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"Atheism a faith position too" - best shot?

While we run the "atheism is a faith position too" competition, perhaps we should also, to be fair, try and see what the strongest argument for this claim might be. We looked at some really terrible ones back here (The Dawkin's Delusion's author Alister McGrath's version is pretty awful [well, it's an assertion, not an argument], despite his Oxford don credentials). But perhaps the theists can do better.

Here's an opening suggestion or two from me.

(1) Science is dependent on inductive reasoning. It is based on the assumption that what has happened up till now provides us with a good, if not a fool-proof, indication of what will happen in the future. Unfortunately, as Hume points out, this assumption cannot be justified. But then inductive reasoning cannot be justified. In which case science cannot be justified. It too ultimately rests on "faith" - faith in that background assumption. And if atheism is based on science, then it too rests on a "faith" assumption. So you see, atheism and theism are intellectually on par. Both are ultimately "faith" positions.

(2) Here's another version. The sceptic about the external world shows that our belief that our senses are a reliable guide to reality cannot be justified. But then, as science and indeed all our beliefs about the external world are based on the assumption that our senses are a reliable guide to reality, they too are rooted in "faith". So belief in God is no more a "faith position" than is empirical science.

What, if anything, is wrong with these arguments?


Joe Otten said…
1. A good (eg Popperian) interpretation of what scientific knowledge is does not rely on inductive reasoning.

2a. Reliance on the reliability of senses is not complete in science - there are some systematic guards against some failures of the senses, such as the requirement that results should be repeatable.

2b. This is true of all beliefs about the external world, not just scientific ones. This argument makes "faith" synonymous with "belief about the external world" and thus robs it of the special meaning it is normally understood to have.
Anonymous said…

1. Good Popperian methodology DOES rely on a hidden induction (as others have pointed out). We assume over time that if something has not been falsified, it acquires a sort-of privileged status. But nothing could justify this assumption except a principle of induction.

2a. Isn't "repeatability" just induction by a different name?

2b. This is the nub of the issue. 'Faith' is an awfully vague term, which is part of the reason the debate never gets very far. Theists want to define it broadly, as something like St. Paul's 'evidence of things not seen," while atheists want to define it narrowly as something like 'belief beyond what the evidence justifies.' Both are question-begging.
Anonymous said…
As I pointed out in my comment on your previous post the two positions are not congruent and I'm surprised that McGrath would seek to make them seem so:

“(God’s) existence cannot be proved by physical means. However, neither can it be disproved. What does this mean? It means it takes complete and utter faith to believe there is a god (or gods) and complete and utter faith to believe there is not one.”

Scientific 'faith' is based around prediction, testing, reliability etc. whilst theological 'faith' is quite another thing. It add nothing to the argument that the fictions of Marx and Freud exceeded their evidential base.

It's not as though Atheism and Theism get into the ring together; the Atheist demurs for he sees no ring and no opponent.

Humean metaphysical scruples and worries about veridicality do not affect Science.
Martin Fox said…
1) Proving science is a faith position should make no difference to saying that atheism is a faith position; the two are not inextricably linked.

2) Logical arguments do not require any experiential knowledge and arguments that are put forward for or against God based purely on logic would not fail if the external world was entirely false. Of course, it could be argued that the reason we default to a 'No God' position is because in practical terms it is unreasonable to believe in something until disproven. This belief could be attacked as being based on experience rather than the [dis]belief in God's existence.
Joe Otten said…

1. I don't see any need for hidden induction, unless your interpretation of what knowledge is has a verificationist gloss.

Sort-of priviliged, sure. The unknown, interesting and tested is privileged over the false.

2a. My point was that repeatability is a defence against particular failures of the senses - canals on mars - and that therefore there isn't a "blind faith" in the reliability of the senses.

Sure, you could justify either of these on the grounds of induction, but that doesn't mean they can't be justified more soundly by other means.

2b. Either definition is fine as long as we are consistent. But it would be hard to consistently use the definition of faith that encompasses all beliefs about the world - that the lawnmower is broken - because it is utterly unlike any normal usage of the word faith.
Timmo said…

The arguments you offered are problematic at least for the reason they rely on philosophically contentious premises. You have to buy into an awful lot for those arguments to have any force. The fact that it is possible that I am dreaming right now does not undercut the fact that my present experience of my computer is prima facie evidence for the existence of my computer. Skeptical scenarios need to have more teeth before they give us a reason to doubt the existence of the external world. I do not believe in the existence of the external world on the basis of faith; I see it, feel it, and live in it.

I think there is a much simpler and more reasonable argument for atheism being a "faith" position: there's not enough evidence in favor of atheism to establish it as correct. So far as I can tell, there is an evidential gridlock between theists and atheists, making the only position wholly warranted by evidence agnosticism. (In this case, I think making a leap of faith is appropriate.)
Larry Hamelin said…
(1) depends on an interpretation of science as an endeavor that seeks to create statements of absolute truth. However, there is an alternative, weaker interpretation: Science seeks to create compact explanations of experiments. In this interpretation, the principle of induction is unnecessary, or at least justified by a logically consistent methodology: That the world is really consistent over time is the most compact explanation which explains the consistency of observations and our memories.

(2) assumes that "reality" talk is metaphysically and cognitively prior to experience. However, a benign reinterpretation of "reality" avoids this metaphysical priority: "reality" is again a compact explanation: the existence of a consistent world independent of our senses is the most compact explanation of the consistency of our perceptions, memories, and intersubjective experiences.

That "reality" serves an explanatory theory is supported by the observation that where our senses appear to contradict a consistent, independent reality—i.e. "optical illusions"—the simplest, most compact explanation is that our senses are in those cases unreliable.

Science does rest on two fundamental metaphysical assumptions: Our experiences—especially our perceptual experiences— are important and that compact, predictive explanations are pragmatically useful.

However, even these metaphysical assumptions are held relatively lightly and by choice. If someone—a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, for instance—does not assent that perception is important or that compact explanations are useful, we scientific types charitably hand him a basket of fruit rather than fly an airplane into his temple.
Timmo said…
...the existence of a consistent world independent of our senses is the most compact explanation of the consistency of our perceptions, memories, and intersubjective experiences.

Not necessarily. One can follow Berkeley down the idealist road and totally eschew physical objects altogether. (Berekely has a mean Master Argument for idealism.) Ockham 's Razor shaves away the material world, for Berkeley.

Moreover, I don't have access to others' experiences, so I can't appeal to "intersubjective" agreement; the entire social world would have to be an explanatory posit as well.
Anonymous said…
For argument #1:

Science is only dependent on induction so we can make up hypothesizes. Scientists don't just look at a zillion green blades of grass and assume all grass is green. Scientists only consider the POSSIBILITY that all grasses are green. They then try to disprove this hypothesis by finding instances of non-green grass, or work on the hypothesis to fit what they just saw.

And no, this isn't ad hoc. Scientists change their hypothesizes, not add onto them dealing with individual specific purposes like some creationists do. I mean, ad hoc means 'for this purpose,' anyway.

Oh, and by the way, African savannas' grasses look yellowish.

So you see, induction isn't really a prop for science. Induction is just a method to come to hypothesizes. Besides, is induction really that bad itself?

Induction is like doing a SURVEY.
Let's say you want to know what percent of the human population are single. (For whatever perverse reason you have) You obviously can't ask EVERYONE, so you need a sample group picked randomly.

Of course, this isn't perfect. But it's more practical.

Besides, there's the thing about PROBABILITY. There are 50 flies in my soup. For who-knows-why, I randomly examine each fly for signs of life.

-I check one. He's dead.
-I check another. He's also dead.
-I check yet another. Dead.
-Yet another. Dead.

Remember these flies were randomly picked. In a case of PERFECT THEORETICAL probability, the probability ratio of living flies in soup should be the same as the probability of living flies in MY soup as well as the probability of living flies of the 5 flies I just checked. Therefore, I can make the guess that 1 out of every 5 flies are well and kicking, meaning 10 flies in my soup are alive, meaning that the probability of ANY fly surviving in soup is 1/5.

Of course, induction is kinda loose, I admit, because of probability not really being PERFECT and THEORETICAL as it is in Math class. I'd be surprised if my guess was right: I mean, I only used 5 flies. A guess with 5 flies would work well for maybe 10 flies, less for 50 flies, but I could definitely not use it to guess the universal probability of flies surviving in soup.

If I examined more flies, I would be taking more random cases from the total, giving me a fuller sample group to work with, and getting closer to being a CENSUS rather than a SURVEY.

Bottom line: Science isn't fully dependent on induction. Anyway induction works because of probability. More cases the better. This took a lot of time to write up.

And really, what are the chances of getting 50 dead flies in your soup?
Anonymous said…

For argument #2:

I believe it's true that you can't be exactly sure that the world you see is real. And you can't be sure Heaven or Hell's real either. Nor can you for Santa Claus. Nor faeries. Nor flying pigs. Nor that demon standing behind you with a bloody knife.

Made you look. Anyway, most people would try to use 'what you sense is what you get' to defeat the skeptic. Fools.


Take my roomate in padded room 374, Jasmine. She thinks she's a teapot. She believes she's a teapot. She sees herself as a teapot. (this is her handle, and this is her stout... and this is her TEA!) For all she knows, she IS a teapot.

Telling her she's wrong would be telling her to reject her reality completely. Of course, the mainstream wants her to acquire the mainstream reality, so that's why she's here, in the asylum.

But the prognosis is that she's incurable. The rest of her life will be as a teapot. But don't pity her for her 'insanity': she LIKES being a teapot. She's learnt to accept it as part of her daily life: telling her otherwise would be like telling your parents rock is better than classic. In fact, she calls NORMAL PEOPLE crazy. You know, those fools who so conceitedly and erroneously say they were made by God, when in 'reality' they were all made in China. Jasmine even thinks she's normal.

But if she isn't, why not? So Stephen Law, is reality subjective?

So really, 'What You Sense is What You Get' won't really work. In a way, it kinda HELPS the skeptic.

I like thinking I'm human. I have already accepted my reality as normal. Tell me otherwise and I'll bite you. Tell me otherwise and YOU'RE CRAZY... to me.

Even if this 'reality' isn't real, or if reality is subjective, I still have to put up with MY reality (wherever it is) for every day of my (subjective) life.

What you SENSE is what you get. (Science and observation)

What you THINK influences HOW you get. (Philosophy)

What you SPECULATE that's beyond life, consciousness, and this 'reality'... ISN'T really what you're going to get. (Religion)

So unless I see a schizophrenic theist who says he's late for tea with God, I'm not going to think anyone truly believes God is real.

Bottom line: If I can't sense God, so what's that matter to me then? If I don't sense the demon with the bloody knife behind me, what's it matter then? What you sense really is what you get.

Bonus: Oh yeah, quantum mechanics abides to the WhatYouSenseIsWhatYouGet rule. If you don't see it, it could be anything. The second you look at it, it reassumes the shape most plausible. Kewl.

P.S: Oh, and the demon with the bloody knife behind me I may consider real only if he affects me EVER, in a (subjective) past, present, or future.

And even if the demon was standing on Mars, he'd still affect me via quantum mechanics.

If there's a flaw in my reasoning, please point it out. I could explain or CHANGE MY HYPOTHESIZES ON REALITY AND INDUCTION. But if my arguments work, swell.
Larry Hamelin said…
Timmo: Berkeley, though, makes a case from deductivism, not evidentialism. He's also using Occam's razor in a purely ontological sense, not an information-theoretical sense; the ontological sense is applicable only if reality is metaphysically prior.

And everything in science can be mapped one-to-one to phenomenalism; intersubjectivity in science becomes the personal experience of hearing and parsing language in phenomenalism.
Tom Freeman said…
OK, let's say scepticism about induction and the external world are logically irrefutable. This would scupper a whole lot more than science - it scuppers anything that involves moving, perceiving or remembering.

If this makes atheism as much of a faith position as belief in god, then it also makes belief that there is a book about god called the Bible as much of a faith position, too.

Every (actually existing) world view assumes a basic level of observation and induction. If we have to take that as faith, then theism requires one leap of faith immediately after another, whereas atheism would just have the one. I'd say the fewer the better.
Larry Hamelin said…
There's also a huge equivocation about what "faith" means. The sort of "faith" that's required of metaphysical naturalism is so qualitatively different from the theists' sort of faith. It's one thing to weakly privilege an explanatory framework on a pragmatic basis. It's quite another thing to literally make up entire libraries full of BS and insist we believe the whole thing because its proponent wears a funny hat.
Timmo said…
...everything in science can be mapped one-to-one to phenomenalism...

Wait, are you a phenomenalist or not?
Larry Hamelin said…
Wait, are you a phenomenalist or not?

Yes. '-) Depends on what you mean by "phenomenalist". I mostly agree with phenomenalism in principle, with the proviso that I don't necessarily agree with everything anyone's ever said about phenomenalism.
Anonymous said…
I recently asked the question in (1) in the comments in Pharyngula (very politely) and got flamed. The best answer I have is the ultimately provisional nature of science. Science is not saying "induction is true, therefore science", it is saying "induction is most probably true, therefore all this science that hangs together and does useful stuff like flying planes, but if we wake up one morning and find that the sun hasn't risen and gravity has been switched off, whilst we try to work out why, we will certainly also strongly entertain the possibility that all the rest of science is wrong and unreliable too and certainly won't get in any planes until we understand it a bit better".
Anonymous said…
I agree with Tom Freeman and Potentilla.

Tom Freeman:

Indeed, everything we think we know is based on observation and induction.

And I agree theists are making a BIGGER leap of faith than atheists- theists have to have faith that the physical universe exists AND that an intangible one too. Atheists; just the physical universe.

And as I argued earlier, reality is at its most SUBJECTIVE, if not non-existent entirely. But I'm sticking with my own reality.


The more stuff you get for a statement's induction, the higher PROBABILITY of the statement being true.

Contemporary science works only under the most probable circumstances. IMprobable circumstances are hard to experiment with.

I hope gravity stays this way for a while, though.


Right now I want to fix a hole in my previous comment for theist argument #1. I said that science works because of induction because of probability, but probability is a part of math, which is a part of science.

So what I just said, really, was 'science works because of science.'

O.O ... not the circular argument!

I want to clarify just because I can describe induction as mathematical doesn't necessarily MEAN it's mathematical. I could describe induction as getting grounds supporting a case, and the more grounds you get, the more backed up the case is.

So, science works because of induction because of probability, period; or that science works because of the gathering of grounds to support it.

"Well, you need FAITH that those grounds EXIST, right?"

What I Sense Is What I Get. What I'll Never Sense I'll Never Get. Easy as cake.

Of course, there is just a smidgen of faith when making inferences. (A way to come up with grounds) Here's a scale of how direct an inference might be:

10(reiteration)-----0(non sequitor)

An 'inference' that falls on 10 isn't really an inference. Like 'the cat is blue because the cat is blue.' It's the same.

An 'inference' on 0 isn't an inference either. Like 'the cat is blue because 74 human heads are swimming in the bathtub.' You may argue there might be a VERY SMALL connection between swimming heads and blue cats, but it's still practically none.

So note 10 and 0 are theoretical. No inference can actually fall on those spots.

So where does faith come in? Because nothing can actually fall on 10 in the scale of directness, inferences always take a little bit of faith to connect two events.

Like if you infer 'the cat is blue because we painted him blue,' you have to have the faith that painting something blue will make it blue. By definition, it SHOULD, but maybe something else would happen like the cat got washed after you painted him or something unlikely like that. Inferring it's blue because I painted it blue is, on the directness scale, a 9, leaving a 1 for faith to connect.

The theists argue like this: both atheism and theism use faith. Therefore both are EQUALLY unreasonable.

There are LEVELS of faith, as I just illustrated in my example above. The painting the cat blue inference has only a 1 on faith. Inferring something like 'Morality is because of God' is about a 0.2 on directness, and a 9.8 on faith.

To say atheism is equal on theism in terms of faith is wrong.

Many atheists admit you can't be ENTIRELY sure that cats become blue when you paint them that way, but it uses less faith than thinking God created the Universe.


There's another popular argument stipulating atheism is as unreasonable as theism because you can neither prove nor disprove God.

Ether was thought to be in outer space so light can go through, but ether was supposedly intangible and invisible. The inference is 'light is a wave and waves need something to wave through: therefore there's something out there for light to wave through.' On the directness scale, it was about a 7. Besides, one of the premises is wrong: light is part-wave, part-particle.

Now, because ether was beyond all physical senses, you couldn't prove nor DISprove it in any way.

But soon there was a more plausible explanation, and Ockham's razor was there to save the day: the Ether hypothesis needed a complicated, superfluous idea, so get rid it.

But note that the directness of inference isn't necessarily tied into it's correctness. The inference that 'I failed the test because I didn't study enough' is a 9 on directness, but it could be that the teacher messed up. Unlikely, but plausible.

Bottom line: Ockham's razor gets rid of theism completely. Done.
Stephen Law said…
Quick response to Timmo - get round to the others later...

Yep if it were true that the evidence for and against God were evenly balanced, then both could be "faith positions". But it's not. As I pointed out in "The God of Eth". Check it out...

Of course, I realize most theists won't accept this. But then that's the weird thing about religion - it's power to blind people to what really should be blindingly obvious.
Larry Hamelin said…
I don't know that there's an evidential gridlock between theism and atheism. That there's no evidence at all for the existence of a God argues one of two points: Either that no God exists, or the existence of God has no evidentiary consequence. A God with no evidentiary consequence doesn't seem like much of a God at all, indistinguishable from one that does not exist at all.
Anonymous said…
There isn't no evidence at all for the existence of a god, IMHO. There is the evidence that an awful lot of people think a god exists. So we should want to know why this is the case. A perfectly good answer to this is now well under way (see Breaking the Spell) but it's all quite recent work. The subject worried me more say 20 years ago.
Larry Hamelin said…
I think my usage of "evidence for" is sloppy. I don't think categorizing evidence as for or against is a good idea in the first place; the metaphor of "weighing" the evidence is, I think, misleading.

The evidence is just the evidence. The evidence is not weighed, the competing explanations are weighed.

On this view, we have a relatively simple, direct, straightforward naturalistic account of the evidence, including the existence of widespread belief weighed against bizarre, rococo superstitions, overflowing with exceptions and special cases. The "arguments" for theism depend on the entire panoply of logical fallacies.
Anonymous said…
BB: Yes, OK; though I wish you'd put a comma between "belief" and "weighed".

Pity, I needed an argument, all this being Ms Reasonable elsewhere is a strain. I nearly just made a different suggestion for the next in Julian's current series. Och, I will go back to execrating Bernard Williams on bodily continuity.
Larry Hamelin said…
I wish you'd put a comma between "belief" and "weighed".

Likewise. Sadly, one cannot edit comments.
Anonymous said…
I just noticed these arguments are against science. Is atheism really linked with science? Atheism is a subcategory of skeptism, and not believing in God has no connection in believing in science.

Therefore, the two arguments against atheism are irrelevant.
Larry Hamelin said…
Nutcasenightmare: Technically, you're correct, and there are in fact nonscientific nontheists (cough New Age bullshit). However, most scientific atheists see nonscientific atheists being almost as full of BS as theists.
Anonymous said…
Barefoot Bum:

SCIENTIFIC atheists use science (instead of religion as theists do) to try to explain everything. However, science works only for this universe, assuming it's uniform or even REAL.

NONSCIENTIFIC atheists question the reliability of science using the two agruments Stephen Law brought up. And admittedly, they're quite compelling.

So why vilify the nonscientific atheists? They're just more skeptical, anyway.

P.S: New Agers are sorta theistic, (methinks) for they believe in 'mystical powers' and the supernatural. The reasonableness of believing in those things is on par with the reasonableness of believing in God.
Larry Hamelin said…
Nutcasenightmare: The scientific method does not assume that this universe is regular—this universe is, in many aspects, obviously not regular. There are differences and irregularities all over the place. The scientific method hypothesizes particular regularities to account for observed consistencies. There is a big difference between hypotheses and assumptions, which reduces to the difference between deductivism and evidentialism.

The assumption that this universe is "real" is a linguistic or semantic assumption; it fails to rise even to the level of a metaphysical assumption. This argument reduces to: Science is expressed in language; language is an arbitrary construct; therefore science is an arbitrary construct. This way leads only to epistemic nihilism.

Being critical or skeptical of something, even the scientific method, does not entail rejecting it outright. Skepticism (the ordinary variety, not the ancient Greek school of epistemic nihilism) simply means subjecting beliefs to critical scrutiny.

I'm really at a loss to understand why you find the arguments Law describes in his post compelling. They've been soundly rebutted here in at least two different ways.

: New Agers are sorta theistic, (methinks) for they believe in 'mystical powers' and the supernatural.

We appear, at least, to be in agreement on this point. People who believe in mystical powers and supernaturalism, even if they do not believe that suchlike are the exclusive province of "God" (i.e. a particular conscious, sapient entity), have merely given a slightly different spin to the sort of bullshit originally popularized by theism.

It is precisely these sorts of people I explicitly label in my earlier comment as "nonscientific atheists".
Larry Hamelin said…
As your comment that science "only" explains this universe: If you aware of another universe which stand in need of explanation, would you be so kind as to point me to it?

there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go
—e. e. cummings
Anonymous said…
Barefoot Bum:

You have a point on that semantics may be messing up what people mean by 'reality.' But here, I mean reality as in the physical universe. By 'this universe' I meant the universe I sense. The two aren't necessarily the same: I could be a simulated AI program or a brain-in-a-vat where what I thought was real science doesn't apply.

Strictly, science DOES assume there're uniform, regular scientific laws. Take quantum mechanics and general relativity. Astrophysicists all over are trying to unify the two.

And yes, skepticism doesn't mean to REJECT everything. Normal skeptics still go on with their daily lives- abnormal ones end up in a nuthouse.

I've also tried my hand at rebutting these arguments Stephen Law brought up. (If you can find them somewhere) Looking back at these rebuttals, I don't really know how good they are.

For argument 1: Induction is basically using a finite number of confirming instances to make a hypothesis for an infinite instances. As we know, finite/infinity isn't a lot. Therefore, we have to assume there must be uniformity for induction to work. Is there uniformity? It depends on how general you can get to make things seem uniform. Science is all about uniformity, anyway.

For argument 2: Science, admittedly, is only supposed to work for THIS universe if it IS uniform. (However uniform you can get it) But it's more rational to assume 'this universe' is real since I'm living it whether I like it or not. WYSIWYG.
Anonymous said…
Sorry... I need to clear some stuff up.

By 'THE reality' I mean the true, only physical universe. By 'MY reality' I mean what I can sense.

And in my previous post I focus on the concept of MY reality, since I MAY be a brain in a vat.
Larry Hamelin said…

Let me expand a little more on the difference between metaphysical assumptions and scientific hypotheses: Both are—considered in the formal logical sense—premises, not themselved derived, from which we derive complex theorems. For instance "zero is not the successor to any natural number" is a premise of arithmetic; "2+2=4" is a derived theorem.

Metaphysical assumptions and scientific hypothesis differ in that metaphysical assumptions are held to be true by definition, whereas scientific hypotheses are provisional; they are "true" or "false" only insofar as they explain experiments or, in phenomenalism, personal experience.

Science does have metaphysical assumptions, but the existence of physical reality is not one of them; the existence of physical reality, independent of our minds, is a hypothesis (and a darn successful one) to explain our experience.

In a manner of speaking, this hypothesis was "proposed" many hundreds of millions ago by chance mutation, and "tested" (and considerably refined) by natural selection, the differences in reproductive success. It thus appears intuitively to be a fundamental metaphysical assumption because the intuition has been firmly hard-wired in our brains by evolution.

The only truly metaphysical assumptions that science requires are these:

(i) Our experiences stand in need of explanation
(2) A more compact explanation is preferable to a less compact explanation

Everything else—even the requirement of public repeatability in science (as opposed to personal experience in phenomenalism)—fundamentally rests on these two metaphysical assumptions.
Larry Hamelin said…
Also, as I noted in Law's latest post, it's really a distinction without a difference whether our ontology describes the "real" physical universe, or those structures in a demon's brain which it uses to construct our experiences.

It doesn't particularly matter to me whether I'm manipulating "real" reality, or "fake" reality to enhance and optimize my experiences. "Fake" pain hurts just as much as "real" pain.
Anonymous said…
"It doesn't particularly matter to me whether I'm manipulating "real" reality, or "fake" reality to enhance and optimize my experiences. "Fake" pain hurts just as much as "real" pain."

So we agree What You Sense Is What You Get, whether you like it or not. All I'm advoking is What You Sense May Not Be 'Real'.

Using the two metaphysical premises for science you brought up, a hallucinating person can 'scientifically prove' everything he sees is 'real', even though that surely is wrong. When his pet spider tells him he's actually hallucinating, he gets scared and squashes the spider. (Don't worry, the spider resurrects every 5 days)

Of course, this hallucinating guy still has to live in his world of floating monkey heads and spiders whether he likes it or not. WYSIWYG.

Therefore, here are my conclusions:

1) Reality is subjective

2) Science, no matter what 'reality', can only explain THAT 'reality'.

3) Most assume what we see is real just because it's simplest, and thinking otherwise is too nerve-wrecking for most.
Larry Hamelin said…
Nutcase: You state the case colorfully and perhaps a bit imprecisely, but in the main, yes, I think you're correct.

The definition of "reality" that follows from the scientific metaphysics I describe above is "that which explains our experience."

I would take issue only with this statement:

Reality is subjective

"Subjective" is very poorly defined even in the philosophical canon. When it is defined at all, the definitions are all over the place.

If we use my own (perhaps idiosyncratic) definitions of "subjective" (minds and properties of minds) and "objective" (everything but minds and their properties), it is the case that reality, by definition, is always justified by an appeal to the subjective. However, for most of us, the most compact explanation for our experiences is the hypothesis that things outside our own minds exist and have properties.

Still and all, I think you're correct: there's nothing at all to say whether reality, that which explains our experience, is the "real" reality.

But so what?
Anonymous said…
When I think about it, science/logic CAN explain other universes. Just not using information that comes from THIS universe.

Even if the other universe is random, we can still assign probabilities. (Besides, quantum mechanics stipulate that this world IS probabilistic.)

Even if the othe universe is filled with 'brute facts,' humans should be smart enough to generalize ENOUGH to find some kind of connection. The Butterfly Effect is a good example.

So, science IS inter-universal. Hm.

-----Barefoot Bum:

For the reality thing, yeah, you're correct that I used 'subjective' very loosely. And I suppose it wasn't logical of me either to say because I see 'reality' SUBJECTIVELY, 'reality' IS subjective.

The point of philosophy is to find out the TRUTH: to do that you need to first transcend the concept of 'reality.' But since we can't tell if reality's real one way or another, how can you transcend it? We can only assume. Oh well.
Larry Hamelin said…
The point of philosophy is to find out the TRUTH: to do that you need to first transcend the concept of 'reality.'

Perhaps, but what is "truth"? Truth is, I think, a much more subtle concept than most people intuitively believe.

There is a strong relationship between truth and reality, and I think the story goes a little like this: On the basis of our experiences, we conclude there is a "reality" which is "objective", i.e. reality has specific properties and universals independent of our subjective experience. When we factor in our own experience of hearing other people's statements, we further conclude that there are specific properties of reality that are shared by all people and are independent of anyone's subjective experience.

Because we conclude that reality is independent, and because we have discovered previously unknown properties of reality, it becomes plausible to conclude that there are as yet unknown properties of reality. Furthermore, it's at least not entirely implausible to conclude that there are unknowable properties of this reality. Kant's speculations about the noumena becomes at least somewhat intelligible.

Keep in mind, though, that all of the above is not metaphysical: It follows directly from scientific metaphysics which does not itself make any statements about any kind of "reality".

I suspect that philosophers are drawn towards these unknowable statements; as a scientifically minded engineer, I must admit I consider this propensity to be an intellectual vice.
Anonymous said…
"Furthermore, it's at least not entirely implausible to conclude that there are unknowable properties of this reality."

I'd prefer to think it as not-yet-known rather than unknowable, but you're right, that it is only our KNOWLEDGE of reality that changes, and not 'objective' reality itself.

But, even so, an 'illusionary' reality (oxymoron) would STILL BE PART of an objective reality.


I've changed my mind on that an 'illusionary' reality is just as likely as an 'objective' one.

-Just this reality.

-The data of every facet of this universe, including
-The 'real' reality.

I imagine the data of every single movement of every single subatomic particle of the whole timeframe of the universe would be just as complicated as the real McCoy. Therefore, 'this' universe being real is a simpler hypothesis.

"Specific properties of reality that are shared by all people and are independent of anyone's subjective experience."

But what if everyone else was just as illusionary as everything else?
Don Severs said…
These are good arguments, but are examples of theists fighting to obtain a draw. When fighting science, they consider a tie a win. It's not.

Even if religious faith and scientific faith were on a par, science would still win. Here's why. Every religious person has two religions: their religion and science.

Thus, the religious person has to explain why they have two worldviews. The naturalist operates fine with just one.

Faith, Science, Consistency. Pick two.
Don Severs said…
In this vein, the fundamentalist poses a special problem. They reject science, live in caves, shun modern medicine, read only their scripture, etc.

If we grant that 'faith is faith' (that scientific and religious faith are equivalent), we have to allow that the fundamentalist is as consistent as we are.

I am content to let this stand. If a person rejects logic and science, then there can be no logical or scientific reasons to refute him. The fundamentalist has simply made a choice and there may be no way to say he is wrong. Some would even praise him for paying such a high price for his faith. I wouldn't, but some might.

But even here, I think science has an edge. Sam Harris would say that this guy isn't maximizing human well-being. By rejecting vaccines, nutritional knowledge, etc, he is favoring his beliefs over people, including himself. The caveman could say "Well, I just don't value human well-being as much as you do". To which Sam Harris would say, "I think you do. You are just deluded into thinking that living this way will maximize your well-being via a circuitous and illusory path which pleases your God.

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