faith based math

before i get a butt load of people emailing me about this whole thing, let me say that i do believe in an expression of truth that could be seen as "absolute" [for a lack of a better term], i am just not sure i believe any human can know of, or even think they know of, what that “absolute” expression of “truth” can be. you see, i believe we are limited in the way we think, express and define ideas; we are human and in that "human expression" we can only see things through human eyes and human experiences. while we may "think" we know something as an "absolute truth," we are fooling ourselves and simply demanding our personal view be seen as an "absolute." this is the case, no matter how noble, or loving the idea is when expressed as an "absolute" that another must accept, love, grace, kindness and forgiveness are left to the side to make room for law and judgment. while i have no problem knowing that God is the judge, i am unwilling to accept that humans can judge for God. all truth is contextual in our humanity, and can only be "valid or invalid" within the context of that human expression - i am not sure who, but someone once told me that an "absolute truth" is that 1+1=2, but that is still a contextual truth and not an "absolute truth" as some may think.

the expression "1+1=2" is "true" because we define it as true; we place it in a context where we determine the meanings of the individual components, we define the terms of the expression. 1+1=2 is "true" when people are using the decimal system and simple mathematics, because in that context, we define "1" as a single item, and "2" as a couple of items. so, we can say that "one single item brought together with another single item can make a pair of items," within the decimal system, because we have defined it that way. but not everything is defined by using the decimal system.

what if some does not think in terms of a "decimal" expression [a "decimal context"] are they wrong when they disagree with the expression? if we see "1+1=2" as an absolute expression of truth we are saying, "in all cases, without exception or limit, the absolute truth is that 1+1 must always equal 2, no matter any other condition." many people who use a different math, let's take for example someone like a computer programmer who uses a "binary" number notation system, called "the binary system." in a binary system there are only two values, 0 and 1, the "number" 2 has no value or meaning at all in a binary system. so, in the "contextual reality" of the binary system "1+1=2" is "not true" because in an "absolute truth" 2 is not real. so, in a binary expression of "absolute truth" the expression "1+1=10" is true. also, within the binary system the expression "0-1=1" is also true, which "violate" the idea of an "absolute truth" in decimal system where 0-1=-1. yet, like the decimal expressions of "truth" these binary expression are only "true" because we define it to be true within that system.

1+1=2 and 1+1=10:
so, in reality "1+1=2" cannot be seen as an "absolute truth." its "trueness" is limited to only certain number expressions [contexts] within certain systems. so, what does that mean for a christian who desires to share with others who jesus is, and how we are brought into a saving relationship with God through a relationship with jesus? well, at some level i am uncertain what it looks like, but at another level i know it does not look like what many are doing today. you see for me, God is the God of scripture and Jesus is the only way - but that must be seen in context of my desire to be on a faith journey through christ. someone who is not on the same journey as i am does not see that as an "absolute." now, does that change my seeing jesus as the truth? not at all. does that stop me from sharing what i believe to be truth about christ? not at all. does it demand i simply accept every view point as "equally" true? no, it does not. but what it does do is tell me that the way i express the "truth" i know, it should causes me to think different when i share my faith with others. it means, for me, that when i share christ with others, i share my walk, my journey, my expression of that relationship and that connection to God and not some canned, program driven expression of an equation that is valid in limited context. i can only express the christ i know, and not the one of church marketing and franchise rights.

people who have the expression of 1+1=2 as "truth", cannot demand that those who think in the binary expression of 1+1=10 stop seeing there expression as "true." but this goes both way, and those who think in binary can not demand people stop thinking in a decimal expression, because in reality it can be said that, "1+1=2, true and 1+1=10, true." to demand someone change their expression and "start thinking like us" says that "only people who think like us are right" [or in the club] and that is not seen as a very positive thing. for example, to make someone who thinks in a "binary context" [their cultural view] to only think in a "decimal context" [another cultural view] is not "sharing" faith as much as it is demanding people change their "culture" to fit the culture of another. the idea is not to demand the "context" change, but rather to learn to work within the context and to gain an understanding of the way others see the expression of truth in their world. the "key" is to find an way to show the expression where "truth" is contextual and where the expression can be seen by those as "truth." the idea is not to demand that "1+1=2" as an absolute, nor is it to demand that people see 1+1=10 as "truth." the key, in my view [and i believe in a scriptural view] is to simply express the term "1+1" and allow different expressions of that term based on the cultural expression of others.

adding to the expression:
in some form or another, the idea of knowing "the absolute truth" is a power play; an "excluding principal" [i am in, and you are out] of many believers. for many, the idea is that if you do not believe in the "absolute truth" as they define it, you are not allowed into he club; or worse, you are actually seen as "anti-club." but i wonder if at any point that was the intent given by jesus? you see, when jesus proclaims he is the "truth, the light and the way" [in john's recording of the life of jesus chapter 14] i have no problem with jesus proclaiming he is the truth [notice jesus never proclaims he is the "absolute truth" - in fact, the term "absolute truth," and ideas many desire to express in the term, are not found in scripture at all - more on that later], in fact i agree that jesus is "the truth." if we look deeper into the reality that jesus is "the truth" we find some very interesting information. the greek "truth" used in this case is "aletheia" and actually implies an objective and subjective expression of "truth" [an "absolute truth" can not have both qualities] so, while jesus is saying, "i am the truth" that truth is both based as a "matter of fact" [but not an "absolute"] and also, at the same time, an expression defined by a personal understanding of what "truth" is in life. at a very real level, the statement is "1+1=2 and 1+1=10" where jesus is the term "1+1."

in luke we find a very interesting statement concerning "exact truth." in lukes recording of the events of jesus' life he says, "so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." [in luke's recording of the life of jesus, chapter 1 - bold added]. the term "exact truth" is the closest we can come to to an idea of "absolute truth" in any form. the word is "asphaleia" and is used three times in the greek, here in luke, ones in luke's recording of the acts of the followers of jesus [chapter 5] and once in paul's first recorded letter to the thessalonians [chapter 5]. but, only in luke is it translated as "exact truth." in the other two cases it is seen as "security or safety." now, i am not as interested in the way the word is translated differently in different places, what does interest me is that in luke's opening he proclaims his recording of events as an "exact truth" which implies that the other recordings are not. can this be the case? can one version be "more truth" then the other? i once mentioned this to a professor who told me, "well, the differences in the gospel narratives can simply be seen as people seeing things different, having a different point of view or perspective on events. where one man say a mountain another saw a plain. it is not that one gospel is 'more true' then another. it is just the perspective of the author." which sounds reasonable to me, and which also sounds like "objective truth."

when we look at the world around us and we see all the hurt and pain we are fast to think that we need to get people thinking "1+1=2." at some level it is easy to tell people what to think, how to act, and what to say. people seem to like to be told how to think and what is and is not an "absolute truth." many humans like "absolutes," they like the "certainty" of what is expected. the idea of only God knowing what is and is not an "absolute" bugs us and causes us to think we can know as much as God. while it is easy to demand people follow a set of rules and laws, we are called to be much different then that. what we need to do is find ways of expressing our faith, our journey, our savior, our salvation in a way people can understand without demanding they "do it this way." we need to not find fault with how they view "truth," instead we need to see how "truth" can be expressed in their ideas and expressed in their culture. i personally believe that the debate over "absolute truth" is something God sees as silly on our part and i believe it removes from us the responsibility to interact with others in an open and vulnerable way. you see, i believe that "absolute" remove our vulnerability cause us to go into a situation closed. they remove from us the ability to truly address the needs and desires of people based on life huts and pains. "absolutes" have cause us to be a callous and closed people of faith where striving to know a person for who they are is beyond us. while we are debating which expression "truth" is true, people are walking by our communities of faith wondering if we will ever speak to them in terms they can understand; actually, i think people are walking past our communities of faith and thinking we are completely irrelevant to their lives; as one young man put it, "if it is absolute truth that God is absolutely in control, and has absolute power to change anything, and there is an absolute truth that God loves me, why is my life such shit?" think of it this way, while many are debating if it is "2" or "10" what we all have in common is the reality "1+1" all we desire is to find meaning in it.


NathanColquhoun said...

I just had an identical conversation a few hours ago about this.

" people seem to like to be told how to think and what is and is not an "absolute truth." many humans like "absolutes," they like the "certainty" of what is expected. the idea of only God knowing what is and is not an "absolute" bugs us and causes us to think we can know as much as God."

That's right on.

knsheppard said...

I don't mean any offense here, but, your discussion is one of near perenial interest to historians and philosophers, and I think in order for you to round out this argument, a lot more would need to be taken in. At the very least, a familiarization of the voluntarist and intellectualist traditions in Western philosophy would be required to adequately discuss the status of math, truth, and the absolute, the pivotal figure being, of course, Kant. All that to say, glad to see someone takling a difficult issue, but I hope we can move beyond framing everything in contemporary terms alone.

Paxton said...

No and no and no =P Do you want me to go through your post and highlight every place where you claim that something is true?

You say, '"1+1=2" cannot be seen as an "absolute truth."'

You are either right or wrong about that. Either 1+1=2 can be seen as absolute truth or it cannot...but your statement cannot be at the same time and in the same sense True and False.

I agree very much with the point behind your point -- lonely people, wounded people, crying people, indeed *all* people, very often want to be *cared* for. If you try to "solve" their pain with theoretical/philosophical, even theological explanations, you mock them. Pain is not "solveable" in that sense. Except for the small portions of pain that really do arise because of faulty thinking, proper thinking is not the necessary medicine. It is not what will ultimately heal. Love is what we are wanting, in that situation, and love will heal. Who wants a lecture when they need a hug?

But I say that if you remove Absolute Truth, you have taken the teeth out of Love, so to speak. I would say the two are inextricable.

In any case your example of "1+1 = 2" versus "1+1 = 10" is not a question or truth or falsehood. It is a question of language. You cannot say whether a sentence is true or false unless you know what the words mean, but if you translate a sentence into different languages, it will remain true. So if two people speaking different languages, or using different number systems, or whatever -- if they disagree, they should work harder at communication, instead of just giving up on the existence of truth. Because really, what both the decimal and the binary equation are saying is that if you have a quantity of a thing, and then someone gives you an equivalent quantity, you now have that quantity and that quantity again. "2" is one symbol that is understood to mean "1 and 1 again". "10"binary is another symbol understood to represent the same thing. And yet *both* equations represent absolute truth if you know how to read them.

Paxton said...

"Do you want me to go through your post and highlight every place where you claim that something is true?"

Whoopsie, I forgot to expound. Sorry ^_^

What I meant when I asked this question is that simply by stating that "It is better not to seek an objective truth", you yourself have claimed that something is true.

Paxton said...

Yay for lack of reading comprehension! I thought you said at the top of your article that you do "not" believe in Absolute Truth.

In that case, take what I said as an encouragement to value truth, instead of a direct argument ;)

(I should check what the Bible has to say about truth)

john o'keefe said...


lol bro - you rock. i love your comments :)

Mr Y said...

For what it is worth --- Just finished studying an economics subject - (oh the joy!) - and a theory used in econmics is relevant to what you have discussed in this blog. The theory of 'certis paribus' It means 'all else remaining the same'. To take your example it would be used 1+1=2 certis paribus. It is kind of like a disclaimer that says, What I have just said is true if all the related variables have remained the same ... Anyway just some useles trivia, that may or may not be of interest to any of your bloggers out there.

(I must send a copy of this to my economics lecturer they would be proud that I have managed to use this, somewhat useless theory in the context of my life)

Absolute truth is a fun topic isn't it - I commend you on takling it in your blog.

Mr Y said...

Excuse that last post - 'certis paribus' is an economic TERM not a THEORY :)

Anonymous said...

We can argue math theory,or word usage here,but the Bible does have an absolute truth.Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved.No man enters to the Father but through Him.We can argue string theory,or quantum theory,but it is all relative.How we express this message,or where,is not as important as the fact that we make it clear.No one should ever be limited on how they serve God.God is unsearchable.The message is more important then the medium.We as Christians,being apart of the body of Christ,should be more concerned with reaching out however we can on the realist level we can.Who cares about titles,or postition.People are hurting,dying and going to hell.The Bible is absolute truth in itself.John makes a good point when he said its easy to tell people what to think.People don't need to be told what to think or how to serve God,just whats available to them.Let people learn who God is for themselves,instead of trying to put God in a box and label Him.Are worship is inadequate,our service is inadequate,we know in part now,but one day,we will know completely.

Anonymous said...

I was so happy to read this post- THANK YOU JOHN! It has always bugged me how certain pastors teach claiming it is the Bible's 'absolute truth' when it is THEIR interpretation of the Bible. Many intelligent people may interpret it differently. And my gripe has been: if our minds and our understanding are so fallible and limited, how can we say our interpretation, how we read and understand the scripture, is absolutely true? I don't think any human mind is that capable.

One of the primary issues that has caused me some angst lately are the Christians around me who fearfully ask, "Well are they a CHRISTIAN?" and say that religious people, even Catholics, who don't think *just like them* aren't saved. Makes me want to never hang out with these Christians!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't think everything is in interpretation,as it is so much in black and white.The Bible is very clear on who will be saved and on the requirements.What denomination you claim or any thing else about us does not matter.Lets apply secular psychology to this.We are a product of past behavior and experience.It would only make since then,even accounting for the spirtual aspect,that are idea and beliefe of who God is to us personaly,would be a product of this.I like to think of the Bible as a road map.It has definite truth about God,who He is and was to certain individuals,and who He is for me.It plots out who God is along the way.How I understand Him,is a product of who I am and where I have been.I can not reach out to others in one way,because who knows there understanding of who God is,or how they need Him in there life.We can not limit how we reach out to others,nor can we deny, there is only one way to be born again.The Bible is inspired by God,infallible.It speaks to a mans heart,to his core,cuts deeper then anything.Changes lives.Its a translation of several languages,with people alot smarter then I am in charge of it.What it means to us personaly is difrent.But no matter how you word it,or believe it,or what it means to you personaly,it is still the same message,being pulled into the context of are lives.The message does not change,just are understanding of it.Belief in God,or a greater power will not save you.Only belief in Jesus Christ,born of a virgin,that He is the son of God,died for us,rose from the dead and sits at the right hand of God,is the only way to be born again.Show me scripture from the Bible that says difrent.Or interpret it in another language for me,because all the translations of the Bible I have,construe the same ideas,in difrent language.There is a way we must think, contrary to what you belive jcmall.Define Catholic?Which particular sect?I am quit familiar with them and their beliefs.The apostolic creed,and the Nicene creed are fantastic from the early church.It shows a mutual beliefe in scripture and meaning.Who cares about theology?Study the Bible,search after God on your own.Read the Bible and interpret it in your own way.You will discover on your own certain universal truths that are indisputable.Thus we have organized religion.A "body of Christ".1+1=2,is dependent on the system,the state,and the beliefe that it can only have a defined answer as determined by its given value.One in itself,could impose potential energy,and indefinite posiblity,rather then a concrete value.It is all relevant under your disposition of a particular aplied math theory.The same with the Bible.Taken out of context,it can represent anything you wish,but used as defined by a group of scholars,as directed by God,in context to the unfolding events within told,it is easy to see there are only a limited number of conlcusions with an infinite number of possibilities.How do we define God,in such simple terms,when we are His creation?How can we ever understand who has created us,or question His purpose or will?We have limitations to our understanding,there are no limits on who God is or His understanding.My point is not to impose a universal thought,or like thinking,but to understand,the truth.We get in are own way on the search of this journey,but the question is,are we all on the same journey?Are we seeking who God is,or merely trying to justify are own lives,and continue in are sins,only giving God whats convenient,hiding behind are own individuality,saying "let me think what I want about it"The Bible says God is holy and we are suppose to be holy.Striving to do better and to love others more.Whats the interpretation I am missing here?No matter are own thoughts on what it means to us,we still can not change what the Book says.I apoligize for being long winded.I just would hate to see the reality of how much God loves us lost in a debate of are understanding of Him in a personal and real way.My belief in Jesus Christ has changed my life,and people around me.I thank God everyday for His gifts in my life.How do you interpret that?