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The Ultimate Expression of Relativism

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Quite accomplished and noted scientist Lord Kelvin said:

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be.

That is actually an argument about objectivity.  Measurement, numbers are standards.  You can measure a thing and I can measure a thing and we should arrive at the same number.  But even measurement can be subject to perceptual errors.  In school I spent hours learning how to read the meniscus in a buret to avoid perceptual errors in titration.  Until we measure and number a thing we do not know about a thing, we know what we know or what you know about a thing, but that is not the thing itself.  This sounds esoteric, but it is a vitally important distinction.

It applies also to political issues.  We all come with predetermined biases to reading news, but moreover, we all only can read so much.  We may both have facts about a situation, but unless we have all the facts the best we can claim is an opinion.

I thought about this when I read Scott Johnson at Powerline argue that we have the two worst presidential candidates in history.  I did not think about it because I disagree, but because I was thinking about how we got into such a pickle.

These two candidates say more about how Americans view the office than anything else.  I think many American now view it more as a media role than an actual job.  The office of POTUS has been greatly reduced in recent years.  Yes, Obama’s behavior in office has contributed mightily to that reduction, but I tend to think it started with George W Bush whose communication strategy regarding much of his policy allowed people’s perceptions to fester – allowed opinion based on incomplete information to matter more than it should have.  History will certainly show that George W Bush executed his constitutional duties as president exceptionally well, but I think he gets a less that stellar grade in his duties to communicate with the American public.  This reduced the office.

Now comes a scientific metastudy, reported here, linked here, summarized here,  that determines, among other things:

  • While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation. While minor differences in the brain structures and brain activity between homosexual and heterosexual individuals have been identified by researchers, such neurobiological findings do not demonstrate whether these differences are innate or are the result of environmental and psychological factors.
  • Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artifacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).
  • The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence.

Yet SCOTUS has made a monumental legal decision based on the immutability of sexual orientation.  Clearly Obergefell is based not in knowledge, but in opinion.

Relativism, that is to say the idea that there is no objectivity or objective truth seems to hold ultimate sway amongst our populace.  That makes the current two candidates unsurprising.  The office is reduced because we view both the candidates and the office through a relative lens.  Whether it be the policies of this administration based in relativism, or the misperceptions permitted by the last administration’s communication capabilities, image now matters more than reality.

“Well, that’s your opinion,” is a way to end an argument, but it does not resolve it.  However, it also implies that the person who utters it is unwilling to bend their perception to new or other facts.  It is in that sense an expression of an overly important sense of self and not a little bit of intellectual laziness.  Thus the rise of relativism in our nation can to some degree be attributed to same.

Christianity is not relative, God is the ultimate measuring stick.  Christianity teaches humility, but provides self worth not from self, but because of God’s regard for us.  Thrift and industry are Christian virtues.

It is my sincere hope and fervent prayer that this election cycle represents the ultimate expression of relativism in our nation.  We have to get about resolving issues.  I think that will come not through elections or policies, but through revival of the ultimate measuring stick.


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