Thursday, May 8, 2014

Finding What Works

One of the common ideas believed today is that what matters is what works. It is not uncommonly said that what matters is not what is true but what works. But can this really make sense? Now to say something works is to say that it is true that it works. If there is no truth, it is impossible to determine what works. Also, to say something works implies a goal. If I jump up, spin around three times, and sit back down, it will work. But if it has no ultimate purpose, it is senseless. Even flapping my arms and jumping off a high building will work, if I do not consider falling and killing myself an undesirable outcome.

The truth is that whether a thing works is one of the criteria to use to test its truth. If I believe eating a double cheeseburger will enable me to leap tall buildings in a single bound, the fact that it does not work in repeated trials is good evidence it is false. But not all truth can be determined this way. Just as not all truth can be proved scientifically. We could not prove the historicity of Columbus' voyage by undertaking it with similar ships and a similar crew, though it might prove it possible.

But more than that, I need some idea of a goal. Just because I can do something does not mean I should do it. With an atomic bomb I can kill a very large number of people. But that does not mean I should do it. Now when what works is applied to morals, it generally comes down to what works to produce pleasure. But does what produces the most pleasure amount to what is right? And does not what produces pleasure often depend on the philosophy and outlook of the person involved? But we have to honestly ask ourselves whether doing what gives me the most pleasure is what life is really all about. And even if we make it the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people, what this usually amounts to is living for my own pleasure unless it obviously stamps on someone else's toes. But is this what is right?

Now from the Christian point of view, what God wants is for us to trust Him. Now I believe that God has given us enough evidence to have a basis for that trust. But trusting God means believing His promises even if we cannot immediately see that they work. Therefore, while whether something works is one of the criteria for evaluating its truth, it is not the only one. And by embracing it we could be making ourselves blind to other methods of finding truth which are just as valid. And that without any clear logical basis.    

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