Apples and Oranges
by Michael Wilmot
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The phrase, “Comparing Apples to Oranges” is fairly easy to understand. It speaks to the activity of comparing one thing to another, where they have nothing in common, being invalid or unfair. If there is a method to compare an apple to an orange without some basis for that comparison to, excuse the pun, bear fruit, I am unable to conceive of it.
I can compare the apple and the orange to an attribute, for instance firmness, or flavor, but to do so, requires I understand what being firm or having flavor is, and thus we enter into a trinity of objects which are the orange, the apple and the item of measure; or in other words, the control (orange), the evaluation (apple) and the standard (firm). Without the existence of all three it will be impossible to discuss, with any hope of success, their merit. Each prong of our trident of objects is dependent upon the other to be what it is. The orange cannot suddenly become a pear without altering our dynamic so completely as to be a wholly new thing. Similarly there can be no shifting in the standard of what we are measuring against. Firm cannot become soft or sweet become bland without introducing chaos into the matrix.
Additionally the concept of all three objects must be known to us before we can indulge in the activity of measure. I must know what an orange and apple are in order to measure them. I must also know what firm is in order to determine which, if any, of the objects best conform to that standard.
If I were to ask you which letter in the English alphabet best represented a right angle, you could reasonably submit the capital L as your champion. You can do this by first understanding what a right angle is, and systematically selecting first one letter from the alphabet and then another, and comparing each to the standard of right-angled. A and B would fall short, but perhaps B is closer than A which would allow it to be placed in competition with C. At some point E might rule the day, until F took a short lead to be replaced by L. This is how the activity of measurement is done. Not comparing apples to oranges, but by comparing an apple and an orange to some other thing.
See how falls apart where one element of the three is either an unknown or assumed value. If I were to challenge you to select a letter from the Imbabu language that best represents an oval, I would suggest your chance of success would be very low, based on the fact I have, just now, invented a language called Imbabu of which you have no understanding of. This would appear to be unfair, and it might well be, so long as there is some standard we can both agree upon that is called “fair”.
Observe also we do not require a forth element which is the opposite from our measured standard. We do not require an aspect of un-fair to measure fair; nor do we need a curved line in order to measure a straight one. In fact all three of our objects can be the exact same thing such as: which letter, Z or Z, best conforms to the letter Z? Well that is an easy task indeed and does not require the other 25 letters of the alphabet at all. To measure, we need three and only three items in the game.
How then are we to respond to the challenge of a singular comparison such as “Is this orange firm?” where the secondary object, the apple, is missing? On the surface this raises some doubt as to the need for a trinity of objects. However this is an incomplete question because it only allows for one possibility, in phrasing, where two exist, in reality. If the orange is, in fact, firm then our question is sound. If however it is not, then what is it? By allowing for the orange to be firm, we also allow for it to not be firm, and thus must accept this other state as a possible answer. In mathematics we may say that 2 + 2 = 4, but our sum may be wrong. We check it by a reversal of the equation and find that 4 – 2 = 2 and thus have confidence in our answer.
What we are really asking in the question “Is this orange firm?” is “Is this orange firm, or not?” and it is the “or not” which braces the other bracket of our trinity. In reality all objects may have some aspect of firmness to them in that we may never, truthfully, answer no to this question. However, I submit that when we ask any question of comparison, we create in our mind some ideal aspect to what the standard is. We imagine a perfect “firm” and it is to this ideal which we use as a basis for our comparison. Even if you reject that supposition it would be hard to ignore the word "this" in our question. Could not "is this orange firm?" just as easily ask "Is this orange firm as opposed to all other oranges?" and there we have completed the trinity once again.
This is the way in which the world, universe and all known creation works. It is no less a rule than other axioms we accept such as “what goes up must come down” or “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Just as there is a universal constant of gravitation, there exists a universal standard in the execution of measurement. A constant is just that, constant. If at any time it can be changed then it will, quite naturally and fairly, release its hold on any claim to consistency and thus any value for being used in measuring.
The truth of this dynamic came full force to me while reading the words of CS Lewis in his work Mere Christianity. Upon seeing the profound truth in the methodology of measurements, I saw so strongly the requirement for a separate force to exist outside of nature that allows for nature to exist at all. It has also become my strongest defense for the need the supernatural to exist, and the need for a standard maker, God, in order to establish the standards in the first place.
For in the act of measuring, the items being measured cannot be in control over the constant by which they are being measured against. If the orange had an upper hand from the apple on what firm was, there would be no way to know if the orange was firm, or firm was an orange. The orange and the apple must both be in submission to firm and only in this relationship can any work of measurement be conducted. The aspect of being firm must be above or beyond the reach of both orange and apple and reside separate from, but visible to, both.
I use comparative analysis as an apologetic because this system is ingrained into the very fabric of our existence. Without it we could not perform the simple act of picking up an object form a table, turn a corner or drive a car or perform any action which requires an evaluation. How could I know when to close my fingers around the pen if I could not answer the question “Are my fingers in the right position?” Because the comparative analysis system is so deeply built into our very nature if it can be linked to the need for a existence outside of the natural, the supernatural, then we also can be linked to the same need.
This is because all standards used by nature must be free from natures control; hence they must exist outside of nature. I am human, I exist in nature, and therefore I cannot expect to have any measure of influence into the standards which govern this existence. I can invent some metrics that help me grasp these standards, and I can choose to either align with or work away from them. I cannot change them.
Because these standards exist and they govern all decisions and possibilities in nature and yet exist outside of nature’s control they must reside in a place outside of nature itself and this means there must be a supernatural level of existence. We may feel uncomfortable with the idea for a host of reasons but this to me is like the fear of flight. It is a reasonable fear because we do not own the law of gravitation and only by a strict obedience to that law will our machines continue to function. Here is where we find the truth in the saying, “He, who becomes a slave to the compass, enjoys the freedom of the seas.”
This then begs the question of what controls the supernatural or “Who establishes what firm is?” The answer to that question would have to be the same to all such questions regardless of the object of inquiry. Christians call this force God but regardless of how this is defined the reality that there is something outside of our existence cannot be denied.
Consequently whoever sets what is the standard for firmness, love, life or warmth is no doubt the same force that allows for the conditions by which those standards can be used. For without a creation of possibilities in nature, there can be no value to these concepts at all. For what purpose could there be in being firm if nothing could become firm? In the same way what value is there in a salvation if there were no creatures which could assume the aspect of being saved?
This realization is where, I believe, the greatest of philosophers arrive to when they claim life without God is without meaning, and life with God provides all meaning. For without the existence of God, the third element, in relation to creation then creation can neither have a purpose or a value. And only by the submission to God and the daily struggle to reach His standards can there be, in return, a value for your life.
Copyright © Michael Wilmot June 2006
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Very apologetic writing. Reminds me a bit of Philip Yancey. This article would be very useful for someone who is struggling in their Christian faith.