Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Quiet Time: (im)Perfection & Wisdom

My 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Ruth, told us: "Math is perfect. It always works. There is always an answer that is correct, and most of the time, you know exactly what you're looking for in the answer."

Third grade was the first time anyone had told me that something could be perfect. The perfection of math was the first standard of perfection I had in my mind as a measuring stick. I've been a "counter" since I can remember (at least since 2nd grade when I counted the steps I took to get to school), so math is something that naturally appeals to my mind and the way it works.

Math requires no opinion. Even imaginary numbers are complete and perfect. It works backward and forward. It is provable. Mathematics is a man-made, man-discovered, and man-named concept. It is perfect, yet it advances (which to me makes it UBERperfect). It cannot be taken out of context. Errors in calculations are easily found and corrected.

When we study math, there is no gray area (aside from mathematical intellectuals seeking new ways to explain concepts or occurrences). We know that X means multiply. We know that Pi roughly equals 3.14159. We know squares have 4 sides, that circles have angles within them that sum to 360 degrees, and that right triangles always have one 90 degree angle in them. We know how many inches are in a foot, and how many feet are in a mile. We know concrete facts in math; not because someone told us that we must believe 1+1=2 in order to survive, but because someone taught us how to prove it, and required us to show our proof to prove we understood the concept.

All of that brings me to the problem I have with the bible; the claim that it is the inerrant word of God, meaning it is perfect in form.

Aside from my ability to be a good mother, one of my most cherished traits is intellect, or wisdom. I feel I have a keen understanding of many things and many people. I truly desire to understand things and concepts and people. I hunger for knowledge. I enjoy other people who are as eager to learn and dissect things as I am.

My search for wisdom in the bible started with some "good" results, ones that seemed to be in favor of my fondness for wisdom.

Proverbs 3:13 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding.
So I'm not a man, but mother nature isn't a woman, so I'll take it.

Proverbs 4:7 Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
This makes wisdom sound very important.

Proverbs 19:8 He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers.
Here, it is good to be proud of your wisdom.

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun. (12)Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.
Wisdom is better/more beneficial than money - it can even be what preserves life!

Luke 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Even Jesus' wisdom is commended, as he is favored by all.

All of this seems to point to wisdom being a virtue. Then, the other side of wisdom...

Ecclesiastes 1:18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.
Wait, something that can preserve my life can make me grieve? 6 chapters later, wisdom can preserve life? Is that grievous?

Ecclesiastes 2:15-16 Then I thought in my heart, "The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?" I said in my heart, "This too is meaningless." (16) For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die!
So, since everyone must die, there's no point in doing anything? Understanding anything?

Acts 17:17-34 In this story, Paul is appealing to intellectuals and philosophers of Athens, utilizing his wisdom and knowledge to convince them that their unknown god is now known through Christ. He only gained a few followers, so...

I Corinthians 1:18-25 Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are not particularly wise, and cites the prophet Isaiah as saying "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Therefore, when talking to mental midgets, Paul's stance on and appeal to intellect falters, whereby bringing in the notion that God chose the fools to shame the wise, so that no one can boast....

The only 2 things that I could find as being actually ascribed to Christ himself on the topic of wisdom were a little disconcerting also.

Matthew 11:25 At that time, Jesus said, "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children."

Mark 4:10-12 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked about the parables. (11) He told them "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables (12) so that they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!"

Obviously, unlike math, the bible is not perfect. No one can seem to agree on the value of wisdom, and even Jesus seems to revel in the cleverness of his own cryptic teachings. These verses are like variables in math, and if the bible were perfect, each variable could be taken as a singular and be perfect. That is to say, if the bible is perfect, everything about it would be perfect, and there would be no need for "study bibles" and human intervention and translation. It would be universal in language and meaning.

While trying to gain further understanding of some of these verses, some bible studies I came across said that "wisdom" and "understanding" actually refer to the wisdom and understanding of God and the nature of God. Spiritual wisdom/understanding, if you will. Seems quite presumptuous that I should go into reading scripture knowing that anything said about my brain is actually referring to my heart.

I will also mention that NONE of the first 5 verses (the ones I thought were positive) about wisdom and understanding were listed in either the topical index or the concordance of my bible (The Quest Study Bible, New International Version). All of the others were. Is it really any wonder why I subscribe to conspiracy theory?

I'm blaming Paul for this one.


Jared said...

Fallibility would be an interesting topic. But considering the sheer volume of inconsistencies and contradictions in the bible, I assume few theists would argue from an inerrant word of god –no errors standpoint. Maybe I assume too much.

What you have presented, though, appears to be in stark contrast to the field of mathematics (I was told there would be no math >: | )

Convincing you and I that these inconsistencies are inconsequential represents what should be a starting point for their argument rather than an end.

Math has variables and proves its way through to an answer. Religion has the answer and proves its way through the variables

Of course by nature of the ‘inerrant word’ stuff it should be perfect. But the supporting of this seems to be more than a Herculean task when there is no wiggle room for changing the end result.

Kent said...

Can't respond completely at this time... but I would offer this in the short term. Isn't it oxymoronic to say that math is both man-made and man-discovered? Of couse, I am whole-heartedly on the discovery end of the spectrum. I don't recall the human creator of pi, but I am in deep gratitude to the Egyptians for pie. :) Also, my stance is inerrancy, so I guess I fit into the assumed minority. I look at it this way: I'm positive I could spend a lifetime with Planck and still not perceive the perfections he has found in quantum theory. Quite the contrary, I would probably be enamored with my perceived inconsistencies. At which point, I could take the stance that quantum theory is imperfect, or maybe my perceived inconsistenties come from my lack of understanding. Jared, why no math?

Stacy said...

Oxymoron? No. Pi is man-made - it is a man-made concept with numbers assigned to it. Numbers are man-made. Men determined the value of numbers and what to call them. People often use 1+1=3 to say that the blind faith of Christianity is absurd, but it wouldn't be absurd if the value of 3 was actually what we know as 2. Basic concepts of math are know that. If your only defense is to bring in quantum theory, well...I don't know what to tell you. You and I have discussed nuclear fusion as well; maybe you should dumb it down for me and lets discuss things in terms of something we both know about. Flaunting intelligence is in no way a good argument for your case/stance, even if you're saying you probably wouldn't perceive perfection.

uno + uno = dos
ichi + ichi = ni
eins + eins = zwei

No matter how you cut it, no matter what it's's universal and understood.

Now, instead of turning my attention to the tangent of quantum physics or nuclear fusion, what of the bible verses and the concept of wisdom, which is the real issue of my post?

Jared said...

Why no math?!?! Methinks you've never seen the greatness of Spies Like Us.

Just one Q...

Is it your position that the Bible is completely and absolutely without any error?

Kent said...

I wasn't intending to flaunt any intellegence. And I certainly wasn't trying to redirect to quantum theory. Rather I was just trying to make the point that maybe my perceived imperfections of something complex may stem from my inferior understanding rather than the complex thing being imperfect. Sorry for the double rather. As far as Pi is concerned, the constant ratio was here long before man. Granted the labels we've given to an observation of the ratio were man-made, but the constant was not. I'm not following what you mean with the whole man-made thing unless you're just talking about the labels.

Kent said...

Sounds like a loaded question... so define error. Are you talking translational inadequecies, or content inaccuracies?

Jared said...

I have no stance that I feel the need to defend so I have no loaded questions. In fact, I would rather look at the simplest and most unambiguous of answers and questions.

My opinion is that ulimate abstraction of words and language is what built this whole religious quagmire anyway.

So, that brings me back to inerrancy. Do you believe that the bible us free of error?

Does it contain inconsistencies / contradictions from a historical / internal / biological / astrological / geological / physical standpoint?

The question is intended to be simple and the underlying reason for it is assumed to be obvious. If the bible is divinely inspired then the inerrancy should follow, no?

If any tale in the bible is demonstrably false then can we throw out the legitimacy of an inerrant word of god? OK, that's two, go with the first.

[In other words, i have no debate notes at the ready, just genuinely wondering if inerrancy is still a normal stance.]

Stacy said...

Man-created = we created the names of things (pi) and how to show them.
I guess I should say it's man-derived. We figured out how to come to certain conclusions and how to prove them in order to explain our world and how things work.

Why is there a need to define error when discussing something presumed perfect or inerrant? An error is an error. Translations included. Can you read the original languages? If not, then why would translation errors even be a point to consider for you when you already consider the bible inerrant?

Kent said...

Excellent. Totally on board with man observing, deriving, discovering a perfection already at work.

The reason I brought translational "inadequecies" into the picture was to acknowledge that English does not always have a word or phrase to encompass the full meaning of a word or phrase from one of the original Biblical languages. The same is true for many translations amongst modern languages (super karate monkey death car... inside joke for old newsradio fans). That being said, when I refer to the "Bible" I'm encompassing the original languages. Though I do not formally know them, I think they are vital to understanding scripture, and I try to utilize every tool at my disposal to gleen full meaning through them. So yeah, sign me up for inerrancy.

Anonymous said...

I actually came here to leave an unrelated comment that I will get to in a minute...but first...I'll sign up for inerrancy also. I didn't read a lot of these last days of posting, just some of the wisdom post; quoting I believe solomon(?) and jesus, etc. I just wanted to say, to me these statements are not inconsistant or in error. The bible, especially books like Ecclesiastes, are telling a story, and in particular, the view of the world through Solomon's (or whomever)eyes, in light of their relationship with God. Solomon is saying that he has been pursuing things like wisdom, concubines, riches, power etc etc his whole life. His point is, he realizes that even people with these "great" things also die, so wisdom is maybe not quite as pinnacle as he thought. I would say he is arguing that God, not "worldy" (fill in the blank) is what lasts. He learned something, and gave us a perspective though experience. As you well know, learning through experience is really the only way we actually learn things. Solomon's words and growing perspective through his life is not a contradiction...unless we just look at two 10-word sentences with no context. As far as Math goes, I am pretty sure it can't be argued that we created Math. Math was discovered, and the properties that make math work were discovered in their already existing forms. Simple observation and counting/adding/subtracting etc is the basis for all math. Pi is just 22/7 or whatever...we didn't create the idea of Pi and "give" it a numerical value, some super dorky dude in a basement or lab discovered it. In fact, it could be argued by someone smarter than me that Pi is the MOST imperfect number in existance, because it ALWAYS must be rounded at some point into "good enough"...because its digits never end.

Now, for my real reason for posting... Stef and I wanted to see Cam play a soccer game, and I don't want him to think that we only wanted to go to one of Andie's games, so I wanted to check and see how much longer the season runs, and if Deb had a schedule I could look at.


Stoner said...

Without revealing too many "secrets" of the truth, all I can say regarding inerrancy is,
"Feel my skills, donkey donkey donkey, donkey donkey."

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