Adapted for the Internet from:

Why God Doesn't Exist
What is a table?

    1.0   Current definitions are inadequate for the purposes of Science

    What is the definition of the word table?

    One dictionary defines this word as:

    “ An article of furniture supported by one or more vertical legs and having a flat
      horizontal surface.”  [1]

    Another has a similar descriptive definition but adds a purpose:

    “ A table is a piece of furniture composed of a horizontal surface and a base. It is
      often used to hold objects or food at a convenient or comfortable height when
      sitting.”  [2]

    The devil’s advocate instinctively asks whether the word chair also meets these definitions. After all a seat,
    a stool, and a bench are also pieces of furniture that sometimes consist of a horizontal surface and one or
    more legs.

    The tie breaker is that we don’t typically place food on chairs. We typically place our buns on chairs:

    “ chair: A piece of furniture consisting of a seat, legs, back, and often arms,
      designed to accommodate one person.”   [3]

    “ A chair is a piece of furniture for sitting, consisting of a seat, a back, and
      sometimes arm rests, commonly for use by one person. Chairs also often have
      legs to support the seat raised above the floor.”  [4]

    But the devil’s advocate may insist that he sometimes eats where others put their heiny. Of course, this is
    his prerogative, but the point is that ‘flat surface, four legs, and used for eating’ does not alone differentiate
    between table and chair. So how many more attributes should we list before we have a precise definition of
    table that helps us distinguish it from a chair and that we can use consistently in a scientific discussion?
    Should we add that it is made of wood, painted blue, that you clean it every day, or cover it with a tablecloth?
    Will these resolutely differentiate between a table and a chair?  

    Just as alarming self-defeating, it becomes apparent that the more attributes we include, the less universal
    the word table becomes. There are tables which are made of metal, others that are neither flat nor horizontal,
    and still others that have no legs. By defining the word table so narrowly as to eliminate possible confusion
    with the word chair, we risk excluding a whole set of objects that people typically identify as tables.

    So we’re back to square one: What then is the definition of the word table? Is there a definition that we can
    use consistently?

    2.0   Concepts we define; objects we point to

    The answer is that for the purposes of science, we don’t and can’t define objects. In science, you point to
    an object with your index finger and designate it with a name. Imagine that you are shipwrecked on an island.
    The next day another castaway joins you, but he doesn’t speak your language. If you want to teach your
    buddy the word table, you have no choice but to point to an object and utter the word table. You may have
    pointed to a flat rock or to a level portion of earth, and your acquaintance may still not understand what a
    table is used for, but henceforth your interlocutor identifies the word table with whatever you fingered. We
    have understanding. We have communication. The word table as it relates to an object is ONLY pertinent to
    the instant presentation. This use of the word table is not as a category. It does not include all the tables in
    the universe. When you say table and point without more, you are referring exclusively to the shape in front
    of you.

    In science, we can only define the ‘concept’ table, and here there are two possibilities: we can either describe
    or explain. A description is ideally objective. We are not saying that ‘a’ table is made of wood and has four legs,
    because this is an opinion, too general, and certainly a wrong one. We are saying that this table is made of
    wood and has four legs. These are facts that follow from the definitions of words such as made, wood, four,
    and legs. If these characteristic or attributes are not pertinent to the instant theory, the ordinary meanings of
    these words suffice. Otherwise, the onus is on the prosecutor to define the terms that make or break his
    theory. For example, if the instant theory has to do with explaining why a daltonic man confused the table
    with a chair, then the prosecutor may have to define what he means by red or by color.  Otherwise, it may
    not be important to state that ‘this table is red’ other than to provide a more thorough description to the juror.

    3.0   Description versus narrative

    In ordinary speech we routinely hear statements such as ‘Please describe what happened’ or ‘Describe
    how you make a table.’ The verb describe is generally taken to be a synonym of narrate, recite, recount,
    rehearse, relate, and report:

    “describe: To give an account of in speech or writing.”  [5]

    However, if to describe means to regurgitate what happened, what word should we reserve to ‘describe’
    physical objects? I argue that in science we must unambiguously differentiate between these two concepts:

    description (to describe): is a listing of the physical attributes of a static object. We use adjectives to
    describe objects (e.g., big, red, straight, continuous, flat, bounded, etc).

    narrative (to narrate): is a listing of events, usually in chronological order. We use adverbs to narrate
    dynamic concepts (e.g., perpetual, incessant, constant, etc.) [For the purposes of Physics, such words
    are exclusively adverbs because they may only be used in the context of motion. Hence, the grammatical
    categories of ordinary grammar do not apply.]

    Therefore, for the purposes of a precise, rational, scientific dissertation, we don’t describe ‘what happened.’
    We narrate ‘how’ events occurred. A narrative is ideally objective, a mechanical run down of events. Think
    of a robot telling a story. It should sound impersonal, free of emotion, un-opinionated, boring. Think of the
    objective cop: ‘The facts, ma’am, just the facts!’

    A description belongs to the hypothesis stage of the scientific method and is pertinent to the Exhibits. The
    narrative also belongs to the hypothesis stage, but is pertinent to the facts. In Science, it is not a fact that this
    is a cube. A cube is an object and an object can only be named. An example of a fact – a static fact – is that a
    cube has six sides. A ratio such as π is another example of a static fact. This statement flows from definitions
    of words such as six and side. In contrast, there are dynamic facts, such as that the signal of light travels at
    300,000 km/sec. Rates may at best be dynamic facts.

    4.0   Explanation versus narrative

    Is it possible to explain rather than to narrate how a table was built?

    The answer is yes. If we know exactly how a table was made or have filmed the process, there is no mystery.
    The proponent is merely synthesizing his version of the facts in a statement of the facts. The witness is
    testifying, hopefully objectively. He could not have filmed the location of every atom during the construction
    (the actual fact). He can only provide a film clip of what he regards the most relevant milestones. Nevertheless,
    this is his version, his particular view, his film clip.

    But what happens when the proponent does not know how the table was built? Then his only alternative is to
    theorize. He speculates about the process that resulted in the finished product. Here the manufacturing of the
    table is what the theory is about. Note that this is not a why but a how question. The prosecutor is not
    investigating why the carpenter constructed the chair (reason). He is theorizing about how (cause) it could
    have been made. Therefore, in science, we do not only theorize about whys. We also theorize about hows.

    Indeed, astronomy, paleontology, and geology are normally 'how' sciences. The paleontologist explores
    mechanisms, not reasons. There are few, if any, ‘why’ questions in the natural sciences. Evolution, for example,
    is not an issue of why (purpose), but an issue of how (cause). The confusion comes because researchers and
    theorists often phrase how questions in why format. The astronomer may inadvertently and colloquially ask, ‘
    Why did that star explode?’ when he is really asking, ‘By what mechanism was the explosion triggered?’ How
    did it happen? The word why implies purpose, reason, plan, premeditation. Only living beings may plan ahead.
    We can ask, ‘Why did the lion eat the wildebeest?’, meaning what went through the animal’s mind. What was
    the lion thinking about? Why did the lion decide to go on the attack?  We cannot ask in science, ‘Why does the
    Earth go around the Sun?’ The Earth has no purpose or reason. The correct way of formulating this question,
    the real context is, 'How is it that the Earth goes around the Sun? By what mechanism?'What invisible physical
    entity binds the Earth to the Sun?

    Therefore, there are two kinds of explanations and both of them have to do with the theory phase of the
    scientific method. We can theorize about how an event occurred (cause and effect) and we can theorize about
    why (purpose). Why questions are prohibited at the hypothesis stage. The statement of the facts exclusively
    addresses how questions. Conversely, a how question is prohibited at theory if it is a narrative (i.e., formulated
    as a statement of the facts, testimony). An objective listing of events contrasts with the purpose of the step
    known as theory, which consists of an objective statement of how the prosecutor believes an event occurred.  
    The prosecutor is attempting to explain to the juror how he thinks an event happened so that the juror will
    understand the mechanism.

    This is where religion and science part company. Religion is unscientific because it incongruously formulates
    how as why questions. The traditional religionist attempts to explain the reason we are here and predictably
    this always takes him to God. The theist is unaware that he has already answered his question when he asks
    why. Why (purpose) already presupposes God. Only a living organism can premeditate and plan the future.
    Thus, God is not presented as a hypothesis (i.e., the anthropomorphic god that chronologically creates the
    world, Man, the animals, etc.). God is presented as a theory. God is not the mechanical being of Old Testament
    fame, a sorcerer that merely waves His magic wand (cause). God is ‘the’ explanation of why (purpose) we are
    here (reason).

    In traditional religion, the question is incongruously twisted around. According to religion, Love exists for a
    reason. Love becomes a why as opposed to a how question, a reason as opposed to a mechanical process,
    a subjective explanation rather than an objective narrative of an occurrence. Religion is unscientific because
    it converts hypotheses into theories. In traditional religion, God is not part of a narrative of how the world got
    started. This is trivial in religion. God is an explanation of why the world got started. That Jesus performed
    miracles, was crucified, and came back from the dead is not important in Christianity. These are how questions
    (i.e., what happened) and to a Christian they are not important. The Christian is concerned with why these
    events occurred: for what reason. Hence, words such as God, heaven, and cross are not objects that belong
    to a dull narrative, an enumeration of facts. In religion, each of these words embodies an entire theory.

    5.0   Conclusion

    For the purposes of science, a table is an object. The prosecutor points to and names it at the exhibits stage
    of the scientific method. The object is assigned this name only for the purposes of the instant theory. The
    prosecutor uses adjectives to describe the object for the benefit of the jury. If any of these attributes are
    pertinent to the instant theory, the prosecutor must define the terms that are relevant as well. The prosecutor
    may now use the word table in his statement of the facts, in his theory, or in both. We typically accept this
    description as a definition. The prosecutor may narrate what a table is typically used for, who built it, where
    we find it inside a house, etc. It can also be used in a narrative which purpose is to objectively list the steps
    that were required to build it or to state some other static or dynamic fact about it. If, instead, the prosecutor
    is speculating about how the table was built, what a table is used for, who built it, etc., or intends to use the
    word in an explanation of a physical phenomenon (e.g., why the table was carried or why it is here), then he
    is now using the word in a theory, in an explanation. As an object, a table merely has form.

A table is
where we eat.
No, a table is what I put my
bible and my bell on!
I thought a table
is what a
carpenter makes.


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        Copyright © by Nila Gaede 2008