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Logical thinking and the scientific method are tools that can be used to analyze
ideas and conduct useful experiments. However, it takes some degree of mental
discipline to use these tools effectively. It is often easier to assume that other
smart people have done the thinking for you and just take it on faith that what
they tell you is true.
Even when you do start on the path to thinking things through for yourself, you
may often stop when things become difficult. When logical thinking calls into
question a long held belief, it often seems easier to dismiss logic than to work
backwards and untangle all the interdependencies that you have built up.
If you are willing to take the time, the tools we discuss in this section will be
useful to you.
We would all like to have the answers all the time. But if you don't really have the
answers, the only way to work around your ignorance is to make something up.
You may think this seems like cheating – it would also seem to be a possible
source of false information. We have been talking about not taking things on faith
– this sounds like doing just that. However, if done properly, it's not. The way to
do it properly is by saying this:
We promise to always remember that we just made it up. We
also continually strive to reduce the number of things that we
are holding in our mind as ideas we can’t prove. But we will give
this idea the benefit of the doubt for now.
That is what an axiom is. It is something that we can’t prove and we know we
can’t prove, but we act like it is true anyway. It is a working assumption. This is a
very useful tool as long as we are willing to discard an axiom if we ever manage
to prove it is false. In fact, in logical thought, we don’t even think of our axioms as
being true or false – we think of other statements as being true or false based on
a given set of axioms. We must discard an axiom not only if we prove it false, but
also if we prove it true. If we prove it true, it stops being an axiom and becomes a
statement that we can prove or disprove based on our other axioms. We don’t
stop believing the provable ones – we just no longer consider them axioms.
We can only prove a statement true or false in relation to other axioms. We need
axioms, but we try to keep this set of made up stuff as small as possible so that
we can remember that it might just be bullshit.
It might help to look at your set of axioms as a logical tool kit – you want to keep
your tool kit as small as possible because it is something you have to carry
around with you all the time. You don’t want it to be too heavy. (The metaphorical
additional weight is the extra mental energy it takes to remember that each axiom
is something that may need to be discarded.) On the other hand, you want to
have the tools you need available when you need them, so you want your kit to
contain enough axioms to tackle any particular thinking job.
So where do you get these axioms from? How do you start assembling a tool kit?
The most common way to create an axiom is to try things that seem universally
true to us. Axioms are just assumptions that we make – and you know what
happens when you ASSUME – that’s right, you have heard this one before, it
means you consider something to be true which is not necessarily true.
This can be dangerous, so we should look for axioms that seem to accurately
reflect the real world, and that we think will prove useful to our continued survival
So far this is pretty easy. The hard part comes when we start working with our
axioms. Continuing to use axioms just because they seem true sounds like a
recipe for a logical train wreck, however, we also require that they cannot be
proved false. If a path of experimentation and logical reasoning, using our set of
axioms, produces a logical contradiction, then those axioms cannot be used
together. This process allows us to see which axioms can work together to form
a particular world-view, and that can be applied consistently to the observable
world around us.
Axiom 1: GOD is omniscient (All knowing)
Axiom 2: GOD is omnipotent (All Powerful)
Axiom 3: GOD is omnibenevolent (All Good)
Experimental evidence: Bad things happen to good people
This is a classic religious mystery – a case where the axioms which a religion
asks us to take on faith seem to disagree with observed reality. If GOD can see
all evil, has the power to fix all evil, and does all good, then why is there still evil
in the world?
Logic dictates that such a conflict be resolved by either modifying the axioms, or
further experimentation showing that our evidence is faulty. Some possible
• Change or remove axiom 1 – GOD isn’t always watching. In The Bible it
says on the seventh day GOD rested. Perhaps he is still asleep and isn’t
currently in omniscient or omnipotent mode.
• Change or remove axiom 2 – GOD'S powers are limited in some way.
For example, we might decide that GOD can not have two different
contradictory things happen at the same time, or must allow some rules
of causality. If faced with a choice of having some evil now lead to
greater good later, or allowing some small evil now to avoid a greater
evil later, then GOD will make a choice in favor of the greater good or
the lesser of two evils.
• Change or remove axiom 3 – GOD doesn’t feel the need to be good all
the time. Some or all of the time GOD leaves it up to us to be good or
evil while just observing us. God does not always get involved.
Sometimes GOD just gets caught up in watching the show. (This is
probably an easy thing to have happen when you are all seeing!)
• Question the experimental evidence – are we sure that bad things
happen to good people? Perhaps those people were really bad, and we
just can’t see as deeply as GOD. When your grandmother was hit by
that bus – is it possible she was on her way to a secret meeting of Satan
worshipers? Or perhaps the evil that we perceive is actually good for us.
Nietzsche said that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Maybe
GOD is just helping us build up some good spiritual toughness.
There are even additional unstated axioms here that can be questioned. Is their
only one universe? Perhaps GOD created all possible universes – with all
possible events happening. If so, then His powers are even bigger than we might
have imagined in Axiom 2 – given our unstated axiom that we exist in the only
universe. Then from our single universe point of view it would appear that GOD
was not omnipotent, whereas GOD would actual be more omnipotent than we
can even imagine.
So when you see how fun and complicated these theological debates might get,
it makes it all that much more understandable that Priests are willing to give up
sex to just stay up all night talking about GOD instead.
The upshot of all this talk about axioms is that logic is not useful for proving
anything to another person with whom we have absolutely nothing in common.
One needs a common consistent set of axioms in order to argue logically on any
topic. We cannot use axioms that they do not share with us to prove our point.
If the level of disagreement is so fundamental that we can not agree on the
axioms, we can only try to convince the other person that it is more useful to
some shared goal to see the world in a different way. We can only suggest that
another person try out our axioms – we can not offer any proof for them.
This is another way in which a set of axioms is like a tool kit – it may be that there
are different logically consistent sets of axioms that are useful for thinking about
different topics. While it would be nice to have one set of super tools that could
handle any job, axioms, like the tools for building a house, end up in the
equivalent of special kits like plumber’s tools, electrician’s tools, carpentry tools,
Changing someone’s world view is not so easy and the great conflicts in the
world are not always caused by arguments within a single world view. They are
often caused by conflicting sets of axioms. Resolving such conflicts is only
possible by showing that there exists no need for conflict, that actions taken by
the believers of one world view do not affect those believing in the other, or that
some course of action is available which is acceptable to both.
Surprisingly often, the actions are not influenced by axiom choice so much as
bad logical thought. So let’s take a look at what passes for good logical thought.
How do we build new truths from our axioms?
The standard way to build new truths from known truths is called a syllogism.
This is a fancy word for combining two statements into a conclusion.
Here is the standard example:
Premise 1: All men are mortal.
Premise 2: Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.
The general pattern of each syllogism is, as you can see, three statements. Each
statement contains a subject, a predicate, an assertion or negation ("is" or "is
not"), and a degree of certainty ("some" or "all"). In any syllogism, there is a term
that is shared by each premise that is used to connect the other two terms that
end up in the conclusion.
Given the 2 possible positions of the connecting term in each of 2 premises, and
the 4 possible combinations of certainty and assertion/negation in each of 3
statements – some fairly basic math (2 x 2) x (4 x 4 x 4) shows us that there are
256 possible forms for a syllogism.
As it turns out, only 19 of the 256 produce logically consistent conclusions, so it
is important to be aware that just stating something in the above manner does
not make it correct – indeed if that is all you have to go on, the odds of it being
correct are small.
Here is an example of a faulty syllogism:
Premise 1: Most politicians are veterans
Premise 2: Most veterans are honest
Faulty Conclusion: Most politicians are honest
This "three uncertain" example does not work because the uncertainty in each of
the premises produces the possibility of no overlap at all. This is made more
obvious by using the same form of syllogism with two true premise statements
that produce a nonsense conclusion. For example:
Premise 1: Most cats are milk drinkers
Premise 2: Most milk drinkers put milk in their coffee
Faulty Conclusion: Most cats put milk in their coffee
Trying to create a nonsense conclusion using the same form of syllogism is a
good way to test if it is valid form.
5.3.3 The Scientific Method
So far we have talked about deductive logic, in which results are obtained from
the logical combination and progression of axioms. Perhaps an even more
powerful form of logical thought, however, is called inductive logic. Inductive logic
is the type of reasoning employed by the scientific method.
In inductive reasoning one starts with observations then formulates a hypothesis
concerning how such observations are produced. Experiments are then created
and formed to attempt to either demonstrate or invalidate the hypothesis. Only
after a hypothesis has remained unchallenged for quite some time does it obtain
the status of axiom or "scientific law" – and even then it may still be struck down
or altered by new evidence. Francis Bacon, one of the fathers of the scientific
There are and can be only two ways of searching into and
discovering truth. The one flies from the senses and particulars to
the most general axioms, and from these principles, the truth of
which it takes for settled and immovable, proceeds to judgment and
middle axioms. And this way is now in fashion. The other derives
axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and
unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of
all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.
If science has been at war with religion, then this is the reason. Science uses a
chain of logic in the opposite direction from religion. The most basic axioms are
not written in stone until every possibility has been explored. It discovers specific
small truths first, arranges them into larger theories, and comes to its most
general truths last of all. This is quite backwards from a religious philosophy.
Religions ask one to accept the big answers on faith and to hold to that faith in
the face of all opposition.
The scientific method asks that observation and experimentation should be taken
as the ground upon which to build a structure of logical reasoning – that such
grand ideas as the source of all creation should be a pinnacle to be reached only
when the structure below is completely solid.
Religion, conversely, starts with fixed ideas about GOD and heaven, and builds
down towards the Earth we can observe and test. Where the logical structure is
not quite able to reach the ground, it is declared that some things man was not
meant to know, or that divine mystery is beyond us, or that GOD will never
supply proof that would make faith unnecessary.
Some have argued that science is just a different religion, and this claim is
strengthened because some who call themselves scientists will often become
fixed in their beliefs, or project beyond what they can actually demonstrate
through experimentation. Quite a few scientists have a hard time saying, "We
have evidence that this is true," rather than "We know this is true."
The scientific method demands that when new evidence is found which
contradicts the existing structure, the whole structure MUST be shaken to the
ground and rebuilt brick by brick. Some scientists become very attached to a
long-standing logical structure, becoming quite fond of standing on its loftiest
peaks. When new observations require demolition and reconstruction, such
scientists can be found lying in the mud in front of the bulldozers, extolling the
greatness of the thinkers that came before them, much the same way the faithful
would speak of the prophets of their religion.
Other supposed scientists are drawn into the "either or" fallacy. When they see
some logical error, or contrary evidence, in a religious argument, they forget their
logic and jump to the conclusion that this proves the atheistic position, without
recognizing all the possibilities in between. Or they decide that religious people
are wrong to have faith in unproven ideas and that because the faith is wrong,
the ideas must also be wrong.
They fail to recognize that to deny something without proof is as much an
example of blind faith as it is to believe something without proof. It is as much an
act of faith to declare that you know that there is no GOD, as it is to be a true
The correct application of the scientific method allows a scientist to build up a
structure of ideas based upon an experimentally testable hypothesis. One can
not leap to any conclusions that one likes without the supporting experimental
evidence; one must find repeatable experiments that prove the conclusion.
Likewise, one can not reject such a structure simply because one does not like
the conclusion. Instead, we must create an experiment that shows its weakness.
This gives a logical structure great strength – in that each brick in its foundation
has been built logically, is testable, and need not be taken on faith. But it is also a
great weakness, in that any given brick can also be falsified and removed, and
this can bring the whole structure crashing down.
If there is a war between science and religion, it is like a robot fighting a
ghost; they can not touch each other; they do not share the same axioms.
If you are one of the faithful, real scientists do not reject your religious
observances to your God as being false. They reject your religion as being ill
defined, imprecise, not adequately tested or testable. They ask to see falsifiable
claims that can be tested. To them the key to truth lies in the opportunity to prove
falsehood. Unless and until you create quantifiable experiments that show that
through your prayer and faith, something testable happens, they will always see
your faith as irrelevant – not false, but if not potentially falsifiable, not worth
If you are a scientist, the truly faithful do not reject your scientific methodology.
They reject your science as being incomplete, of not reaching out to embrace the
whole universe. They want to have all the answers, to have a complete
understanding of the universe, and to know that their lives hold true meaning.
Unless and until your structure of logic reaches the final theory of everything, and
unless that final theory produces deeper meaning, they know they will be happier
having faith in their understanding. If your theories do not give their lives
meaning, they will be seen as not worth consideration.
The two viewpoints are not incompatible. However, any attempt at combining the
two is an attempt to bridge the missing gap between the growing mundane
foundation of a structure on the ground and the peaks of a lofty magical castle in
the air. One can be a scientist and have faith in things one can not see. However,
when one starts either rejecting scientific models based on religious convictions,
or gaining or losing faith in universal meaning based on scientific methods, one is
practicing bad science, bad religion, or both.
Some of the greatest scientists in the world have also been very religious, but it
is not an easy thing to look at the world both ways, and many have committed
errors of both science and religion in trying to do so. Einstein rejected models
based on probability theory, saying, "GOD does not play dice with the universe."
It just so happens that the end product of the probability-based models that he
rejected (Quantum electrodynamics) is a theory that has resulted in the most
accurate predictions concerning the physical world that humanity has ever been
able to make.
Why was this a sticking point for him?
We don’t know.
Surely Einstein did not believe that when he was at the craps table, GOD could
not predict or control his next throw of the dice. Then why did basing physical
predictions on probability theory at the sub-atomic level cheapen his concept of
GOD? His failure to allow his deity Omniscience and Omnipotence that could
transcend our concepts of uncertainty was bad religion, and his allowing this to
affect his pursuit of logical thought was bad science.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?