Testimony of Freedom

Page 3:  Vehicles of Freedom: Physical Science, Civil Law and the Christian Religion

Introductory Essay:
Fundamentalist Beliefs in the Christian Religion, American Civil Law and the Physical Sciences.

Outline and Summary
  1. The word "fundamentalism" is used here to denote a belief in an exact symbolic representation of Truth. A fundamentalist believes that symbolic representations are both inerrant and also authoritatively self-fulfilling, that is, inherently free from error and with a mandate compelling belief in the representation. Such beliefs have been prominent in all three institutional disciplines under examination, namely, the Christian religion, American civil law and the physical sciences.

    In all three institutional disciplines, fundamentalism has served as an original foundation for development of later beliefs. Fundamentalist beliefs are challenged by facts of development that show repeated systemic changes in representations.

     ··· -- a draft of the text of part A is available in a .pdf file

  2. The psychology of resemblances is shown through synchronous and developmental resemblances, with examples drawn from Biblical scriptures.

    1. Christian fundamentalists view scriptures synchronously - as if all passages were applicable at a single time. E.g., preachers juxtapose passages from Psalms, written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, with New Testament passages quoting Psalms in connection with Jesus; and they draw meaningful comparisons from the juxtapositions. Synchronous juxtapositions are appropriate because they were incorporated into the scriptures by their authors and editors to create an inexhaustible body of meaningful literature centered around a divine presence actively directing persons, society and history. Such meaning is embodied in synchronous resemblances between and among passages, both taken pairwise and in a larger collection in which families of resemblances arise by implication. E.g., the four gospels centered on the life and teachings of Jesus -namely, the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - have many detailed parallels and divergences that, taken as a body of synchronous resemblances, make up a complex interwoven texture that supports an even larger body of possible implications. The gospel story thus takes on a solidity and a mystery that could never be achieved in a single narrative.

    2. A different view is provided through developmental resemblances, which are resemblances shown by comparing stages during a process of change. E.g., a five-year old child resembles the same child at age two, but with changes. A developmental science, such as child developmental psychology, tracks the changes and relates the stages of development to one another and/or to principles of development.

      Developmental resemblances are constructed in a two-step process. In the first step, distinct stages are defined, separate images are constructed, each specific to a particular moment and all centered on a particular subject matter, e.g., the child at a particular age. The images succeed each other like frames in a film or images of motion on a computer monitor. In the second step, images from different stages are juxtaposed and the changes are noticed and identified. The changes reveal something about the content that cannot be seen in a synchronous view.

      Principles that are part of the Quad Net physical model suggest that resemblances extend through multiple domains of experience and over multiple scales of experience, from the smallest detail to the largest organization. Incorporating resemblances across domains, the developmental view reproduces, in a conceptual domain, certain features of our perception of movement and speed of physical objects. [See Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (1911) -- "The Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion," Piaget, The Child's Conception of Movement and Speed (1946), "Conclusions"; Testimony of Freedom, Page 2, section B.5.d.]. Through multi-domain resemblances, movement and speed of physical objects become a general tool for organizing experience.

      Developmental resemblances are used in Karen Armstrong's The Bible (2007), e.g., at 20-25, comparing different versions of events recorded in Biblical scriptures that have origins in distinct eras, e.g., one version originating in an earlier era in Jewish history distinguished by oral statements of Yahweh's instruction (torah) compared to a second version originating in a later era distinguished by written statements. The dividing line between the eras was an event that occurred in the history of ancient Judah referenced in the Bible, namely the "discovery" of a scroll in 622 B.C.E. in the Temple in Jerusalem. The scroll was apparently the source of the Biblical Book of Deuteronomy and the discovery accompanied other events in Jewish history during which large-scale changes were instituted in the religion, culture and government. "In a study of modern Jewish movements, the eminent scholar Haym Soloveitchik aregues that the transition from an oral tradition to written texts can lead to religious stridency by giving the reader an unrealistic certainty about essentially ineffable matters." (At pp. 23-24.)

      I use developmental resemblances to re-interpret a view of early Christianity that is set forth in Paul and His Interpreters (1912) by Albert Schweitzer, a hero of the 20th century for his later medical missionary work in Gabon (then known as French Equatorial Africa). Schweitzer identifies three stages of development in early Christianity: (1) the life and teachings of Jesus; (2) the faith and practice of the primitive churches represented by Paul's Epistles (written 20 to 30 years after the death of Jesus); and (3) the "dogma" of the 2nd and 3rd century "Church fathers" who edited, organized and canonized New Testament materials. As discussed by Schweitzer, an originally Jewish teaching was progressively infused with elements drawn from Greek thought and culture; and the religious institution went through overall changes in its nature as it changed from a Jewish offshoot into a universal religion. Schweitzer finds the transtions between stages beyond understanding. I treat them as phase changes and have some suggestions for alternative interpretations.

  3. American civil law underwent a revolution, conveniently identified with the person of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., that began late in the 19th century and that triumphed during the 1930's. A former fundamentalist approach to law originating with Blackstone, an 18th Century English scholar, was replaced by a developmental approach. Formerly, it was believed that legal rules "determined" the outcome of civil law disputes and that legal rules acted like "a brooding omnipresence in the sky." (Holmes). Now, as a consequence of the revolution, the content of legal doctrine is embedded in and shaped by procedures that empower judges and juries to choose among alternatives, that is, to make selections and exercise freedom when deciding how to resolve a civil law dispute. As society changes, the details of the choices and the choices themselves undergo continual revision through the legal process, e.g., by a statement of new rule by the United States Supreme Court. (Please see The Crucible, available on my websites, which describes modern litigation practice for a lay reader.)

    The analysis and techniques developed in connection with Biblical scriptures apply to legal materials. In many "run of the mill cases," judges make new statements of the law in the form of judicial opinions that review prior cases (precedents) and "harmonize" the new case with each of them through synchronous resemblances drawn between the situation of the parties in the new case and the situation of parties in a prior situation. In "landmark" or "leading" cases, however, judges will identify changes in doctrine or practice and provide reasons for the changes that can be analyzed in terms of developmental resemblances.

  4. Physical Sciences

    1. Physical sciences depend on exact synchronous resemblances, which is the meaning of mathematical equality. E.g., the speed of light is the same at all times (and the same in every frame of reference). Other quantities presumptively show similar invariant resemblances throughout eternity, such as the mass of a hydrogen molecule or the charge on an electron. "Conserved quantities," such as momentum and mass-energy denote synchronous resemblances that are maintained in a limited (closed) situation.

      Many arguments in physical science depend on symmetries, which means that a situation appears "the same" even though some change has been made. If you are lost in the middle of the ocean in the fog and without a compass, things look "the same" when you turn around to face in any direction. Physical scientists assume that there is an underlying "reality" that has perfect symmetries. Physical scientists also invent situations, like the interior of a semiconductor crystal, that have a high degree of symmetry that makes them amenable to further useful inventions.

      An important form of synchronous resemblance is reversibility. Think of viewing a video clip first forwards and then backwards so that the original scene returns. An exact resemblance, an equality, is established between pairs of moments in the two viewings. There is a simple and exact structural relationship established between the forward view and backward view.

      Sometimes, reversibility make sense. For example, if the video clip shows balls moving and striking one another on a billiard table - without showing either slowing down or the initial stroke with the pool cue by a player - it may be impossible to decide which is the "natural direction" of viewing and which the "time-reversed direction" of viewing. Reversibility is a tool of intelligence, used, e.g., in games and puzzle, like a "maze" drawn on a page, where a method of solution is to start at the center and to trace a route backwards. As shown by Piaget (e.g., Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood), as part of natural development, a child develops a capacity to "think backwards."

      As Humpty-Dumpty proved, most matters in our experience of reality are not reversible. Mechanical cosmologists begin with an image of reality where all action is reversible and they then have to show why action in ordinary experience is not reversible. They believe they have shown this but I am not persuaded by the arguments, which are tethered to highly specific systems. In my view, reality is generally irreversible. We do not have the intellectual capacity to construct a useful physical theory of general irreversible processes and use reversible processes - e.g., billiard ball impacts or entropy-conserving heat engines - to construct mechanical models. These are useful approximations under some circumstances but always limited and subject to error.

    2. I use the system of developmental resemblances discussed in section B.2 (above) to reconstruct the differential calculus on a psychological foundation. (See also Page 2, Section B.5). Similar reconstructions and adaptations can use resemblances to describe aspects of modern science and technology, including mechanics (e.g., Newton's conic sections), mathematics (e.g., projective geometry used by Piaget in discussing child psychology, conformal mapping), processes in thermodynamics that involve reversible phase changes (e.g., the Clausius-Clapeyron equation), quantum mechanics (e.g., families of eigenstates) and computer programs (e.g., the development arc that began with Fortran and progressed to Basic, c, C++ through to Java -- progressively offering more interactive selections to the person using the computer).

  5. The successes of the three institutional disciplines show that each has attached to something enduring and true, regardless of errors in symbolic representations. Physical science, civil law and the Christian religion are three of the most dominant influences in Western civilization and the modern worldview.

    The attachment of an institutional discipline to something enduring and true is shown by the strength of the institution in its development. (See Page 6, Cultivating Spiritual Life and Power.) Physical science has shown the strongest development in the last two hundred years but both civil law and the Christian religion have longer eras of growth and deeper incorporation into our culture. Here, I treat them as comparable and without regard to disputes about their relative superiority. Each has a claim to foundational status in my life and, as I see it, in Western culture.

    I am unable to imagine the poverty and harshness of life before physical science gave us such necessities and comforts as shelter, lighting, electrical communications, labor-saving devices like washing machines and refrigerators, motor vehicles and electronic information systems. Society depends on trustworthiness between persons and some assurance of safety when using products or venturing out of doors; and civil law is a chief means we have to maintain such trustworthiness and safety. The life and teachings of Jesus Christ and belief of Christians in his resurrection initiated a continuing transformation of human civilization through divine personification of principles of kindness, humility, universal love and obedience to God.

    Examination suggests that the success of each of the institutional disciplines depends on constraints and limitations imposed on content by such disciplines. Constraints and limitations direct intelligence toward producing that which has an approximate fit to something real. E.g., narrow case-centered focus and adherence to precedent in civil law; separation between spiritual and worldly concerns in religion; and standards of exactitude in constructing structures and relations in physical sciences. Hence, success requires constraint and limitation, further challenging beliefs in fundamentalism.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Kovsky