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Ch. 13: Faith 
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Robert: "Well, with the greatest of due respect, Burton is wrong. Evolution is absolutely 100% certain."

Unfortunately it's not. I believe it with absolute certainty, but that is my belief. You believe the same I see. The reality is, we must maintain that there is for example, one in a billion to the billionth power that there is a chance that we've missed something that will throw a wrench in the theoretical gears. If you can prove absolutely that we aren't merely avatars in the video game of advanced aliens, you'd reduce that fraction by a small amount, but it would still not be an absolute certainty.



Thu Oct 09, 2008 11:17 am
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Interbane wrote:
If you can prove absolutely that we aren't merely avatars in the video game of advanced aliens, you'd reduce that fraction by a small amount, but it would still not be an absolute certainty.

I know where you are coming from with the modern Cartesian myth of the deceiving demon and Hume's stupid idea that maybe the sun will not rise tomorrow. My point is that this 0.001% is a big enough crack to open up a modern nihilism in which we do not have faith in our senses. I would rather say, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed you can move mountains, but that faith should be in science not in superstition. Creationists have that superstitious faith which is why they have the courage of their convictions. Rationalists also need faith in the power of evidence. The stakes are too high to accept that maybe science is wrong.



Thu Oct 09, 2008 6:41 pm
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Robert Tulip wrote:
I would rather say, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed you can move mountains, but that faith should be in science not in superstition. Creationists have that superstitious faith which is why they have the courage of their convictions. Rationalists also need faith in the power of evidence. The stakes are too high to accept that maybe science is wrong.

It seems a bit odd to me to bring the language of religion into science. Does knowledge have to be understood as absolute knowledge anyway, in order to be useful to us? And maybe a good thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the research in science carries a certainty of way less than 99.99%. Any good scientist, I think, will accept that maybe his science is wrong. Remember also that the evolution/cosmology question is only one area of application for science.
DWill



Thu Oct 09, 2008 9:16 pm
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DWill: "Does knowledge have to be understood as absolute knowledge anyway, in order to be useful to us?"


That's a good rhetorical question, and I agree with the answer.

Robert: "...Hume's stupid idea that maybe the sun will not rise tomorrow."

What's so stupid about that?

Robert: "...that faith should be in science not in superstition."

I had a debate a few years ago on this forum with MadArchitect about faith. After many pages, we agreed that there should be a distinction with regards to defining faith. There is "simple faith", which is our faith in our senses, and faith in those things that are almost utter certainties(the sun will come up tomorrow). Simple faith should be had at all times to avoid entering that endless deconstructionist nihilism.

Then there's "complex faith", which is a faith in an ideology, theology, person, etc. In this sense, faith alone is useless. A foundation of reasoning, evidence, facts, etc. must first be built. Since this foundation alone lacks absolute certainty, faith is the glue that we have to hold it together. The whole that is created allows us to trust, and allows us to have confidence.

If there are foundational gaps too large, or there isn't enough of a foundation, faith is again useless. I see a gaping chasm in religion, but since the central tenet of religion is faith, it's pushed down peoples throats so mush that they build a bridge with it to span the chasm.

Robert: "The stakes are too high to accept that maybe science is wrong."

Are you assuming a dichotomy, where science is either right or wrong? Perhaps some of the conclusions we arrive at via the scientific method may be wrong, but the fact that we have advanced technology says that at the very least, the scientific method is successful at coming within close proximity to the truth by eliminating what is false. The truth of science could be thought of as being on a sliding scale rather than simply a dichotomy. I'll add that I think it's bumping elbows with the truth end of that scale based on its results.



Thu Oct 09, 2008 9:59 pm
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DWill wrote:
Does knowledge have to be understood as absolute knowledge anyway, in order to be useful to us? And maybe a good thing to keep in mind is that a lot of the research in science carries a certainty of way less than 99.99%. Any good scientist, I think, will accept that maybe his science is wrong. Remember also that the evolution/cosmology question is only one area of application for science. DWill
Yes, much is uncertain, as Burton shows, but that is no reason to doubt the certainty of things that are certain, eg the basics of evolution and celestial mechanics. My point is that we should build a foundation for thought upon the certainties which have been discovered by our amazing modern minds. Leaving open a sophistical chink of doubt may seem logical but it gives a moral room to believers in superstition which I feel is unwarranted.
Quote:
It seems a bit odd to me to bring the language of religion into science.
The mustard seed faith line is from Matthew 17:20. What I am advocating is an evolution of scientific thought away from total skepticism towards a recognition that science connects us to the absolute. I am deliberately merging the mythic ideas of science and religion here to present an integrated worldview, because the rejection of religious language by scientists seems to be a significant factor in public indifference towards scientific knowledge. A bit of well based fervour doesn't necessarily go astray. Another great line from JC is from John 15:1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener." The way I interpret this in scientific terms is that Christ is like an artery connecting human existence to absolute truth, ie to the nature of the universe. Jesus does not even need to exist for this line to be meaningful (although I think he does). It is about understanding the structure of the relation between human spirituality and the cosmos through the mythic identity of the Christ idea as an archetype of human perfection.



Fri Oct 10, 2008 12:12 am
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Robert: "Leaving open a sophistical chink of doubt may seem logical but it gives a moral room to believers in superstition which I feel is unwarranted."

It seems you're indirectly admitting absolute truth isn't attainable, yet we should overlook this admission to circumvent superstitious proposals. Knowing something yet believing differently doesn't fly for me.

Robert: "What I am advocating is an evolution of scientific thought away from total skepticism towards a recognition that science connects us to the absolute."

Science proves nothing absolutely true, no matter how much you might wish it. It only proves things wrong. What is left of any given target of experimentation is then a fair approximation of the truth. The workings of the scientific method may appear skeptical in nature, but on closer examination it's little more than trial and error. If something fails, document it as false and try something else. If the results of an experiment finally correspond exactly to the hypothesis, the resulting theory still isn't considered absolutely true. It's considered "as of yet not able to be disproven". There is a huge difference.

"The way I interpret this in scientific terms is that Christ is like an artery connecting human existence to absolute truth, ie to the nature of the universe."

You used scientific terms, but the sentence as a whole pulls those terms out of context via analogy, and the sentence remains entirely religious. You're coming very close to abusing the meaning of science in an attempt at a marriage between science and religion.



Fri Oct 10, 2008 1:07 am
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Post Falsifying Popper
Interbane wrote:
It seems you're indirectly admitting absolute truth isn't attainable, yet we should overlook this admission to circumvent superstitious proposals. Knowing something yet believing differently doesn't fly for me.
Your use of the word 'attainable' is worth exploring further. I do think absolute truth is attainable, but only by junking the baleful assumptions of logical positivism. Positivist disciples of Hume and Popper say they "know" that it is possible that all human history is an alien dream. I argue such "knowledge" is absurd. The fact that I cannot "prove" that our planet exists to your exalted standards of positivist faith indicates that I am suggesting different standards for knowledge. There is a good discussion of related issues in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, where he argues that human 'being in the world' is a necessary assumption for thought and so is unproveable without a leap into circular reasoning. This assumption that we exist operates rather like Euclid's axioms in geometry. Of course Euclid's axioms about lines and points are contestable, but they remain a very useful working model for many purposes in geometry. I am arguing that the axiom that absolute truth is attainable is similarly useful, including as a strategy to circumvent superstitious proposals, in your felicitous phrase.
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Science proves nothing absolutely true, no matter how much you might wish it. It only proves things wrong. What is left of any given target of experimentation is then a fair approximation of the truth. The workings of the scientific method may appear skeptical in nature, but on closer examination it's little more than trial and error. If something fails, document it as false and try something else. If the results of an experiment finally correspond exactly to the hypothesis, the resulting theory still isn't considered absolutely true. It's considered "as of yet not able to be disproven". There is a huge difference.
Your faith in Popper's dogmatic skepticism is touching. (For others, Interbane is repeating the so-called falsificationist theory of the widely influential philosopher of science Sir Karl Popper.) I think Popper's theory is crap. What about the successes of science? Sorry, but science has found that planets travel in ellipses, and used this knowledge to send probes to the far reaches of the solar system. If the knowledge was false we would not have close up pictures of Saturn. Case closed. Sure, we don't know everything, but what we do know is true. If we are not sure it is not knowledge. If it is true it cannot be falsified. If we know we know. You are arguing there is no such thing as knowledge. That is silly.

Quote:
You're coming very close to abusing the meaning of science in an attempt at a marriage between science and religion.
"The meaning of science" deserves abuse if dogmatic Popperians use it to claim there is no certainty in the world. The way I see it, David Hume developed theories which were useful two hundred years ago as part of a rational critique of dogmatic religion, but his ideas have now fossilised into a new scientific dogma, which it seems you believe. My God, you aren't even sure that the earth goes around the sun!! How timid can you get? If my views are heretical to the religion of scientism then so be it. Following Hegel, we can say that Hume presented reason as the antithesis of faith, and what is now required is a synthetic integration between faith and reason.



Fri Oct 10, 2008 4:39 am
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Robert...I want to post something here to support your very erudite argument towards faith.

And maybe...someone will read this and rejoice.....

You are obviously a very educated, and thinking, feeling person.

There are those on this forum..who are thinking...but ignoring the feeling..

I have, honestly learned a lot on here....I have learned to take more into account 'facts'....I have learned to reject preconceived notions.

But, none-the-less....there is something more about us than flesh and blood, more than the five senses.....
We are something more....


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If you fall, I'll be there.

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Fri Oct 10, 2008 3:25 pm
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Post Re: Falsifying Popper
Robert Tulip wrote:
If the knowledge was false we would not have close up pictures of Saturn. Case closed. Sure, we don't know everything, but what we do know is true. If we are not sure it is not knowledge. If it is true it cannot be falsified. If we know we know. You are arguing there is no such thing as knowledge. That is silly.

I didn't hear that argument (that there is no such thing as knowledge) being made, and I don't think it's even implied. I think you're using quite a special definition of knowledge, possibly with a theological element. Knowledge in the everyday world is working knowledge. We can use knowledge even if we don't understand everything about a subject. We may understand more about it later, or understand it differently. There is no need to wonder whether or not it is "absolute" knowledge. The proof lies in results, as I think Interbane said, and if one feels the need to declare that results prove that nothing about a piece of knowledge will ever change or be added to (which the word absolute implies), one can do so, but at some peril, it seems to me. The height of Mt. Everest has been revised a couple of times; who's to say it couldn't be again?

The theory of evolution represents knowledge that we have applied in many ways. Yes, it is perverse to deny the reality of the concept. We still don't know, though, many particulars about the workings of evolution. It is hardly "case closed" from that point of view. What to do about people who won't listen to reason concerning the basic concept, I have no idea.

A theory seeks to be the best explanation that we have for complex phenomena. In saying that it is just that--the best available explanation--we in no way imply any doubt about the report of our senses. The evidence for the theory was composed of such reports.



Fri Oct 10, 2008 4:00 pm
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Post Re: Falsifying Popper
DWill wrote:
Robert Tulip wrote:
If the knowledge was false we would not have close up pictures of Saturn. Case closed. Sure, we don't know everything, but what we do know is true. If we are not sure it is not knowledge. If it is true it cannot be falsified. If we know we know. You are arguing there is no such thing as knowledge. That is silly.
I didn't hear that argument (that there is no such thing as knowledge) being made, and I don't think it's even implied. I think you're using quite a special definition of knowledge, possibly with a theological element. Knowledge in the everyday world is working knowledge. We can use knowledge even if we don't understand everything about a subject. We may understand more about it later, or understand it differently. There is no need to wonder whether or not it is "absolute" knowledge. The proof lies in results, as I think Interbane said, and if one feels the need to declare that results prove that nothing about a piece of knowledge will ever change or be added to (which the word absolute implies), one can do so, but at some peril, it seems to me. The height of Mt. Everest has been revised a couple of times; who's to say it couldn't be again? The theory of evolution represents knowledge that we have applied in many ways. Yes, it is perverse to deny the reality of the concept. We still don't know, though, many particulars about the workings of evolution. It is hardly "case closed" from that point of view. What to do about people who won't listen to reason concerning the basic concept, I have no idea. A theory seeks to be the best explanation that we have for complex phenomena. In saying that it is just that--the best available explanation--we in no way imply any doubt about the report of our senses. The evidence for the theory was composed of such reports.

Thanks DWill. I am suggesting a more conventional use of the term 'absolute' than you describe. For example, it is absolutely true that Australia and the USA both border the Pacific Ocean. It is not about a mystical vision of ultimate totality, just a simple statement of fact. All facts are absolutely true. To the extent claims are not absolutely true, they are not facts. So the claim that Mount Everest is exactly 29028 feet tall (a factoid that I dredge from childhood memory) cannot be described in any sense as absolute, especially since Everest has grown higher since then. Nor is some of the detail of how evolution operates known with absolute certainty. But the facts that Everest is Earth's highest mountain above sea level, and that life evolves by natural selection, are absolutely true. The claim that all knowledge is provisional does imply an unwarranted level of uncertainty



Fri Oct 10, 2008 5:50 pm
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EDIT - Your post you just made about altering the definition. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_proposition


Robert: "Positivist disciples of Hume and Popper say they "know" that it is possible that all human history is an alien dream. I argue such "knowledge" is absurd."

The alien dream is an explanatory hypothetical belief to undermine attempts at absolute knowledge by showing that there is an alternative to perceived reality. The problem is the claimed knowledge of these disciples requires the same overextended leap of faith used by deists. It is absurd, and I disagree with this following my prior logic; the leap of faith should only be had after it has a proper foundation. It is, however, useful as an analogy that if you cannot disprove it, there will always have an infinitesimally small chance it is true.

Robert: "The fact that I cannot "prove" that our planet exists to your exalted standards of positivist faith indicates that I am suggesting different standards for knowledge. "

The presumption that our knowledge is absolute seems arrogant to me. It leaves us vulnerable to overlook flaws in our theories. I think it's healthy to maintain our knowledge with a degree of separation from absolute so that we never close the doors on potential revisions that make them better, or incorporate them into higher level theories.

Robert: "There is a good discussion of related issues in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, where he argues that human 'being in the world' is a necessary assumption for thought and so is unproveable without a leap into circular reasoning."

It is a necessary assumption, I agree. That is why we must make the leap of 'simple faith'(read assumption). As an assumption, it is still not absolute, but we can maintain it as certain for all practical purposes with a small bridge of simple faith.

Robert: "I am arguing that the axiom that absolute truth is attainable is similarly useful, including as a strategy to circumvent superstitious proposals, in your felicitous phrase."

Thanks, but my words aren't feline. I think superstitious proposals should be met head on instead of ignoring what is true in an attempt to circumvent them. That is my opinion, and circumventing such idiocy would make me smile. Question: What else is the idea that [absolute truth is attainable] good for?

Robert: "I think Popper's theory is crap. What about the successes of science?"

Yeah, Popper was incredibly stupid. Anyways, the successes are all around us, just a glimpse at our technological lives show this. Being 99.99999% true is, although not absolute, enough for me. Also, even though not absolute, they are still successes. With regards to that itty bitty bit of uncertainty, I'll make a small leap of faith and never mention it again until it becomes relevant to mention, such as in this thread.

Robert: "Sorry, but science has found that planets travel in ellipses, and used this knowledge to send probes to the far reaches of the solar system. If the knowledge was false we would not have close up pictures of Saturn. Case closed."

Let me reopen that case. We could be within one meter of our target, and there'd still be room for an error in the theory. For example, consider the Pioneer Anomalies.

Robert: "Sure, we don't know everything, but what we do know is true. If we are not sure it is not knowledge. If it is true it cannot be falsified."

That's assuming a rigid dichotomy. I fear you've ignored my last post. Rather than being falsified, almost every theory we have today has been shown to need minor changes to come closer to the truth at some point in it's history. It isn't falsification, but neither are the theories absolutely true. Versions or parts or the structuring of theories are shown to be false, so modifications are made then the theories are retested.

Robert: "If we know we know. You are arguing there is no such thing as knowledge. That is silly."

Don't put words into my mouth. I'm saying there's no such thing as absolute knowledge. We can make the minor leap of faith to "be sure" of the knowledge we have, but that doesn't make it absolute.


Robert: ""The meaning of science" deserves abuse if dogmatic Popperians use it to claim there is no certainty in the world."

Or you could be wrong and are abusing it undeservingly.

Robert: "My God, you aren't even sure that the earth goes around the sun!!"

Again, don't put words into my mouth. I am sure the earth goes around the sun.

Robert: "...what is now required is a synthetic integration between faith and reason.

Yes, since after the foundation that reasoning assists in constructing, we use faith as the glue. But it is simple faith and not complex faith.

What you're proposing is starting to become repetetive with the reasoning you're using, and it seems to be even less reasonable the more you attempt to explain it. Instead of attempting to brow beat me into agreeing with you, convince your fingers to spit out stronger reasoning. Also, please stop putting words in my mouth.



Fri Oct 10, 2008 5:58 pm
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I've just read Burton's interview with Scientific American (thanks!) and the comments there. One I agree with is
Quote:
I was absolutely certain that there were not absolutes until one day I realized how absurd that was.... but why did it take any time at all to see the paradox, perhaps that is why we fall into false certainties... we have a sort of tunnel vision.
This points out how a sort of tunnel vision can arise from the aim to show that certainty is always dubious. Another of the comments expresses scepticism about Al Gore's feeling of certainty about climate change. I happen to agree with Al Gore, and this actually underpins much of my disquiet about Burton's agenda. The scientific evidence is so disturbing that we need an approach to planetary transformation, drawing in resources from both reason and faith. The problem is finding a way for such an approach to be based on evidence. It is fine to show that many feelings of certainty are delusional, but, and here is where others have disagreed, I have the impression Burton draws an invalid link between (A) 'delusional certainty' and (B) 'justified certainty'. We are all agreed that (A) is wrong, with young earth creationism a stark case in point. Where I am being a rather tedious dog-at-a-bone is in asking what are the limits of (B). Granted, the difference can be hard to discern at the margin, which is why I suggest to initially ignore the margin and look to the core. Even at the core of certainty, eg that the world exists, DWill and Interbane argue for a miniscule doubt. It seems their reason is that preserving an ethic of doubt is intellectually healthy. My arguments, which I apologize for if I have seemed repetitive, are aimed at teasing out this point of epistemology, seeking clarity and precision regarding what we can know, and what it means to say we know.
Again, apologies that I have not read Burton's book. It hasn't been released in Australia. When I read the Amazon reviews of it, I decided that I already agree with his scientific observation that much feeling of certainty is delusional. What irritated me was the product description which says "feelings such as certainty stem from primitive areas of the brain and are independent of active conscious reflection and reasoning." This generalisation may be marketing hype, but it is an insulting slur about human mental faculties, which as far as I am concerned are our only hope. I was also concerned by the comments of one reviewer (Ted Shigematsu) who suggests that Burton invalidly uses his observation that human beings are not pure rational minds to infer that we cannot reliably evaluate experience. This seems like a small step towards deducing from (1) the observation that confident people are often wrong that (2) all knowledge is uncertain. This logical argument is not valid, because confident people are sometimes right. I still think this invalid inference is worth discussing, even if Burton does not believe it in that crude formulation.
Despite my criticisms, I am sure Burton's book is very useful in some respects. A shocking example of the 'false certainty' syndrome that Burton correctly identifies is the American preacher Billy Graham. I saw a TV interview with Graham in which he said that early in his career as a popular evangelist he resolved not to entertain any doubt about Christian dogma. To me this was a repugnant and immoral stance on Graham's part, underpinning the false and hypocritical values of conservative Christianity. It is in large part for this reason that fundamentalism has become a laughing stock, in circles where its delusional power does not intimidate people. Burton's argument is obviously very helpful as a critique of religious fundamentalism.
Now, back to my debate with Interbane, which I am finding helpful and informative even if no one else is. :smile:
Interbane wrote:
EDIT - Your post you just made about altering the definition. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analytic_proposition
Thanks very much for this link, which I have read, but I am not sure what you mean by 'altering the definition'. At the risk of losing everyone, the link is about Kantian philosophy and the problem of whether there is such a thing as a synthetic a priori proposition, ie a necessary truth which is not true just by definition. Kant held that the synthetic a priori is the basis of metaphysics, while positivism was devoted to the elimination of metaphysics from philosophy. I stand with Kant on this, while agreeing with some of the positivist critique, eg on the nature of numbers. We need metaphysics for a theory of value. For example, a statement which I hold to be true as a synthetic a priori judgement is that 'human flourishing is good'. This cannot be proved and is not true by definition, but to me it seems an important basis for morality.
Quote:
Robert: "Positivist disciples of Hume and Popper say they "know" that it is possible that all human history is an alien dream. I argue such "knowledge" is absurd." The alien dream is an explanatory hypothetical belief to undermine attempts at absolute knowledge by showing that there is an alternative to perceived reality. The problem is the claimed knowledge of these disciples requires the same overextended leap of faith used by deists. It is absurd, and I disagree with this following my prior logic; the leap of faith should only be had after it has a proper foundation. It is, however, useful as an analogy that if you cannot disprove it, there will always have an infinitesimally small chance it is true.

But the dream idea is wrong! To 'undermine attempts at absolute knowledge' you need to show specifically how the attempt is flawed. The spaghetti monster will show how absolutist creationism is wrong, but she will not help in trying to show that core scientific knowledge is less than absolute. To make another metaphysical synthetic a priori statement, I know that the universe is real. This sort of foundation helps us explain, a la Kant, the nature and limits of absolute knowledge. Saying there is no absolute knowledge because of Descartes' evil demon is a real copout. The Kantian solution gives a foundation for rational faith. As per my previous post on the meaning of 'absolute' I still think you are sliding from the true observation that all knowledge is incomplete to the false claim that therefore what we do know is dubious.
Quote:
Robert: "The fact that I cannot "prove" that our planet exists to your exalted standards of positivist faith indicates that I am suggesting different standards for knowledge. " The presumption that our knowledge is absolute seems arrogant to me. It leaves us vulnerable to overlook flaws in our theories. I think it's healthy to maintain our knowledge with a degree of separation from absolute so that we never close the doors on potential revisions that make them better, or incorporate them into higher level theories.
Yes, I accept that any absolute claim is arrogant. But what is wrong with that? Arrogance is necessary to combat falsehood. The claim here, that our planet exists, is not flawed, and some arrogance is justified in its defence. Thinking of Dawkins (I wonder why), even though he may have been somewhat arrogant about the selfish gene idea, which he seems to think is absolutely true, he also seems very open to reasoned debate about it. I haven't seen a compelling 'higher level theory' that refutes his atheism, although I remain hopeful that one is possible.
Quote:
Robert: "There is a good discussion of related issues in Martin Heidegger's Being and Time, where he argues that human 'being in the world' is a necessary assumption for thought and so is unproveable without a leap into circular reasoning." It is a necessary assumption, I agree. That is why we must make the leap of 'simple faith'(read assumption). As an assumption, it is still not absolute, but we can maintain it as certain for all practical purposes with a small bridge of simple faith.
I am glad to see you accept the need for faith.
Quote:
Robert: "I am arguing that the axiom that absolute truth is attainable is similarly useful, including as a strategy to circumvent superstitious proposals, in your felicitous phrase." Thanks, but my words aren't feline. I think superstitious proposals should be met head on instead of ignoring what is true in an attempt to circumvent them. That is my opinion, and circumventing such idiocy would make me smile. Question: What else is the idea that [absolute truth is attainable] good for?
I am not sure that Felicity was a cat (you might be thinking of Felix). I didn't think clearly enough about the word 'circumvent', which I agree is not right. My point is that faith can only be countered by a rival faith, ie a wholistic narrative. Scientific doubt is essential in looking for new knowledge, but it nobbles the debate with people of false faith. By qualifying its findings with the caveat that they are not absolutely true, even when they are, science fails to convince non-scientists about important facts, eg regarding climate change.
Quote:
Robert: "I think Popper's theory is crap. What about the successes of science?" Yeah, Popper was incredibly stupid. Anyways, the successes are all around us, just a glimpse at our technological lives show this. Being 99.99999% true is, although not absolute, enough for me. Also, even though not absolute, they are still successes. With regards to that itty bitty bit of uncertainty, I'll make a small leap of faith and never mention it again until it becomes relevant to mention, such as in this thread.
I thought your statement that this quote responded to was very close to Popper. Will have to go back and find it...
Quote:
Robert: "Sorry, but science has found that planets travel in ellipses, and used this knowledge to send probes to the far reaches of the solar system. If the knowledge was false we would not have close up pictures of Saturn. Case closed." Let me reopen that case. We could be within one meter of our target, and there'd still be room for an error in the theory. For example, consider the Pioneer Anomalies.
You misunderstand my point. The Pioneer Anomalies are at the margin of uncertainty, within a vast immensity of certainty. The 'case' was not that people know everything, but that what people do know is true. If it is not true then it is not knowledge but delusion. And partial knowledge can still be knowledge. Kepler's ellipse theory has been refined by Newton, Einstein, etc, and may of course be subject to further refinement. In the contest between the law of gravity and the spaghetti monster as explanations for how probes reached Saturn, I would vote 100 gravity, 0 Spaghetti Monster. It seems you would score it 99.99...9 gravity, 0.00...1 Spaghetti Monster.
Quote:
Robert: "Sure, we don't know everything, but what we do know is true. If we are not sure it is not knowledge. If it is true it cannot be falsified." That's assuming a rigid dichotomy. I fear you've ignored my last post. Rather than being falsified, almost every theory we have today has been shown to need minor changes to come closer to the truth at some point in it's history. It isn't falsification, but neither are the theories absolutely true. Versions or parts or the structuring of theories are shown to be false, so modifications are made then the theories are retested.
Yes, I do assume a rigid dichotomy between knowledge and non-knowledge. Of course beliefs and hypotheses and theories can be proven false or incomplete, but they are not knowledge. If we actually know something, it must be true, otherwise it is not knowledge. What we know is true. This is an analytical statement in Kant's sense, in that truth is contained within the definition of knowledge. Your comment is like saying (like Burton?) that because we think from the hindbrain we can't be certain about anything. People are smarter than lizards, in that we can accurately represent the nature of reality in language.
Quote:
...there's no such thing as absolute knowledge. We can make the minor leap of faith to "be sure" of the knowledge we have, but that doesn't make it absolute.
Apologies if I misunderstand, but you seem to equate knowledge with what Plato called belief. In a court of law, if a witness admits the slightest doubt about whether something is true, the law will discount it. Only absolute certainty is classed as knowledge. This seems to me to be a common sense standard which should also apply to philosophy.
Quote:
I am sure the earth goes around the sun.
But this gets back to the precise meaning of 'sure.' You just said there is no such thing as absolute knowledge. I read this as saying you aren't sure of anything, as maybe the world is a mirage.
Quote:
Robert: "...what is now required is a synthetic integration between faith and reason." Yes, since after the foundation that reasoning assists in constructing, we use faith as the glue. But it is simple faith and not complex faith.
I find your distinction between simple faith and complex faith puzzling. Surely, given that reality is complex, we need a complex faith to understand it? Thank you very much for taking the time to engage with this material. I appreciate the dialogue. :hmm:



Sat Oct 11, 2008 8:31 am
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Robert Tulip wrote:
This points out how a sort of tunnel vision can arise from the aim to show that certainty is always dubious.

While Burton does say in the interview that certainty is dubious, it's important to understand qualifications that come from his book. He definitely does NOT say that to be certain about something in any particular instance is always dubious. We may well find that our strong "feeling of knowing" turns out to be literally lifesaving. We may find that a sudden hunch is the key to a difficult problem. He simply cautions us that these feelings are just that; they are not "right" just by virtue of our strong feeling that they are. Rightness has to be determined out in the world, empirically.

He may not be as clear as he could be on this next point, but certainty is not the same as the "feeling of knowing." The "feeling of knowing" does not necessarily carry over to that behavior we call certainty. We may feel an instantaneous certainty about something, but afterwards we may have no need to take a POSITION OF certainty, or habitually express our certainty. Burton says that people who display dogmatism or a know-it-all quality may have an addiction to the "feeling of knowing." This is possible because certain brain areas are activated during the feeling of knowing.

The real problem with someone who acts so certain is that certainty tends to have a powerful influence over us. We tend to assume that the person wouldn't be so positive without strong evidence. We have to decide whether to take the certainty at face value, at some peril to us, or demand that facts be presented. Ideally, we would always be able to find out the facts behind the certainty, if they are there, but we might not always feel we have the opportunity.

Certainty equals insistence on being right. A blanket statement that this
insistence is always dubious is not justified. About limited matters, we can be certain. But about complex matters, such as those Burton refers to, verbal expressions of certainty are indeed dubious. We don't need to hear about the depth of the person's belief--his certainty; we need to hear about reasons. If reasons cannot be produced, such as with matters of faith or even belief in science, we need to understand the statements as a personal vision, and so argument ceases.

You make several more good points, but this is probably as much as anyone wants to read for now.
DWill

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It's too late and I'm too tired to reply at the moment, but I just wanted to scowl at you across these forums for considering it possible I could think the spaghetti monster is a distant cousin to gravity. Hypotheses can be disproven, remember, so your reasoning here holds no value except to make me hungry.

In the meantime, give me a synthetic statement that is absolutely true, and therefore absolutely unfalsifiable.

I think this challenge will no doubt raise questions of the definitions of the words, so delve into that also, if you wish. I make the challenge with the phrase "absolutely true", where you make claims of "absolute knowledge" or "absolute certainty." It would be a tripping point better tackled earlier.

I'll respond to points in your other post when I'm coherent.



Mon Oct 13, 2008 1:30 am
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Interbane wrote:
It's too late and I'm too tired to reply at the moment, but I just wanted to scowl at you across these forums for considering it possible I could think the spaghetti monster is a distant cousin to gravity. Hypotheses can be disproven, remember, so your reasoning here holds no value except to make me hungry. In the meantime, give me a synthetic statement that is absolutely true, and therefore absolutely unfalsifiable. I think this challenge will no doubt raise questions of the definitions of the words, so delve into that also, if you wish. I make the challenge with the phrase "absolutely true", where you make claims of "absolute knowledge" or "absolute certainty." It would be a tripping point better tackled earlier. I'll respond to points in your other post when I'm coherent.


Hi Interbane. Talking about the Spaghetti Monster is just a way to illustrate the absurdity of your contention that it is theoretically possible that we are an alien dream. If we reduce our certainty about the existence of the universe from 100% to 99.99~9% even this slight chink is more than enough for the noodly pastafarian appendage to insinuate its wicked way into our thought process and create a false doubt. If we say we have faith the universe exists we are claiming 100% certainty.

Re your question on a synthetic statement, I should explain for others that 'synthetic statement' is a philosophical term meaning a statement that combines two ideas which are not linked by definition. It is easy to find numerous synthetic statements which are absolutely true, such as the example I gave that both the USA and Australia border the Pacific Ocean. It is a simple matter of looking to see whether the statement is true.

Synthetic statements can be contrasted with 'analytical statements' which combine ideas which are linked by definition, such as that a square has four sides.

"All knowledge is true" is an analytical statement because it is true by definition. If there is a shade of doubt about a claim then by definition it cannot be classed as knowledge, although it may be a strongly held belief. Burton's critique is about beliefs that try to pass themselves off as knowledge, eg that the universe began in 4004BC.

What I suspect you are asking me to provide is a synthetic statement whose truth does not depend on sense perception, ie one that is true by definition, like an analytical statement. Unfortunately, this is much more difficult, and introduces the problem of faith.

An example of a synthetic statement which cannot be tested/falsified is Euclid's axiom that parallel lines never meet. This is a useful assumption for engineering, but it is not absolutely true unless we treat it as an analytic statement, true by definition. If we say a line is something real, such as the path of a light beam, then we observe that parallel lines do in fact meet in gravitational fields. This example illustrates the shift from the paradigm of Newton to that of Einstein.

Looking for necessary synthetic statements, the best place to start is with the most simple and obvious claims we can find. I think a good candidate is the claim 'the universe exists'. As our previous discussion indicates, the attribute of existence is not contained within the fact that something is observed, because it could theoretically be a deception. Hence this statement is synthetic and not analytic. I personally believe it is absolutely true, but as you argued earlier, my belief rests on faith in science.

Moving on from this basic level of claims about existence, I also think there are claims in ethics which are synthetic and necessary. The best examples I can see are that 'human flourishing is good' and that 'knowledge is good'. These are circular, in that they cannot be proven, but such ideas are necessary to build any practical ethical vision. Skepticism about such ideas is a main factor in modern nihilism.



Wed Oct 15, 2008 1:47 am
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