, religious toleration, government with the consent of the governed.
*Newton (1642-1727): The three laws of motion, gravitation, calculus.
*Smith (1723-1790): Economic theory, market system, capitalism.
*Watt (1736-1819): Improvement of the steam engine.
*Lavoisier (1743-1794): Conservation of mass despite matter changes form or shape.
*Faraday (1791-1867): Electromagnetism, electric motor.
*Darwin (1809-1882): Evolution by natural selection.

The world may have confused us, but the world is never as simple as we want to think. That is why we need to apply reason, observation, and experimentation to find out the truth. We should never allow others to feed us their so-called truths, either forcibly or in a subtle manner. If we do not reason before accepting them, we will wind up being misguided and misinformed, leading us to even more confusion at the end.

(August 2011)

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One Response to Reason and Truth

  1. Kevin Cotty says:

    Would love to constantly get updated outstanding weblog!

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