Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the category “Epistemology”

Proof that π=2√3

There is an inherent danger attached to blindly accepting the word of someone who sounds like they are presenting a rational, scientific claim. Too many people are willing to accept a proposition solely because they’ve heard it from someone who bears the appearance of intelligence. The line of thought seems to be, “Well, he’s smarter than me, so he must be right!” Unfortunately, this sort of fallacious reasoning goes largely unchecked, and often becomes formative in the common understanding of entire groups of people.

For almost the entirety of your mathematical education, you have been taught that the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, which we affectionately refer to as π, is something close to 3\frac{1}{7}, or about 3.14; however, today I’m going to show you that your math teachers were wrong. In actuality, the value of π is exactly 2√3, or about 3.46.

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The Story of My Rationalism

My parents– like all parents– love to tell stories, bragging about me to their friends. One of their favorites comes from my early childhood. When I was just four or five years old, my Sunday School teacher came to my parents flummoxed, after a particular day of church. She pulled them aside and apologized, telling them that I had asked a lot of questions that she could not answer. In fact, she had never even thought about many of my questions before then. If Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were the first people, who did Cain think was going to kill him after he had been caught in his crime? Who lived in the land of Nod and how did they get there? If there were no people before Adam and Eve, didn’t that mean Cain married his own sister? I was young, but I loved to think and to learn, and the combination of these three things often brought me to places that my teachers had never even considered.

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Does Science Disprove God?

Christian apologist Melissa Cain Travis has posted her thoughts on an article written by Dr. Amir Aczel entitled, “Why Science Does Not Disprove God,” a complement to his book of the same name. While Ms. Travis agrees with the thrust of the article, she finds some of its language to be a bit vague, and adds some commentary which she believes clarifies these issues. It is likely unsurprising that Travis, a Christian apologist, would agree with Aczel’s premise.

What may be more surprising to my readers is that I also agree: Science does not disprove God.

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Hierarchies of Absurdity

I read an article, today, by Brian Doyle at The American Scholar which describes how his view of the peculiarities of Mormonism led him to reflect on those tenets of his own belief that others might find crazy. I had a very similar experience. One summer, some years back, I was having a discussion with a friend about the ridiculous assertions made in Scientology. At the time, I was still a Christian– and a Young Earth Creationist, at that. While I was opining about the absurdity of Xenu killing the citizens of his galactic empire using hydrogen bombs and volcanoes, one of my friends asked me, “Is it really that much weirder than claiming that Yahweh drowned the whole planet, then repopulated it by the inhabitants of a single boat?”

I was taken aback, for a moment. I realized, then, that the strange and miraculous stories embedded in my own faith sounded just as ludicrous to an unbeliever as Scientology had sounded to me. I fumbled together a reply, saying the authors of the Biblical text were more reliable than a crooked science fiction writer, but my friend once again befuddled me with his response: “Why?”

It was my search for the answer to that question which led me to lose my faith in Christianity.

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Having Faith in Our Definitions

I recently posted about WLC’s quibbles over the definition of “atheism.” In my opinion, when two people disagree on the definition of a term, the best way of resolving the issue is to go with the definition proposed by the person who self-identifies with the word. For example, in the case of Dr. Craig’s issues with the definition of “atheism,” we should utilize the definition claimed by someone who calls himself an “atheist.” Otherwise, any arguments that are made against that person’s atheism run the risk of becoming straw men, as they are based around false precepts. This week, Dr. Craig’s podcast once again attempts to wrestle the control of a word’s definition away from atheists. In response to Dr. Peter Boghossian’s new book, A Manual for Creating Atheists, WLC discusses what he views as a faulty view of “faith” raised up by opponents of religion.

And, in a marked twist for this blog, I actually agree with William Lane Craig, in this case.

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The Legend of Hippasus

There was once an ancient Greek geometer named Hippasus who belonged to the Pythagorean Brotherhood. The Pythagoreans were a school of philosophers who held a special reverence for numbers and proportion. To these men, mathematics was more than just a method for quantifying and describing the world around them. The Pythagoreans held that numbers, themselves, were divine things, worthy of awe and worship. Relationships between these numbers– what we would now think of as a “proportion” or “ratio” of numbers– were intensely studied, as these proportions were thought to hold the secrets of the cosmos. If one were to divide a string according to some specific ratios, he could produce beautiful music. If one compared the proportions of two legs of a triangle, he could come to understand the remaining leg. Nothing in existence was more beautiful to the Pythagoreans than the discovery of these proportions and the properties they endowed.

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Basics of Epistemology

Pretend, for a moment, that someone has just made a claim, and you are trying to decide whether or not that claim is true. How do you go about evalutating their assertion? How do you decide if that person is right or wrong? How do you know the truth?

Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. It is the area of philosophy which attempts to create methodologies for discerning truth from falsehood. So, for example, if I were to claim, “I am wearing a green shirt,” how could you verify or disconfirm my statement? Well, if you’re in the room with me, you could simply look at my shirt. However, what if you’re not in the room with me? You might place a phone call to someone who IS with me, and ask them– but how would you know that this new person was telling the truth, and not lying?

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