On this journey we shall travel from Mount Stupid to Mount Olympus and then amble through the universe and beyond. Then we will venture to a place seldom explored because it doesn’t exist. We must stroll along with great philosophical snorting and ample snacking as we go. We shall also learn a little about railroad tracks and chess. I assure you we will do all this and be back by lunchtime Tuesday.
We will start with Jack, a boy older than me. Jack was in high school as I started elementary. He had a kinetic personality that appealed to six-year-old boys, but everyone else had to endure him. Jack’s personality could boil without heat, bluff with no cards, dogmatize for its own sake, and drive off a cliff while lecturing and sermonizing to the very bottom. As a small boy I was overawed by his instant enthusiasm for whatever hit him at any moment. To me he was electric spontaneity and that was amusing. To take a quote from Du Bois, Jack was clay “unfit for any sort of moulding.” I don’t know what became of Jack, but he would have made a fantastic faith healer with tremendous comedic value. In those days there were numerous stories circulating about his antics. One of the funniest concerned poison ivy.
On a summer’s day a group of teenage boys went to the woods. As they were passing through an area of thick undergrowth one of the boys recognized poison ivy and backed away demanding another path. This boy had sense to know he did not want to get near the stuff. Jack stepped up. Jack let the boys know he was perfectly immune to poison ivy. It could not bother him in the least. While everybody else may have a problem, he did not.
Before we go any further with Jack, we must ask some questions. How did Jack know he was immune to poison ivy? What made him certain? Why did he think it could do nothing to him when it affects so many others? Where did he get his information? The funny thing is: Jack never mentioned a word about poison ivy or immunity until that moment. This whole episode is nothing but impulsive bluster that sounded good to Jack. This leads us to the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Two psychologists, Dunning and Kruger, studied patients who had no ability to recognize personal limits of skill and knowledge. These subjects were convinced they hold utmost proficiency and expertise in things they know nothing about. Their tamper-proof confidence renders them incapable of seeing themselves for what they are: ignorant and incompetent. Dr. Dunning and Dr. Kruger wrote on their study and entitled it, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” They named this phenomenon the Dunning-Kruger effect but it has been aptly nicknamed “Mount Stupid.” I think this describes Jack. There is an ancient saying, “let the cobbler not judge above the sandal.” If that is the case, then Jack’s judgement should be kept below ground level for his own safety. Should I then venture to say he is ultracrepidarian? Nah. Using that word only sends me to find the dictionary and let’s face it, that has far too many syllables for the one-syllable simplicity that is Jack.
The main problem from sufferers of Dunning-Kruger is the inability to gauge themselves accurately. Each is an overstuffed fruitcake unwilling to reduce their “inflated self-assessment.” For them there can be no problem. They are the authority at everything they have never known. They are proficient at anything they have never seen. They are violin virtuosos unaware that violins have strings and a bow. They cannot detect their ignorance and incompetence. Now, back to Jack.
Concerning poison ivy Jack knew nothing. This was a new subject altogether. While being perfectly ignorant on the matter he was suddenly “Jack Superman ever resistant to poison ivy.” That would be impressive. While everyone else must avoid poison ivy he was impervious to it. So, what does Jack do? He could have left it as a boast and moved on, but no. Jack had to prove his point. There is a difference between an unpredictable windbag and a golden idiot. Jack won both titles that day, and so young for such a career achievement. I guess some people have their own peculiar genius. He obtained his genius with a t-shirt at the Mount Stupid gift shop. A place visited often. He grabbed up leaves of poison ivy. With leaves in each hand he rubbed his face down thoroughly. Yep, Jack was a full throttle kind of guy. He could do nothing small but had to make a show. Did he believe his own words or was he hoping? Jack made an effortless dive headlong into what he didn’t know, but everyone else did. Everyone made an accurate prediction on the outcome except Jack. He was the dumbest kid in the woods and played the part well. Jack drove himself heedlessly in every wrong direction available.
Jack could not have sensed the severity of poison ivy as it first came in contact with his face and hands, but let the fact be known, he was far from impervious. He was quite allergic. The influence of poison ivy does not manifest itself immediately but after a number of hours. For the afternoon it may have seemed as though Jack was correct. He was Superman after all. Perhaps he enjoyed the attention and bragging rights for the day. And yes, he continued to brag even to very concerned adults. Was anyone impressed? Probably not, this was Jack after all. The next day Jack would come face to face with the reality of it. So, what occurred? He was subjected to a lesson that lasted for over two weeks. Whether Jack learned the lesson is unknown. Jack’s face and hands were horribly disfigured. For days his eyes were swollen shut. Jack looked like a burn victim who had contracted leprosy and then cruelly beaten about the head. He was unrecognizable. I certainly didn’t recognize him. No one had sympathy for Jack, least of all nature.
Nature did what nature does, there’s no stopping that. Nature is not a willing participant in a braggart’s game plan rush to impress the boys. Powerful laws have been in place from the beginning, so, why would they change for Jack? He may need protection from himself, but nature is not going to do it. It will stand silently by as it always does and let Jack do what he’s going to do. Nature suffers no one. Perhaps learning should be involved. He was knocked down a few pegs and left to his bed for a few days. This was his own work, his own undoing. I was six at the time and this may have been my first lesson on poison ivy.
Years later I still laugh at the whole incident and that ridiculous character. He committed himself wholeheartedly to what he thought or hoped to be true. The result was that Jack met the truth and the truth was unmercifully resistant to his swaggering stupidity. It would not go along with Jack’s impulses or ignorance or audacity or notions or bravado or anything else. Truth simply would not play along. Reality is not obligated to go easy and gentle on anyone. We can quickly learn the lessons that truth stands immovable and reality indifferent. The good news for Jack is it was only poison ivy and he got over it. What if it had been a death cap mushroom discovered on the trail? That would have ended everything for the reckless, arbitrary, bragging Jack.
There is more to consider about this episode. Jack certainly tested the truth with a hearty chug of self-confidence. It proved to be memorable, but also proved the inflexible quality of truth. It is utterly unyielding, unrelenting, unbreakable and unapologetic. The result brought a conclusion so obvious that even we small children got it: “Don’t mess with poison ivy and never trust Jack.” That’s not a bad proverb, but there is another: “Reality does not march with fools.” You can never successfully fashion, manipulate or lead truth for it does not partner with idiots. It is bound with reality. These are the teammates. Truth and reality may seem as though they are synonymous, but there is a difference between the two. They are tight coworkers. If you don’t like the truth, then reality will disappoint. Truth accurately describes reality and reality is. Reality simply shows the truth. This could be painful to the fool for he will be given the truth (even when it hurts) and will be shown to be the fool he is (and that hurts too). Reality allows everyone to see what the truth is, and that truth is correct. Truth is always correct.
We now shift to someone who actually did some thinking, an ancient philosopher who was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. His name was Thales of Miletus (c. 620-546 BC). He was a smart guy but suffered under the common beliefs of the day which carried a mountain load of gods, myths and superstitions. The Greeks believed their list of gods ruled the earth and beyond. There were many stories about the gods which explained how things came to be. Why is there sea? Why is there land? Why is there sky? Why is there fortune and misfortune? Why is there anything? The Greeks (like so many others) either made or borrowed stories to answer the questions.
Thales observed the world around him and noted its evenness. While the world has its brief moments of catastrophe and storm these are rare events not daily occurrences. For the most part nature walks a path with a gentle curve. The seasons do not leap from one extreme to the another but rather by quiet gradation down a long path from winter to summer and back again. Nature saunters rather than charges. It is unhurried not berserk. Earth is more nurturing to man than adverse. It demonstrates the word moderation. It is more caring than killer. It is more for home and comfort than ill-fitted and forbidding. But there is more here than safety. Nature has intricacy with obvious purpose.
The earth resembles a cradle and not so much a chamber of doom. One could not look at a baby bed with the maker’s attention to accommodation and protection to think it was built with hostility or carelessness. In the same measure, one easily sees the earth as supplier for human needs (body and spirit) because it backs everything good. The system for survival is supplied, but it supports the family as a legitimate part of nature. It supports civility as if waiting on it, as if expecting it.
Thales noticed nature was choreographed, synchronized and harmonious with itself and, amazingly enough, accommodated mankind. The phases of the moon, sunrise, high tide, stars, harvest and gravity were all unvarying and predictable. It sure looked like everything was regulated and governed by laws. These laws showed themselves firm, highly precise and (here is the kicker) lending a kindly hand to man on the earth. There is something comforting about that but also something beyond it worth looking into. It demands the recognition of Someone above our little realm of men. That Someone would have to be omnipotent and wise, neither trait found in Zeus. Wise omnipotence that made everything and watches everything is a sobering notion. Herman Melville wrote, “Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.”
Let’s face it. Zeus cannot be serious about the wellbeing of mankind when he punishes Prometheus for giving fire to man and, as the story goes, the means for civilization. For that act of kind attention, he chains Prometheus to a rock where every day an eagle arrives and eats Prometheus’ liver. Presumably Prometheus is still chained to that rock today. I suppose he has really gotten to know that eagle. Zeus certainly has a shambling heap of cruelty toward anyone giving undo interest to men. Zeus can have no goodwill toward mankind. He hates us. Why would the world have a different disposition and prefer us?
How could Zeus be in charge of a world tailor-made for man’s benefit? Clearly, he is not that interested in benefiting man. Fire helps mankind in no small measure, but when compared with everything else given to man it is only one card in a large deck: wool, flax, wheat, fresh water, cattle, wood, stone, iron, oil, food and air. The list is big. There are too many things complementing the essentials. We could go on to mention matters of beauty meant to be admired, enjoyed and copied. This includes visual beauty and also literature, music and my favorite – culinary arts. We have been given more than the necessities for survival. We have been given the means for enjoying life profoundly. I guess Zeus took no notice. If he was angry at Prometheus for the fire incident, he would be aghast at the rest of it.
The other Greek gods were no better. With these in charge the world should be void of generosity or care toward mankind. There is a powerful love shown in nature that should not exist because the Greek gods never possessed that level of love. There is an obvious difference of opinion between Zeus (and friends) and the earth. So, who is responsible for this? Whoever it was took a lot of thought and trouble into the care and love for humanity. To Thales it was obvious that the nature of creation did not match the nature of the Greek gods. The assumed gods lacked concern, but also aptitude. Reality keeps pointing in another direction.
Thales began to suspect something. If the assumed suspects (Greek gods) were in control of the earth how is it that the earth doesn’t behave like it? It must have risen above its creators and managers because it doesn’t reflect them in the least. Zeus and the gang lacked all organizational skills and any sense of cooperation and coordination. They were perpetually at cross purposes, bickering and fighting. They could never form anything except mischief and tantrums. They were nothing more than actors in a soap opera. By casting a casual glance at what is real, one could begin to question the notion. Did these gods do any of this? Are they capable? The world is too orderly, complex and hospitable for their lot. It is beyond their ability. They are simply not that good – at anything. It is like being told the New York City power grid was built by Mrs. Millson’s kindergarten class. Watch the kids running, coloring, yelling and crying and then examine the power grid. The dots don’t connect. In fact, Mount Olympus was exactly like Mrs. Millson’s kindergarten class with its bickering, power struggles, selfish obsessions, fickle friendships and standing in corners. This takes us to Mount Olympus and Thales observing reality.
If Mount Olympus is the center and seat of power for the Greek gods, then Olympus should be the most raucous place on earth. Does the mountain as described in the stories match the mountain seen every day in Greece? If it were home to the gods, it should confirm what the stories tell us of the inhabitants on the mountain. Olympus would resemble the problem neighbor who can’t get through a weekend without a visit from the police. I can only imagine everyone leaving the vicinity of Olympus to get some peace. But the real Olympus isn’t a noisy ruckus. It sits quietly against the sky year after year. Reality was presenting the truth.
Thales doubted their ability to manage the earth. Since they couldn’t manage anything else how could they hold it together for the earth? That was uncharacteristic for them and an unrealistic expectation from everyone else. Any world they were in charge of would be moody, unpredictable and used selfishly (that does sound like Mrs. Millson’s kindergarten class). What was Thales conclusion? Reality told him the Greek gods couldn’t do it. Reality told him they can’t exist.
Romans 1: 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,
The observation of Thales confirmed Romans chapter 1. It is correct. Creation does its job well. It demonstrates the abilities of the Creator. The limitless intricacies, the power of its laws, the overwhelming beauty and its singular purpose prove a God who is powerful, intelligent and good. The truth is shouted aloud by what is real.
For every subject there is the truth of it. Is Jack immune to poison ivy? Jack Superman said yes. Reality said something else. His bragging point was flattened. Was the world created as described in Greek stories? Reality chimed in on that one as well. Thales listened.
Let’s turn another thought by asking the question: What is reality? As the word implies, reality is all that is real. It is the vast collection of everything that exists with everything that has existed through time. To add to that, reality is the net result or the amassed lingering effects of every fact which happened in the past. In this respect reality stands as a record of itself. It has a history even when we, as part of reality, can only know a small fraction of that history. That record is more than the events of man or even the observations of men. It is the result of everything: birds, volcanoes and atomic particles. One thing (small or great) affects another. These actions (or even nonactions) are fact. They are real, but reality is not located only in this material universe.
Reality includes the supernatural realm far beyond the visible. God is part of reality. So too are angels, demons, Heaven, Hell, Hades and Tartarus. God set everything in motion. He is the original Cause and Creator. At His command came the universe. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). God is the cause; the heavens and the earth are the effect. If this is true, then all else in reality falls in line with it. He created time, space and matter and everything required to govern them. They all have substance. They all function as intended. They all follow in the motion of unbreakable laws. These laws govern everything and set a background or base for reality in the material realm. They form the limits and boundaries by which something is possible or impossible. Here unimaginable forces hold the expanse in balance and these forces are kept in place by something bigger still. Genesis 1:1 explains how that is. The universe with all its contents strange, great and wonderful traces its existence to the truth of God.
Some atheists admit God is a possibility but deny He is actual. But He is more than possible; He is reality and atheists hate that fact above all facts. God is the greatest part of reality as the author of it. He is the first fact and the only eternal fact. He stands as the greatest truth: God is. The verb “is” denotes existence, presence, and current state of being. The word “is” will never be more powerful than when it stands next to the word “God.” If there is reality, if anyone exists, if there is anything factual it is God. When God tells Moses in Exodus 3:14 “I AM WHO I AM,” God is stating the greatest and most obvious truth. All reality points to Him. All that exists or has existed or will exist is because of Him. He is the cause. Everything else is the effect of that cause rolling through time (time is also His creation). He created Heaven, Earth, Hades, Tartarus and Hell. He is the beginning of all creatures in this realm and all others. The moral choices and actions made in any of these places rests on the creatures that may inhabit them – man, angel, devil. God made everything before them, and they walked their own moral path where they willed.
The words, “I AM WHO I AM,” are shockingly complex. So much so they answer a question Moses didn’t ask. “I AM WHO I AM,” means Jehovah is the Self-Existent One, the One without cause. Everything else has a time in which it came into being. Everything else has a cause which brought it forth from nothing. But “I AM,” is eternal without cause and without beginning. We are a generation following untold generations brought into being before us. This is the eternal reality and we now exist in it, now part of it. We live in a reality which starts with God. To put it another way: we exist in God’s reality and there is no other. This is it.
If present reality is the culmination and record of past events, then we know the present cannot appear out of nothing. Hence, we come to history. History is the record of reality. It is not limited to what man has done (building cities and battering them down), but what God has done. Also, in this are the actions of angels and demons. Reality is the record of cause and effect, the consequence of everything to everything else. This is evident in Genesis 3 with those present (God, mankind, Satan, angel) and the resulting future of everything. So, what happened? The law of God is twisted by Satan and mankind falls for the deception. Mankind sins and faces repercussions. The earth is changed, a Cherubim guards the tree of life. Death enters the world. Satan is cursed and the Christ must now fulfill his duty to save mankind. With a few lies scripted by Satan and offered to Adam and Eve the future of everything is affected. This includes all generations of mankind and the Godhead.
We all have the potential of following and fabricating lies. If Satan can make them up so can we. They’re easy. We can even lie to ourselves. Reality is affected by lies only when someone creates them, believes them and follows them. From that arises a burden of consequence for following the lie. This happens as reality argues in favor of the truth. By way of illustration let us say you’re going camping. Where are you going to set up camp? You don’t know, but someone convinced you the best campsites are always on railroad tracks or train trestles because snakes and bears will never go near them. If you follow that lie you will find truth somewhere on the railroad track. Camping on the tracks may be pleasant for hours. There may not be a snake or bear in view. But eventually the person believing the lie is run over by reality. It always points to the truth and anyone who cares to pay attention can follow the instruction. Reality offers no burden for following its lessons. There is no punishment offered by nature or reality for knowing, believing and responding to the truth: sleeping on the railroad tracks will kill you. Anyone avoiding the railroad track can manage through the night train-free. There is no consequence from the truth.
Truth is never a problem. It may bring bad news, but you can react to it wisely. Truth is where you find that rare quality of wisdom: it never exists in a lie. Deception never brings wisdom just as a lie never reveals the truth. You cannot act wisely while under the influence of a lie. The only wisdom would come by distrusting the lie. Let’s take this to a chess board.
Suppose you are playing chess, but your opponent’s pieces are indistinguishable. They are impossible to tell apart. A queen, a pawn, a bishop, the king and all look identical. You can know whose who from the initial position on the board but as soon as they scramble about a problem will occur. Which chessman is which? A piece moving forward one square could be the king, a pawn, a rook or the queen. Who knows? In progressing the deceit all your enemy’s pieces could be easily changed at his whim. There is no way to verify anything. Suddenly there seems to be multiple queens on your opponents’ side. This would be an impossible game to win since it is dishonest. There are too many lies to figure the next move. If you cannot know what is real, then you are lost. Brilliance in the game lends nothing when all you get is false information leading to faulty judgement. I think even I could eke out a little victory against the world chess champion if I could cheat like this. Right decisions can only be had in the presence of truth.
Avoiding the truth may be pleasant for hours or even years. But eventually the person believing a lie will be run over by reality. Lies are the problem. Now for the final swing through our journey heading to a place that has never existed. We will not stay long. It’s boring.
God does not lie any more than reality. God is absolute. Truth is absolute. Reality is absolute. If there is no God, then there is nothing. Reality would be void and there would be one truth existing in that void. It would be a truth that could never be known (except in our game of hypothetically speaking). The one truth would be, “there is nothing.” That one and only truth would never be met by a mind of any sort to consider it. Nothing can be quite lonely. So, in the effort of grinding philosophical gears we now back our thinking out of the garage and into the neighbor’s house. Here we go. If a void is nothing then it has no time, space, laws or properties inside it, nor can it be described except to say it is nothing. Since it is nothing no one could be there to describe it as nothing, so what’s the point? Since a void is nothing, then it doesn’t exist. Okay, all that to say, “if truth is not absolute then there is nothing.” If there is no truth and all is nothing, then how am I writing this and how are you reading this? A true void has never existed. There has never been a time where there was nothing. There has always been God. Now back to our real world.
It is on absolutes where we can set up camp. Nature adheres to and is controlled by the logic permeating creation. It is without contradiction and follows a logical path. Rationality and reason are functions and outpourings of nature. The laws of logic and reason are not the inventions of men any more than the laws of mass and gravity. They are operations of reality. We are taught them and can easily learn them. It is then a matter of our willingness to listen and learn.
So, we have come to the end of our long wanderings and are back by lunchtime Tuesday. And, by the way, I doubt snakes and bears are frightened of railroad tracks.