In 1999 I worked in a genetics lab in Calgary using the latest molecular DNA techniques to diagnose genetic disorders in the families that came into our clinics and other clinics across the country. Families relied on us and used the information we generated to make decisions about their own health and the health of their children. The techniques we used were developed in our lab using previously determined methods and we had a great deal of trust in the system. We were always aware of the possibility of building our systems upon inaccuracies of others but with peer reviewed papers and a healthy degree of checking each others work we generated data that was suitable for the needs of our patients.
In 1999 we were also very much aware of computer programs built upon other programs. Our lab data-base and our DNA analysis systems were built using other people’s code and we did not always know the type of system previous programmers had used for labeling the dates on files. As the new millennium loomed before us we were concerned that someone might have used a calendar system that could not deal with the year 2000. Some systems would click over from 1999 to 2000 by going from 99 to 00 and programs might see this as an invalid date. This of course was the essence of the Y2K concerns of the late 1990s. Much time, energy, and money was expended on this issue to confirm that our databases, timers, and machines would survive into the new century.
Both the lab systems and the computer systems illustrate a problem that has implications for our scientific, philosophic, and theological systems. Any work we do presently is necessarily built upon the work of others and shares assumptions that we may not even comprehend as we build our work.
Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher looked into the philosophy of scientific discovery and found that the conclusions of one person were always dependent upon previous axioms;1 and that no one was able to completely investigate all previous assumptions, inferences, and “self-evident” truths. He concluded that, “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”2 Those are good words for all of us. Do we love truth enough to pursue it wherever it may take us? When we find truth in conflict with our previous beliefs can we examine how this truth may be incorrect because of a wrong assumption? Or, can we recognize that our previous belief may need some adjustment? Is my understanding of science or theology narrow and short-sighted because of flawed axioms built into my system of beliefs? What if we could all desire to love truth and live by it? What if it became natural to speak truth and seek it in all aspects of our lives? May our hearts long for and love all truth.
1 An axiom is 1: a maxim widely accepted on its intrinsic merit; 2: a statement accepted as true as the basis for argument or inference; or 3: an established rule or principle or a self-evident truth. – Merriam-Webster; http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/axiom
2 Blaise Pascal (1623-1662, Thoughts, http://www.bartleby.com/48/1/14.html