How can it be argued that language and logic are two major tricksters in matters of understanding?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Thanks for the A2A, Vishwas.

  • “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.” ~Karl Popper
  • “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” ~Bob Dylan
  • “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.” ~George Carlin

Humans are irreducibly subjective. We can never be perfectly objective. We perceive reality via limited senses and those perceptions are further degraded by our error-prone brains. It's virtually impossible for us to relate beyond our own experience.

The good news is that our intelligence and understanding produces a reasonable facsimile of reality. A facsimile reliable enough to accomplish amazing feats of technology and scientific discovery.

When dealing with the external world, the disciplined approach we take with science can be applied to communication as well. We can convey, with words, reasonable facsimiles of our thoughts and ideas. We can't eliminate misinterpretations but we can usually express ourselves adequately enough for most situations.

When dealing with the internal world, it can be more difficult to convey our thoughts and ideas. Anybody who has tried to explain what an acid trip is like knows what I mean. The more subjective the concepts, the more difficult it can be to express them. Our deepest insights and emotions can elude verbal description. Poetry, music and other art-forms can often communicate internal experiences better than prose can. Art just might be the most human form of expression. Some things just are . . . there's no logic to them.

How can it be argued that language and logic are two major tricksters in matters of understanding?

My comment on an answer to Is it possible that in the future, the world will evolve and everybody will be an atheist?

My comment on an answer to Is it possible that in the future, the world will evolve and everybody will be an atheist? :

My comment on an answer to Is it possible that in the future, the world will evolve and everybody will be an atheist?

Did the idea of free will appear first in religion? Did god himself grant free will to humans according to religion? Do you think the rea…

Answer by Jim Ashby:

Clearly, an interceding God presents problems for free will. However, a cosmic God – a Creator who does not intervene in human affairs – might be compatible with free will if he keeps his omniscience and omnipotence to himself.

Despite the fact that most Christian denominations teach free will, the Bible itself is rife with determinism and predestination. If you look at actual human behavior and interaction, you'll see that we all live as if we have free will and affirm it in the things we say and do. When we take credit for our actions or blame others for theirs, we're paying lip service to free will. Similarly, the Bible has many verses consistent with free will but is, nonetheless, a largely deterministic tome. Here are just a few examples (for brevity, just the verses are listed) that clearly state that God determines who is going to heaven or hell and that there's nothing you can do about it:

  • Acts 13:48
  • Romans 8:29-30
  • 2 Timothy 1:9
  • Ephesians 1:4-5
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:11-13
  • Jude 4
  • Romans 9:11-22

Even the Lord's Prayer contains 2 instances of determinism:

  1. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.
  2. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

In an effort to understand why the Bible is so inconsistent on this issue, I tried many Google searches, using many keywords. I couldn't find dates for the concept of free will but I did find references to those who developed the concept. It appears that the concept of free will stems from the concept of freedom and that it grew very slowly, taking centuries to mature into a formal doctrine.

From the 4th century to the 2nd century B.C., the seeds of free will were being planted. Plato had a concept of rational governance which flirted with but skirted the concept of free will. Aristotle added an element of voluntary action but still skirted free will (as we understand it).

The first, rudimentary, form of free will appears to arise with Epicurus, around 300 B.C. Determinism did not mesh with his observations. He diverged from the strictly deterministic Atomists of his day by claiming that atoms do not move in a pre-determined way. Making the motion of atoms random allowed him to break the perpetual causal chain of events kick-started by the Prime Mover. This opened the door for his assertion that man has free will.

 At around 50 A.D., Lucretius wrote his epic (6-book) philosophical poem, “De Rerum Natura”, explaining Epicurean physics. In it, he explained how atomic collisions can occur in the first place and why it is necessary to postulate randomness in the motions of atoms ("an unpredictable ‘swerve’ at no fixed place or time"), to account for the evident fact of free will. Otherwise we would all be automata, our motions determined by infinitely extended and unbreakable causal chains. This uncanny resemblance to the randomness postulated by modern quantum physics has helped make this passage a favorite in the free will debate. But it is, in fact, Epicurus, not Lucretius, who originated the idea of indeterminacy in the motion of atoms.

It's hard to understand how the ramifications of free will would take centuries to fully reveal themselves to our ancient philosophers. With the introduction of Christianity and its ethos, particularly after it became the state religion (Roman Catholic Church) of the Roman Empire in 326 A.D., the development of free will was given a boost. Free will matured into doctrine, thanks largely to St. Augustine. He began advocating free will, around 400 A.D, to promote good works and responsibility for our own actions.

That's 700 to 800 years of free will as a neglected, fuzzy, immature concept! It's hard to imagine when most of us are now familiar with the concept(s) of free will.

The Old Testament was sealed about 200 B.C. (others claim it was sealed between 500 and 100 B.C.) and the New Testament was written between 45 A.D. and 140 A.D. This means that the concept (much less doctrine!) of free will didn't even exist in the region while the Old Testament was written and was, at best, a primitive and fuzzy concept when the New Testament was written. Free will still hadn't been fully fleshed out when the Roman Catholic Church was created in 326 A.D.

So it appears that the Bible is so inconsistent with the application of free will because a formal concept of free will wasn't available to the Bible authors. The authors believed in a deterministic world, so that's (mostly) the way they wrote.

Did the idea of free will appear first in religion? Did god himself grant free will to humans according to religion? Do you think the rea…

Does Islam encourage violence?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

If, by "Islam", you mean the ideology informed by the Quran and ahadith, then the answer is an unequivocal Yes. But I would add that ALL monotheistic religions have demonstrated violence and intolerance: particularly when united with powers of state. And Islam is the most monotheistic one of all.

In another answer, elsewhere on Quora, I've recently copy-and-pasted a very long list of ayat (verses) from the Quran that make it clear you must fight for Allah and Jihad. Rather than post it again, you can find many violent ayat by using Google search. Many hits will, of course, be from anti-Islamic sites but the ayat they quote will actually come from the Quran and should be accompanied by proper citations. There are also many from ahadith.

According to Islam there are 2 main divisions of the world: Dar al-Islam (House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (House of War). The House of Islam is, of course, Muslims. The House of War is infidels (non-Muslims). There must always be war until there's no infidels. It doesn't get any more us-versus-them than THAT!

The ayat in the Quran that infidels usually refer to as "jihad verses" contain the phrase "Qitāl fī sabīl allāh" (fighting for the sake of Allah).
Disrespecting Allah, Islam, the Quran or Muhammad is cause for jihad. Islam is NOT peaceful and tolerant if you don't behave like a Muslim . . . even if you're an infidel with no knowledge of Islam. If you value democracy, you're a heretic.

So the next time murderous Muslim rioting is in the news because of some cartoon mocking Muhammad or some nut-case burning Qurans or some naive teacher naming her teddy bear "Muhammad", remember that Muslims are SUPPOSED to fight for the sake of Allah. If they respond so violently to such minor events, how do you think they feel about Jews (who have, historically, been subjugated dhimmi) occupying holy Muslim land?

Everybody should read the Quran. Learn from the book that informs the religion. You'll better understand how Islam manifests in our world.

Does Islam encourage violence?

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My comment on an answer to If you become convinced that the Bible was true, and had to live by its teachings, what would be the most difficult part of that for you? What would be the easiest part? :

My comment on an answer to If you become convinced that the Bible was true, and had to live by its teachings, what would be the most diff…

Do facts distract us from the big questions?

Answer by Jim Ashby:

“Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth.” ~Ludwig Borne

The Big Questions have never been answered. We've gone from almost no facts, centuries ago, to our modern state of information overload. The relative absence or presence of facts doesn't seem to make a difference in answering the Big Questions.

Why is there something rather than nothing? Why am I here? Is there anyone else out there? How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?

Bob Dylan said that, “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.” And George Carlin said that, “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.” It would appear that the truth is not all it's cracked up to be. Everything we know is built on assumptions: our meager perceptions of reality are processed by brains that take shortcuts and are prone to illusion. Our models of the universe might last for centuries for somebody comes along and makes the observations that everybody else missed because they held the same assumptions.

“Fight for your opinions, but do not believe that they contain the whole truth or the only truth.” ~Charles A. Dana

Quantum mechanics and Einstein's relativity are two paradigms that work remarkably well on their own but can't be made to play nice with each other. If we were to somehow wed these two paradigms together will we be closer to, or further from, answering the Big Questions?

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” ~Niels Bohr

Many Big Questions deal with purpose, meaning or morality: I'm not sure such Big Questions can be intellectually decided at all. They imply value judgments that put them beyond the scope of mere facts. As for the rest? It may be that the more we learn, the more mysterious the universe becomes. The Big Questions may never be answered.

Do facts distract us from the big questions?