Monday, December 10, 2012

Barry Arrington Explains Other Ways of Knowing

In my opinion, science is a way of knowing characterized by a requirement for evidence, healthy skepticism, and rationality. "Knowing" refers to something called "universal truth" because knowledge has to be more than just something that an individual believes is true.

I'm not aware of any other way of knowing that has produced something we can reliably classify as "knowledge" by any reasonable criteria. From time to time I've asked for examples but nobody has been able to provide any example of "universal truth" (i.e. knowledge) that has been reached by any other process.

Today Barry Arrington of Uncommon Descent decided to enlighten us [Science is Good, But Not That Good].
Consider history for example. We know with a high degree of reliability that Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States in 1863. I did not arrive at this knowledge through scientific means. I know it because someone told me, and they in turn learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else back to the actual people who witnessed first-hand a man who called himself “Abraham Lincoln” sitting in the White House in 1863 and acting for all the world like he was the president of the United States.

Consider geography. I have never been to Russia, but I am quite certain that Moscow is the capital of that country. I did not arrive at this knowledge through scientific means either.

If timothya will stop and think a moment, he will realize that practically everything he knows he knows because someone told him, not because the truth of the proposition has been confirmed by science.
I guess that settles it. If lots of people tell you that god exists then it must be true. Epistemology is finished and the demarcation problem is solved.

Lots of people tell me that Intelligent Design Creationists aren't very bright.


34 comments :

  1. "Because someone told me, and they in turn learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else back to the actual people who witnessed first-hand a man who called himself Abraham Lincoln"

    Oh, come on. History is not about "someone a certain amount of time ago told someone else who told someone else who told me about Lincoln". That would make the entire field pretty worthless. We have evidence Lincoln existed. Tons of evidence of all kinds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Compare Abraham Lincoln with Arthur of Britain. The latter is not mentioned in any sixth-century sources, later accounts of his deeds are anachronistic and mutually contradictory, and you can trace the cumulative growth and evolution of the Arthurian tradition throughout the Middle Ages.

      Delete
  2. My understanding is that what I tell you three times is true. My understanding is that what I tell you three times is true.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Mathematics is a way of knowing by logic and rationality alone. What's the (material) evidence for the proof of Fermat last theorem?

    The same is true of philosophy and theology.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And when large large amounts of logic and rationality are imported into philosophy and theology, then maybe they'll be on the same basis as mathematics - though more likely they just disappear from irreconcilable self-contradictions and inconsistencies. As any arbitrary set of mathematical axioms does under Goedel necessity.

      Be careful of bringing maths into this: that there is a mathematical 'proof' (or two or three) that the ratio of the diameter and the circumference of a circle is 2*pi is knowledge; that the ratio of the circumference to the radius of a circle is 2*pi is merely mathematical conjecture. There are no circles in the real universe, you know. Nor is there pi.

      Delete
    2. The same is true of philosophy and theology.

      Except those disciplines have no way of verifying or refuting truth claims, and therefore cannot be considered "ways of knowing."

      Delete
    3. Read "Fermat's Enigma" by Simon Singh, and you will learn that the major breakthrough which led to Andrew Wiles' proof was an empirical observation (the Nakamura-Tamagawa Conjecture).

      In general, mathematics starts with empirical observations (e.g. a straight line divides a plane into two halves, one of the axioms of Euclidean geometry) and derives further results by reason. It requires peer review (Wiles' first proposed proof was erroneous). It is a form of scientific reasoning.

      Delete
    4. clever Pépé asks,

      Any of you ever heard of Scientism?

      Nope. None of us have ever heard of scientism. That can't possibly be what we're talking about.

      Delete
    5. It's like having the search bar in your browser redirected to a creotard search engine.

      I'm reminded of the time I was looking up some information on Richard Dawkins and somehow ended up at the Conservapedia entry for him without realizing what site I was on. I have to say those xtians certainly know how to do a smear job, there was no aspect of his life that didn't have a nasty twist to it. Reading that entry without any editorial filters in place in retrospect gave me an appreciation on how twisted their tiny little minds actually are.

      Delete
    6. Mathematics is a way of knowing by logic and rationality alone....
      The same is true of philosophy and theology.


      Yeah, logic and rationality are the first things I think of when someone talks to me about virgin birth, feeding thousands with a few loaves of bread and several fish, and bodily resurrection.

      Oh by the way, your first statement - you may want to look up information on the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem.

      Delete
  4. I never realized that they were that dumb.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Lots of people tell me that Intelligent Design Creationists aren't very bright.

    Isn't that why Prof. Moran refers to them as IDiots?

    ReplyDelete
  6. I hope for is sake that Bully Arrington's grasp of law is better than that of epistemology.

    He discusses knowledge and truth without bothering to explain what he means by the words.

    He provides two claims, one, that water always runs downhill and two, that it is always wrong to torture children but gives no explanation of how they are equivalent as knowledge.

    I have a cat that thinks it's tremendous fun to bat pens around with its paws. Earlier, it knocked one off my desk and it fell to the floor. I am as certain that it happened as I can be about anything. I know it happened. But nobody else saw it. So how does my observation stand as knowledge, Mr Arrington?

    He also tries the threadbare IDC tactic of distinguishing between so-called "historical" science and "operational" or "experimental" or "observational" or "empirical" science, always to the detriment of the former.

    I think we're better off waiting until vjtorley delivers himself of another jeremiad on the topic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a cat that thinks it's tremendous fun to bat pens around with its paws. Earlier, it knocked one off my desk and it fell to the floor. I am as certain that it happened as I can be about anything. I know it happened. But nobody else saw it. So how does my observation stand as knowledge, Mr Arrington?

      The same behaviour recurs in other cats. I know that because I have one like that. Interestingly, she also specialises in hunting specifically pens -- ball pens, fountain pens, whatever, as long as it's a kind of pen. When the pen is dead, she sits beside it on the floor and miaows loudly to attract general attention. Are cats trying to show us they want to learn to write?

      Delete
  7. Sure, the existence of Lincoln is based merely on oral tradition. I figure whenever I hear someone talk about the dispensibility or inadequacies of science I better sit down, because, inevitably, indefensible and ridiculous beliefs are about to follow.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Science isn't the only way of knowing, but empiricism is. You could argue that on the most basic issues, where we seem to have very fundamental understandings of the world, geometric relations, etc. But forget "how we're able to learn in the first place," Barry's nonsense isn't about that sort of stuff. The typical "facts of the world" are empirical, not necessarily science, but based upon observation and established in a "science-like" manner.

    We know with a high degree of reliability that Abraham Lincoln was the president of the United States in 1863. I did not arrive at this knowledge through scientific means. I know it because someone told me, and they in turn learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else back to the actual people who witnessed first-hand a man who called himself “Abraham Lincoln” sitting in the White House in 1863 and acting for all the world like he was the president of the United States.

    Uh, yeah, this bozo was an attorney? He didn't get knowledge about Lincoln by hearsay, he relied upon authorities with access to definite historical facts, empirical facts. I don't doubt that some historical knowledge was collective oral human knowledge for decades prior to being written down, but Lincoln's presidency certainly isn't one of these (earlier) instances. But anyway, oral histories are also empirical knowledge, when accurate.

    IDiocy falls outside of anything that can be considered to be reliable knowledge, as it's invariably vague about cause and effect--especially about cause, of course.

    Glen Davidson

    ReplyDelete
  9. Those examples about Lincoln and Russia sound pretty scientifically arrived at to me. There are other tools in the science toobox as well, of course, but the methods he used there are in there too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moscow being the capital of Russia is not a fact of the physical universe, but a mere matter of human convention. As such it is wholly dependent on the opinion of a person or persons in authority. If Vladimir Putin decided to move the capital to St. Petersburg, then the statement "Moscow is the capital of Russia" would instantly become false.

      Arrington's argument is just another typical example of creationist IDiocy.

      Delete
  10. Arrington doesn't seem to have much idea of what constitutes 'evidence', does he.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What, you expect a lawyer to understand what 'evidence' is?

      Delete
  11. Typical anti-science propaganda, which is necessary in any arena where scientific methods not only do not support your ideas but may well cast doubt upon them or where one wishes to assert knowledge where no knowledge exists. Works well for certain target audiences that are largely non-scientific and/or scientifically illiterate. Pretends that the scientific method is limited to eggheads in white labcoats holding test-tubes and asking esoteric questions. But even crossing the road involves an application of the scientific method (or an innate precursor to this formalized method)toward deducing whether it is safe or not safe to cross road. To pretend that it could have nothing to do with determining historical or geographical facts is nonsense.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "We know with a high degree of reliability that Paul Bunyan was a giant lumberjack in the northern United States in the 19th century. I did not arrive at this knowledge through scientific means. I know it because someone told me, and they in turn learned it from someone else, who in turn learned it from someone else back to the actual people who witnessed first-hand a man who called himself “Paul Bunyan” chopping down trees in the 19th century and acting for all the world like he was a giant lumberjack."
    .
    Now, how do we distinguish the stories Arrington heard about Abraham Lincoln (who, I have heard, was a famous vampire hunter) from the stories I heard about Paul Bunyan? How do we know that "the actual people who witnessed first-hand" were telling the truth? Or for that matter, all the subsequent tellers of the tale who form links in the chain?

    ReplyDelete
  13. Lots of people tell me that Intelligent Design Creationists aren't very bright.

    Their target audience certainly isn't.

    ReplyDelete
  14. "From time to time I've asked for examples but nobody has been able to provide any example of "universal truth" (i.e. knowledge) that has been reached by any other process."

    The scientific method. is an "universal truth" do not made by science.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Larry Moran says: "From time to time I've asked for examples but nobody has been able to provide any example of "universal truth" (i.e. knowledge) that has been reached by any other (scientific) process".

    Larry Moran also says: "I've been thinking about that for 25 years and I haven't come up with anything convincing" In a reply to the following comment ... a person might well be able to give one simple well-chosen example of a lie in less than 30 seconds (on Bethe).

    I agree with Larry´s last sentence, but the same principle should apply to his initial request as well.

    To explain why science is not the only way of acquiring knowledge of the world faces the same fate: it cannot be elaborated in a 30 seconds / “witty” blog reply.

    Maybe, the question ought to be framed in a different context: i.e. not within the creationism vs. evolution debate.

    But, nothing gives me more pleasure that contradicting myself. So in spite of my previous criticisms, here is a short answer to the question:

    I know, from previous delicate and touching posts that Larry admires his wife. Would this not qualify as true knowledge of both himself and the world around him? Are they not things that transcend us, such as values, worth knowing and pursuing? Is not literature a form of knowledge? What is moving me? Can I learn about what is to be alive, or other people and myself only through science? Is it even worth asking this questions? Is life, or its definition, reducible?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How I might feel about my wife does not count as "universal truth" by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, is not the knid of knowledage we are talking about. Furthermore, you don't even know if what you think is true. I could be lying.

      Nice try, but we've covered all those examples about a gazillion times.

      Delete
  16. "Nice try, but we've covered all those examples about a gazillion times"

    ... and debunked them! I suppose

    Btw, who is “we”?

    You see, this particular context leads only to sound bites (much in the line of your argument about not challenging MB)

    I thought we were discussing about degrees of knowledge, not “universal truths” (the mere thought of it sends shivers down my spine).

    In my view, the most important thing is to know how we know about things.

    The concept of truth is like all definitions elusive and impenetrable, for example: “We can study life perfectly well, but we don´t know what it is”

    I am not saying that you love your wife at face value. I can only say that I have a high degree of certainty, based on your previous actions and some shared cultural conventions and cues.

    Truth like knowledge has multiple colours and degrees and, much like science, cannot be reduced to a single, pre-packaged, recipe.

    Scientific knowledge is certainly not “the single universal truth” but the most plausible truth-estimate available of certain, but importantly not all, aspects of the world.

    Or are you proposing to stop funding science altogether, Larry?

    Thanks for the reply anyway!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PNP, I think that LM is basically right in his characterization; it is just that the use of 'only' and 'universal truth' cause an almost knee-jerk desire to refute his position, as it can be interpreted (wrongly) as throwing out all other disciplines, or at the very least, relegating them to a lower position.

      But the thing is, science, like anything else, doesn't operate in a vacuum. It is itself an extension of philosophy, and is also reliant on technology - i.e., microscopes and telescopes, computational devices, etc - to reach its 'truths'.

      Furthermore, LM has stated, when asked by me, that other animals, not only humans, 'use the scientific method'. Cheetahs, for example, make precise calculations about when to start their run, based on knowledge of their own body's limitations, that of their prey, and the distance between them.

      So I think he's on pretty unassailable ground in this case. There are times when his definition of 'science' seems a bit porous to me, but I think that is due to occasional overreach with his wording, not with any flaws in his rationale.

      Delete
    2. It is itself an extension of philosophy, and is also reliant on technology - i.e., microscopes and telescopes, computational devices, etc - to reach its 'truths'.

      ?????
      I can't help but suspect that you have a far too narrow concept of science since a great deal can and has been learned with only the power of human sight and sound detection. But surely only more can be learned if venus becomes more than just a spark of light in the night sky via the telescope. Or if the bacterial cell (which isn't a philosophical concept, but really does exist) becomes visible for the first time via the microscope. We are not suddenly subject to novel illusions with these devices are we?

      Delete
    3. Shawn, allow me to send a ???? back to you. Saying that science is 'reliant on technology' is hardly saying that nothing could be discovered without technology. For obvious reasons; i.e. how could those technological devices have come about WITHOUT science?

      Furthermore, IF I agree with Larry ( I do ) that other animals also use 'science', to a degree, how can I at the same time contest that science can't find anything out without technology? Cheetahs don't use scopes of any kind, or calculators.

      So I think you read way too much into my use of 'reliant'. Hopefully this is clear now, but I will be happy to clarify further if asked.

      Delete
    4. That is fine, thanks for responding. I was perplexed by your comments as I interpreted them to mean that scientifically-derived conclusions were compromised by a reliance on, or the use of, technological devices. Guess that wasn't your opinion/intent.

      Delete
    5. not my intent by a long shot, and definitely not my opinion. I was just illustrating my statement that 'science doesn't operate in a vacuum'. IOW, it is influenced by, and benefits from interacting with, other disciplines (such as philosophy and technology).

      Delete
  17. I read Barry Arrington's post as another instance of special pleading about the unevolvability of consciousness. Frankly I found his logic-chopping pretty low on the vacuity scale. I just wish the denizens of Uncommon Descent would stop flopping between science-denial and claiming every scientific discovery as proof of their creationist position.

    ReplyDelete