Friday, October 06, 2006

The Outer Limits

Imagine if you will a space ship - traveling as if out of control - to the farthest reaches of the known universe. The occupants must document their flight and return messages with their observations. Their mission: to find the edge - the end - the limit.

Now imagine if you will - their messages go completely unheeded. No one back home believes there is such a thing as an absolute end to the universe. They have completely abandoned the very concept of an absolute anything. Any discussion only receives blank stares - nothing said makes any sense.

When you cut yourself free from real meanings of the words we use - our language makes no sense. Yes, some words and phrases can have several meanings depending upon the context they are used. That is not what I’m talking about here. Take for instance the title of this month’s blog; “The Outer Limits”. Can anyone tell me what that means? ”The” isn’t too tough - neither is “Outer”… but what in the world does “Limits” mean in that title? “Limits” implies a plural since there is an s on the end of limit. With “Limit” - I don’t have a problem. “Limit” describes and end to something. “Limits” on the other hand describe multiple ends. How can our travelers find the “Limits” of the universe when they can only go in one direction at a time? Even multiple directions would conceivably yield only an equidistant limit - not multiple limits. Either you have a limit - or you do not.

But therein lies the rub - “either/or“. Aristotelian logic - the bane of relativists everywhere. Something can’t be nothing. “A” cannot be “non-A” One cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same sense. We all understand this - at least I hope we do. I came up with an illustration a while back that may help us understand what I’m talking about.

There was an imaginary rock band of the late 60s TV who were called “The Monkeys”. One of their “hits” was a song called “Shades of Gray” where they drone on and on about how there is no black and white but only shades of gray. But let’s look at that for a minute. My old art teachers used to tell us the definitions of the words we use to describe our art. Interesting enough - that which adds value to art (not necessarily monetary) is the range of lightness to darkness - or the words “white” and “black” and all of the graduations between the polar opposites. White is described as the absence of all color. While black is described as the presence of all color. The moment you add one speck of black - no matter how small that speck is - to white, you no longer have an “absence of all”. You then have a presence of black. Indeed that speck, or any number of specks may be widely dispersed black - but it is no longer properly described as white. Saturation of white with black is what we have come to use as our gray scale. White is not non-white however and you ultimately end up with nothing more than widely dispersed black. Thinking in the opposite, neither can you have widely dispersed absence either. You cannot have a value scale - or gray scale - without the polar opposites. To cut off either pole would be similar to describing a one-ended stick.

C.S. Lewis would say, “Nonsense is still nonsense, even when you speak it about God”. A world without any absolutes would be devoid of meaning and I would go so far as to say that life without an Absolute - would also be meaningless.

But we as a culture have become quite accustomed to all those gray shades where we find comfort and live out our lives. We hope - we pray God judges on a curve - if He judges at all. None of us wishes to think of a God who might actually be as harsh as “judgment day” implies. We don’t want compulsory anything… unless it is compulsory heaven for all. We give ourselves leeway in deciding what we will do or how much we will accept as a moral standard. We think of the Ten Commandments more as the Ten Suggestions. We have embraced the defense of “that may be true for you - but it’s not for me”. We have rendered any form of universal truth as meaningless… as if that were even within our ability to decide.

Whenever someone says, “there is no such thing as truth” all you have to remember is a simple response question - “Is that true?” They make a claim they assume is true for them that there isn’t any truth - It is a self-defeating argument. Same as if they had said “you cannot know reality” - the only problem is that you would have to have an idea of what reality is - in order to make any statement about reality. Again a self-defeating argument.

We can know something about reality and discover truth if we begin to apply a little logic to the truth claims we are confronted with each day. We can even confront the relativism we face every day.

The next time someone is looking for the outer limits - we can know 1) there is such a thing as a limit and 2) that reality can be found no matter how far out there we may have already gone, if we apply a little logic to our calculations.

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