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Alexander Pruss on Scientific Rigour

January 19th, 2011 by Madeleine

Cookie-cutter scienceGiven the debate raging on JT’s Progressive Enslavement: The Seductions of Scientism I thought it timely to share this comment left on The Prosblogion by Baylor University Associate Professor of Philosophy and blogger Alexander Pruss,

“Given the pessimistic meta-induction, or given the fact that we know that at least one of the two central theories in physics (relativity and quantum mechanics) is false (since the two are incompatible), I don’t think scientific standards of proof should be something for Christians to aspire to. We should aspire to something stronger. And the fact is that the Christian apologetic tradition does contain many very strong arguments.”


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166 responses so far ↓

  • Please explain how this is funny.

  • Some argue that we have good reason to have faith in science, to believe that the current scientific theories of our time are true and good.

    Pessimistic meta-induction questions the warrant for this epistemic optimism by way of historical counter-example.
    It argues that the history of science is a “graveyard” of once empirically successful theories. If past scientific theories which were successful in their time went on to be found to be false then we have no reason to believe the claim that our currently successful theories will fare any differently in the future.

    So, Pruss is saying, given pessimistic meta-induction coupled with the fact that the current two central theories in physics contradict each other, the demand that theology aim for that level of rigor is funny, surely it would not be that hard to aim higher.

  • But getting things wrong is science’s “strength”

  • Madeleine – the fact that you use a computer and the internet and that it works shows quantum mechanics not to be false. If you use GPS you also rely on relativity to not be false.

    Your experience rather suggests Pruss is an idiot or telling porkies – doesn’t it?

    Of course he is really referring to one of the limitations of any genuine epistemology – our knowledge, our theories are always incomplete (see “Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last). They improve with time and experience (more evidence and testing).

    If you are capable of any objective assessment – look at your “graveyard of once empirically successful theories.” How many of them were found to be “false?” Wouldn’t most of them be found to have limits? For example we still use Newtonian mechanics to calculate most movements on earth and in he solar systems. it is not “false’ but Einsteinian mechanics is required at high speeds and large masses.

    You are quite welcome to “aim higher” – let us know when you can show a success (I am certainly not holding my breath). But there is a huge difference between “aiming higher” and “claiming higher”. The inquisition “claimed” knowledge of a heliocentric universe relying on their “holy” scripture. They placed that above the actual astronomical evidence garnered by Galileo.

    Their claims were shown to be rubbish and even the church now accepts it and has apologised for their behaviour.

    In fact you guys don’t aim high at all – you only claim high – absolute Truth. That is a give away that your epistemological methods are crap. And history has shown again and again that the theological method has never been able to describe reality at all accurately.

  • Did Ken really just imply Alexander Pruss is an idiot or lying about this?

  • soku – his statements about physics was certainly idiotic – mind you he will have his own reasons (which I suggest are not honest).

    But just goes to show what happens when we get theologians or philosophers pontificating about science, doesn’t it?

    Or do you feel you can explain away his cock up?

  • @Ken

    “But just goes to show what happens when we get theologians or philosophers pontificating about science, doesn’t it?”

    You may even be right in this particular instance, although we may ultimately get a unified theory which will make Newton and Einstien both look wrong with hindsight’

    However i detect a serious double standard here, what about scientists pontificating about theology or philosophy?

  • “the fact that you use a computer and the internet and that it works shows quantum mechanics not to be false”

    Are you sure about this Ken, i am not aware of anything in computers or the internet that relys on mechanics at the quantum level. So far to the best of my knowledge bleeding edge Intel processors have only got down to the nanometre level which is still pretty big compared to the picometre atomic scale of things.

  • @ Ken,

    I can be slow at things sometimes, so bear me out. But, could you elaborate on where Pruss’s statement is idiotic about physics?

  • “just goes to show what happens when we get theologians or philosophers pontificating about science, doesn’t it?”

    Setting aside the fact an epistemologist is qualified to ‘pontificate’ on epistemology I note you seem to see no issue with a retired scientist, whose publications seem mostly to be on the subject of soil or soil related things, pontificating about theology and philosophy.

    Not a fan of living by your own rules Ken?

  • Jeremy, electrons and semiconductor defects. Can’t get by without them.

    Now where are scientists making equivalent sweeping and naive comments about theology and philosophy? Regarding theology most if us couldn’tghive a stuff. It is not a real subject. However we are forced to engage theologians who make such silly comments on science as Madeleine has. I have commented further (or quoted Richard Carrier on that issue in -http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2011/01/19/other-ways-of-knowing-some-sense-at-last/).

    Regarding philosophers – I know some of the theologically inclined try to cover it up but there are different schools of philosophy. Some are scientific some are anti- scientific.

    But bugger me – what we have on this site are two close posts attacking science in the most childish and militant way. Don’t try to divert attention away from that.

  • Madeleine – you have been challenged for your shonky epistemology here – and I notice you attempt to divert attention. If you think you were right – defend it. If not withdraw.

    But as it stand the peice you quote and your support for it shows an abysmal level of understanding of the subject.

    And you really look stupid by pretending others cannot comment on such topics – especially when it us so central to science.

    Come on – engage the issue. It us a serious one.. Stop trying to divert.

  • By the way I should correct my comment re philosophers. I was commenting on “philosophers of religion”. Of course philosophers do engage in discussing epistemology and other issues related to science. Especially philosophers of science. I expect and welcome that.

    But “philosophers of religion?” Surely they are no better than theologians? So it’s understandable why they should make such huge mistakes. This guy comes across as pathetic in your selected quote.

  • “By the way I should correct my comment re philosophers. I was commenting on “philosophers of religion”. Of course philosophers do engage in discussing epistemology and other issues related to science. Especially philosophers of science. I expect and welcome that.

    But “philosophers of religion?”” Philosophers often have two or more areas of speciality and competence, and so often those who are philosophers or religion also are specialists in epistemology.

    Once again Ken responds not with arguments but by denigrating peoples academic integrity.

  • Please correct your italics formatting, Matt.

  • yo Ken
    yes electrons are sub atomic but electrical theory has been usefully applied for along time without resorting to quantum theory, in fact electricity works at a much more gross level.

    wrt to semi conductors, fair point

  • “Now where are scientists making equivalent sweeping and naive comments about theology and philosophy?”

    I would have thought a really good example would be you Ken, you do it all the time on this site.

    ” And history has shown again and again that the theological method has never been able to describe reality at all accurately”.

  • at least one of the two central theories in physics (relativity and quantum mechanics) is false

    I vote quantum mechanics will be the one to go.

  • Bethyada – go ahead and vote. Whatever happens your creationist atomic theory is not a candidate. What a load of rubbish that is. Just illustrates my point about the apologist ghetto.

    Jeremy, electrons and vacancies in semiconductors are understood quantum mechanically.

    My comment on theology was a general observation which I notice you are not prepared to argue against. As for the subject as a whole I think it is rubbish. That’s why I won’t make any detailed criticisms – there is no point.

    However I certainly will react when theologians start getting silly about the real world and science.

  • Well, Matt, Pruss certainly demonstrates how stupid it is to combine epistemology and religion. This philosopher of religion and Madeleine have really screwed up in their attempt to describe scientific epistemology, haven’t they?

    And Madeleine refuses to discuss the issue – so perhaps she realizes.

  • @ Ken,

    Can you be specific on where Pruss is stupid when combining epistemology and religion?

    Pruss is more than just a philosopher of religion. Check out his curriculum vitae: http://bearspace.baylor.edu/Alexander_Pruss/www/cv.html

    You’ll see he has a B.Sc. (hon.), Mathematics and Physics (along with 2 Ph.D.s: one in mathematics and the other in philosophy). Pruss has also researched solid state quantum physics, and the interaction of stars and black holes. The only point I’m trying to make is — he’s not ignorant of such things.

  • Jarrett, look at the quote Madeleine used. It’s in front of you.

    Do you think it is valid? I certainly don’t. If you disagree then what about justifying it. (Interesting people are treating the quote like dog pooh. Keeping well away from it. I font blame you – but hardly honest, is it?).

    Whatever this guy’s qualifications he has screwed up with this statement. That’s why I suggested he had underlying motives. As does Madeleine for using the quote.

  • Ken once again you are demonstrating how instead of addressing arguments you simply write of those who disagree with you as stupid.

    The pessimistic meta induction was not formulated by Philosophers of religion, nor is it typically discussed in Philosophy of religion, its a central topic in the Philosophy of science, Larry Laudan is famous for defending it, and he is not a Philosopher of religion at all.

    Laudan has a BA in physics, and a PhD in Philosophy from Princeton, he has written several leading books on the nature of scientific progress and scientific method

    Progress and Its Problems: Toward a Theory of Scientific Growth. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.

    Science and Hypothesis: Historical Essays on Scientific Methodology. Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1981.

    Science and Values: The Aims of Science and their Role in Scientific Debate. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Buy Now!

    Science and Relativism: Some Key Controversies in the Philosophy of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

    His CV with a list of the numerous publications he has on this very issue is avalible here : http://www.pragmatism.org/research/laudan.htm

    So when you claim that only people who are ignorant or don’t know about science make these arguments you are quite evidently mistaken.

  • @ Ken,

    Thanks for the reply. Well I do believe the first sentence is correct. Here’s Pruss’s comment in the same thread (the Prosblogion one) in which he replies to Mark, who quickly noted that Pruss should tell the physics community about this news.

    Pruss responded, “Mark:

    The physics community knows that quantum mechanics and relativity theory are incompatible. They by and large (leaving aside, perhaps, those who play with non-classical logic as a solution to the measurement problem) also know that if two propositions are incompatible, at least one of them is false.

    Now, it may well be that there is something like quantum mechanics that is compatible with relativity theory, or that quantum mechanics is compatible with something like relativity theory, or at least that something like quantum mechanics is compatible with something like relativity theory. That’s all open. But a false proposition is no less false for having a true neighbor.”

    I agree with the second sentence. Scientific standards of proof is not what the Christian should aspire to. How does a Christian with the scientific standards of proof prove the resurrection and/or miracles. This comes down to historical methodology and philosophical argumentation. I, thereby, agree with the third sentence, scientific standards of proof are too confined, and is inept to say much about other things in life (why would a theist adopt this view of proof when there is other ‘knowledge’ in the world that can’t the expounded upon by scientific standards of proof). I also agree with the last sentence, I do think the Christian apologetic tradition does contain strong arguments.

  • Ken you are aware that a person having an evil “underlying motive” is a seperate question to wether what they say is true or false.

    Just checking in case you think avoiding the ad hominen fallacy is unscientific and that only morons like logicans who aren’t trained in science might think otherwise.

  • What you on tonight, Matt? That is two responses in a short amount of time where you seemed highly aggitated.

  • My own view is that science can afford to get it wrong and religion cannot. So please continue with the brickbats, i don’t imagine that scientists will be that concerned, but apologists will continue to be.

  • Madeleine – the fact that you use a computer and the internet and that it works shows quantum mechanics not to be false. If you use GPS you also rely on relativity to not be false.
    No those facts show that the theories enable us to successfully predict and nagivate our environment and are empirically adequate. This is quite compatible with ant-realist accounts which hold that the theories are not true.
    If you are capable of any objective assessment – look at your “graveyard of once empirically successful theories.” How many of them were found to be “false?” Wouldn’t most of them be found to have limits? For example we still use Newtonian mechanics to calculate most movements on earth and in he solar systems. it is not “false’ but Einsteinian mechanics is required at high speeds and large masses.

    Those who defend the pessimistic meta-induction have offered historical examples, of course there argument is debated, but your suggest that its “obviously” and everyone who is honest and informed recognises it is pretty clearly false. You need to address this argument and the case the people in question make, not attack the character of the arguer.

    ”The inquisition “claimed” knowledge of a heliocentric universe relying on their “holy” scripture. They placed that above the actual astronomical evidence garnered by Galileo.
    Their claims were shown to be rubbish and even the church now accepts it and has apologised for their behaviour.”
    Here you cite the fact that the church got it wrong on one issue as evidence theological method is flawed. Yet above you deny the fact that scientists got it wrong in the past counts against that scientific method. So once again you contradict yourself.
    And history has shown again and again that the theological method has never been able to describe reality at all accurately.” Here you are the very same line of argument against theology you called crap, when used against science. You are appealing to past failed theories to suggest the method is flawed. Again contradicting yourself.

    Ken you have illustrated the problem quite nicely, when scientific theories get it wrong in the past like Netwonian physics needed to be corrected, that’s evidence of rigor when Catholic theology needs to be corrected about heliocentricism ( which incidently was due to the entire scientific consensus of the previous generations being discredited) that’s evidence that Catholic theology is wrong. In otherwords what you dimiss as crap is in the next breath held forth as reason.

  • My own view is that science can afford to get it wrong and religion cannot. So please continue with the brickbats, i don’t imagine that scientists will be that concerned, but apologists will continue to be.

    In other words, I have a double standard and am inconsistent. But I will dismiss you pointing this out by calling it brick bats

  • Matt, one can only speculate on motives. But look at what that guy says and what Madeleine quotes. It us dog crap and even you are not prepared to defend it.

    You won’t touch it! Only Madeleine seems to be prepared to stand the smell.

  • @ Ken

    ” As for the subject [theology] as a whole I think it is rubbish.”

    There you go again Ken.

    Most of humanity throughout history has believed in the supernatural in one form or another and you one individual from the 2nd half of the 20C think its rubbish. It doesnt even have to be true, but your disrepect for others who dont conform to your beliefs is truly amazing and arrogant. The epitome of a white western male, utterly incapable of seeing there maybe viewpoints other than your own, you almost make me ashamed to be me.

  • “Matt, one can only speculate on motives.”

    Indeed. For some it is their only form of argument.

    But as is often the case Ken, you are wrong. Never mind the fact that somebody has already copied and pasted Pruss’ follow-up comments in response to the very objection that has you spinning. (hint: Jarrett quoted this on Jan 19, 2011 at 9:44 pm)

    No, ignore that. Just keep hammering away as though it never happened. You tell us what Pruss knows and thinks. Don’t let him tell us, whatever you do. There’s definitely a motive involved here. ;)

  • Glenn you hit it on the head, once again when Ken’s complaint has been refuted he repeats it and attacks peoples motives.

  • Well, Jarrett, your mate Mark obviously called his bluff. Pruss was clearly manipulative to describe these well accepted theories which we all rely on every day of our lives “false.” I am shocked that you find such a description acceptable.

    He has converted “incompatible” into “false”. We clearly know where we can use these theories. We understand their limits – nothing unusual in science.

     The question of compatibility doesn’t come up because we use the appropriate theory in the appropriate domain. Theologian Bill Craig is the one who attempts to use relativity in the quantum domain. Outside it’s limits. And he does that because he is trying to prove his god through the cosmological argument. Theologians can’t be trusted around science, can they?

    Using science inappropriately – there is a word for that isn’t there? “Scientism.”

    Yes, we do hope to unite these theories, to get a quantum theory of gravity. But we have no illusions and although “string theory” may be a candidate we have yet to test it empirically. That test is a scientific standard which theology lacks. Theologians don’t aim that high.

    You acknowledge this by admitting religions don’t have the high standards of validation for their claims that science has. Pretty obvious really.

    So why accept his claim that Christians aspire to a standard of proof that is higher? And Madeleine’s silly little claim that for theologians “it would not be that hard to aim higher” than science does.”? (She is completely silent about what her “higher” criteria would be. Still thinking?)

    Theology has nothing like the well validated quantum and relativity theories. Nothing. As you admit, theology never validates against reality.

    So why all this arrogance?

    The Bravado of those who have nothing ?

  • @ Ken
    to quote myself
    ” we may ultimately get a unified theory which will make Newton and Einstien both look wrong with hindsight”
    to quote Matt
    “No those facts show that the theories enable us to successfully predict and nagivate our environment and are empirically adequate’’
    to quote yourself
    “Scientific knowledge is always relative, incomplete. It develops, changes, improves with new information.

    Well established science is not “wrong” – it is incomplete. We build on it.”

    I dont think anyone is avoiding Alexander Pruss’ comment.
    Jarret has even pointed out that Pruss is well qualified to make the comment [better infact than anyone here including you].

    All of which leads to one obvious question
    If Pruss well qualified and experienced in this field can make this statement and you acknowledge that scientific knowledge is always relative, incomplete, open to modification upon encountering new informatiom, why do react so strongly, so negatively?

  • Jeremy, I respect people, not beliefs.

    There is nothing privileged about supernatural beliefs that give them a get home free card. They are just as amenable to criticism as politics, sporting and scientific beliefs.

    If I have spent my career critiquing scientific ideas (and yes those discussions can get heated) – don’t expect me to be silent about other beliefs – especially as in this case they are an unprincipled attack on science.

    Yes I have a very poor opinion of theology. Consequently I have no interest in it’s details or claims except where they impinge on human rights and science. That opinion is based on my experience and understanding. I am not at all impressed by level of discussion which claims to represent theology on this blog, for example. Madeleine’s post and use of this quote us pitiful.

    When I see evidence of value in the subject of course my opinion might differ. But meanwhile, Jeremy, think about your attitude. Don’t expect people to accept something just because you do. Some of us have higher standards. And don’t cast aspersions on people who honestly don’t accept your ideological position.

  • “You acknowledge this by admitting religions don’t have the high standards of validation for their claims that science has. Pretty obvious really.”

    No Jarret did not do this at all, he did point out that history cannot be subject to scientific validation against reality in the sense that you use. The past no longer exists.

  • Jeremy, you ask why I criticize.

    Look at the bloody quote. See the word “false”.

    Look at Madeleine’s comment – see her suggestion that scientific standards are so low it is easy for her to aim higher.

  • @ Ken

    ” But meanwhile, Jeremy, think about your attitude. Don’t expect people to accept something just because you do. Some of us have higher standards. And don’t cast aspersions on people who honestly don’t accept your ideological position.”

    Funnily enough thats exactly what i was suggesting you should do.

    “especially as in this case they are an unprincipled attack on science.”

    MAtt has already pointed out that Pessimistic meta-induction was developed by scientists and Jarret that Pruss is well qualified to comment on QM etc [much better than you or i ], so if its an attack on science i would have to see it as scientists pointing out sciences faillings. A bit like Martin Luther and the RC church, maybe this will lead to a REFORMATION in science.

    “false”
    seems you are reacting emotionally to the word before understanding what Pruss was trying to say. This may very well prove his point. Christians [ the guy wasnt speaking about any other group] should be aiming for the truth, not just a theory that works. You are confusing a theory that works with the truth. Which is strange given your acknowledgement that scientific knowledge is incomplete and open to modification [ ie at best a partial truth].
    Relativity and Newtonian physics may one day finish up like geocentrism, good enough in limited application, but completely wrong when we know what we need for a theory of gravity or some such. That would be a fairly normal outcome historically.
    Rather like evolutionary theory infact, so diffrent now from what Darwin originally proposed that if they didnt have the same name we would struggle to recognise the relationship.

  • Jeremy, I am aware if what the guy was claiming. Hence my reference to motives. In the process he made a serious epistemological mistake by describing well established scientific theories as “false.” a point he may well acknowledge now and perhaps even apologise for.

    (I notice that you are not prepared to justify Madeleine’s little epistemological mistake.)

    But here is where my use of the word “arrogance” comes in. For him to suggest that he had a way of establishing absolute truth
    (all without any thought of validation) is extremely arrogant. It’s out of touch with reality. (And is the same mistake the inquisition made in the Galileo affair).

    I know you guys do that . The rest of us see it as pathetic. The bravado of the hopeless.

  • I think it’s clear that we have (at least) three models of reality that we’re talking about here.

    Mr. Pruss says, “I don’t think scientific standards of proof should be something for Christians to aspire to.”

    Certainly Chiristians qua astronomers and Christians qua quantum physicists ought to, don’t you think?

    The real question that Christians are asking, the real scientific dogma that Christians are attempting to refute with their historical studies and philosophy is that all life that we know of is defined as organic.

    I know that Matt is going to complain that I’m ‘charicaturizing’ here, but here I go anyways. No amount of dreaming that there is some living uberpower on your side who cares for you and yours is going to demonstrate that there is life other than organic life.

    Are biologists wrong because astronomers and quantum physicists don’t yet have models which ‘mesh’?

    I don’t think so.

  • My english must be lacking cause i thought Pruss said
    “we know that at least one of the two central theories in physics (relativity and quantum mechanics) is false (since the two are incompatible)”
    which isnt actually the same as
    ” he made a serious epistemological mistake by describing well established scientific theories as “false.””.
    I am sorry but no matter how i read this what it says comes down to “things we know disagree with each other, something has got to be wrong”
    His further comments can be reduced to “accepting that just isnt good enough”

    The offence taken seems to me to have been taken because and solely because a Christian said it [ and applied it to Christianity].

    I thought this very motivation was something scientists were supposed to believe in also, yet now they are offended when a Christian espouces it.

  • “we know that at least one of the two central theories in physics (relativity and quantum mechanics) is false (since the two are incompatible)”

    It’s not that they are false, it’s that they don’t describe reality well enough to be compatible. Scientists are not denying this, last time I checked.

    Seems to me that at least scientists are honest and reasonable about the problem, unlike most Christians, who seem to imagine that Quantum Physicists and Astro-physicists ought to be calling each other liars, or whatever it is that Christians call defenders of other religions in their spare time away from calling materialism ‘evil’.

  • “In the process he made a serious epistemological mistake by describing well established scientific theories as “false.” a point he may well acknowledge now and perhaps even apologise for.

    Errr no, note what he says,

    The physics community knows that quantum mechanics and relativity theory are incompatible. They by and large (leaving aside, perhaps, those who play with non-classical logic as a solution to the measurement problem) also know that if two propositions are incompatible, at least one of them is false.

    Now, it may well be that there is something like quantum mechanics that is compatible with relativity theory, or that quantum mechanics is compatible with something like relativity theory, or at least that something like quantum mechanics is compatible with something like relativity theory. That’s all open. But a false proposition is no less false for having a true neighbor.”

    The problem is Ken, that you fail to note the logical situation here, the fact that something like these theories must be true does not entail the theories are true .

    Pruss as a logican knows this,

    What he does not do is start using rhetorical spin like “well its not really false its incomplete and anyone who disagrees with me is a stupid, liar with really bad motives which i have made up, now I’ll change the subject by making some sweeping comments about some subject I know nothing about”

    Why not just admit one of our current best esthablished theories are false but I think something like them must be true we just have not worked it out yet.

  • Good on you pboyfloyd – a clear description of the mistake.

    But Jeremy, this is a basic epistemological mistake which has nothing to do with Christianity, except that some Christians use the argument to attack science.

    It was a mistake identified by Lawrence Krauss in the recent morality “Big Debate” – and he was referring to the public in general.

    And if course it is the mistake Madeleine made with her Science graveyard.”

    Anyone who thinks that is how science works, whatever their ideology, does not understand basic scientific epistemology.

  • Theology has nothing like the well validated quantum and relativity theories. Nothing. As you admit, theology never validates against reality.

    Ken got any evidence for this claim, or do you think you can make things up.

  • “It’s not that they are false, it’s that they don’t describe reality well enough to be compatible. Scientists are not denying this, last time I checked.” to say that something does not describe reality constently is to say its a false description of reality.

    Incompatible descriptions of reality can’t both be true descriptions of reality.

  • Little exercise for you Matt.

    What specifically about these two theories is “false” (my dictionary includes meanings of this word implying dishonesty, misleading, deceptive, mistaken and irrelevant)?

    Why do you advocate “false” and oppose “incomplete” ?

    Do you really think a future theory which replaces or (more likely) unifies these, will be “true” or “complete” in the way these aren’t?

    (Hint – science doesn’t pretend any if it’d trotted ate “true” in the absolute sense you guys want and history shows is futile).

  • Thanks Matt, its not like the english is actually all that hard to understand when one steps back and reads it.

  • Bloody iPods! My last sentence should have read:

    “(Hint – science doesn’t pretend any of its theories are “true” in the absolute sense you guys want and history shows is futile).”

    That is why I refer to scientific knowledge as relative – always incomplete.

  • “..to say that something does not describe reality constently is to say its a false description of reality.”

    That’s not true, it’s not black and white like that. Astro-physics and quantum physics are incomplete descriptions of reality.

    You said, “Pruss as a logican knows this..”

    Someone mentioned that Pruss has a college degree in physics.

    I wonder if Pruss qua scientist would be a formidable opponent of Pruss qua logician?

    I’m guessing that we’re assuming that Pruss qua scientist and Pruss qua logician never actually meet, even in ‘the mind of Pruss’???

    Descriptions-of-reality-so-far have to conform to the observations made, right? Why are you trying to ‘go with’ this notion that Quantum Physics and Astro-physics are supposed to be complete descriptions?

    You seem to be playing off of a technicality here. Don’t you think that this is a little disingenuous at least and intellectually dishonest at worst?

  • “Anyone who thinks that is how science works, whatever their ideology, does not understand basic scientific epistemology.”

    except of course for Alexander Pruss who, as has been repeatedly point out, is well qualified and experienced in both the relevant fields to comment here and this is exactly what he has done and has been quoted as doing so.

    You Ken arent qualified in either, why should we accept your opinion rather than his?

    ““(Hint – science doesn’t pretend any of its theories are “true” in the absolute sense you guys want and history shows is futile).”

    That is why I refer to scientific knowledge as relative – always incomplete.”

    And yet you so often seem to claim its the only way we can know any truth. Strangely i now find myself agreeing with you. History does indeed show that relying on science to know truth is indeed futile. And i’m sure that is the point of Pessimistic meta-induction.

    Thank you Ken

  • Jeremy – do you know what my qualifications are? Do you know what subjects I have taught?

    Is this at all relevant to the sensibility of my comments?

    You claim “you so often seem to claim its the only way we can know any truth.” You ignore my frequent rejections of that navity. Have a look at “Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last on my blog for a recent in depth discussion of this issue by me.

    Isn’t it a sign of weakness (or desperation) to fall back on qualifications to divert attention away from the substance of the argument. Authority is, by itself, not a reliable way of knowing. Even the most qualified people will say stupid things.

    And this claim of established scientific theories being “false” is silly.

    Re qualifications – I have never listed mine here (or elsewhere on the internet – I am not searching for a job). In fact I have had to point out mistakes some people here have made in attributing specific qualifications to me.

    As I said I rely on the sense of my arguments. It would be embarrassing to have only my qualifications to back them up.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Pruss found your use of his qualifications embarrassing. Mind you he is possibly now rather embarrassed about his use of the word “false.” If not he should be.

  • Ken, it’s painful to see you writhe about claiming that other people should be embarrassed.

    The situation is very simple. Pruss has noted that two theories, as currently understood, are not compatible. The physics community knows this. It’s not news, and nobody is surprised to learn this. Two incompatible theories cannot both be true. At least one of them must contain errors that will need to be corrected with further learning. This is what science is like. But it does mean that one of those theories is not yet correct.

    Why are you having such a hard time believing this? If anyone should be embarrassed….

  • It doesn’t matter how many of you guys say that one is right and one is wrong, when, in fact, they are both incomplete and are both likely to remain imcomplete, perhaps forever.

    There’s a giant difference between scientists saying what they see the evidence showing them and scientists claiming to know the truth in the same sense as theists claim.

    There’s a trivial God-of-the-gaps argument at the root of this post, because there is no argument among physicists over who is right, so you’re suckering poor Jeremy into being all smug about it, for no good reason.

  • Really, Glen – you should attempt to understand scientific epistemology. We don’t use words like “true.” We are quite conscious that our theories, our models, are imperfect reflections of reality. With time they get better. Most of us are realists, and accept the idea of an absolute, objectively existing reality. But we understand that our perception and comprehension of the reality will always be via a model or theory.

    Quantum mechanics and relativity are not “compatible” in the sense that physics and chemistry are not “compatible.” Physical theories cannot be used to directly describe chemical reactions. Similarly chemical theories are not use to describe physical processes. In that sense chemistry and physics are “incompatible” in some areas – but they are not “false”, misleading, intentionally deceptive, etc.

    This situation of “incompatibility” between theories which apply in different areas is widespread in human understanding.

    Relativity is our accepted theory for large objects, fast objects, etc. For the macro world. It incorporates Newtonian mechanics at most of the scales and situations we come into contact in our day to day life. Newtonian mechanics is incompatible with Relativity in high gravitational fields, at high velocities, etc. We recognise its limitations, use it wisely and do not call it “false.”

    Quantum theory is our accepted theory for small scale, atomic/molecular and subatomic size objects. When we apply it to large scale, macro world objects the formulae effectively become those for Newtonian mechanics and relativity. So quantum mechanics is inappropriate for the macro world. That is why it is “incompatible” with relativity.

    Where people have had a problem is in extrapolation of relativity to smaller and smaller scales, as in big bang theories. Effectively going back in time. This leads to a situation where relativity no longer is appropriate. (This is where the theologian William Craig makes his mistake, he won’t let accept the fact that relativity is incompatible with such small scales and makes the mistake of lecturing physicists about it!). We can use quantum theory then (Craig refuses to but pretends he has accommodated it mathematically). However, attempts to incorporate both theories into a unified theory (similar to incorporate relativity and Newtonian mechanics) have so far not been successful.

    So, Glenn – when you use the word “incompatible” you should appreciate what it means. its similar to saying we don’t use chemical reactions in physics, or biological schemes in chemistry.

    Be aware that when you use the word “false” this can be interpreted as meaning “done with or having the intention of deceiving somebody,” “intentionally made or adopted to deceive somebody,”imitating, copying, or having the same function as a particular thing and replacing or used alongside it,”not conforming to facts or truth” (essentially the meanings in the on-line Word dictionary). Such descript6ions are certainly not applicable to well established and accepted scientific theories.

    And it is rather naive to say “At least one of them must contain errors that will need to be corrected with further learning”. If the history of science can be any guidance we would pick that both theories will be improved with time, either separately or by incorporation into a unified theory (which itself will be incomplete, incompatible with some facts of reality and open to improvement).

  • You are quite right appeal to authority is not a particularly strong argument, but it is relevant when the authority is an authority in the subjects under discussion.
    Under those circumstances we tend to give more weight to the opnion/commentary of the qualified person.
    This too is something that science regularly does, in fact it is something i’ve seen you do time and again through various discussions on this blog

  • “We don’t use words like “true.” ”

    Bollocks.

  • There us a lesson here, Jeremy. One that I drew on my recent blog post about expert witness. A single authority should always be evaluated for possible support or conflict from similar authorities, methods they rely on, do they conflict with scientific knowledge etc. Otherwise they are being used as a dunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than enlightenment. Confirmation bias and apologetics ghettoism.

    In the field of philosophy we have to recognize that different trends exist. No one represents the whole of philosophy.
    Even when a person describes themselves as a philosopher of science we need to be aware of ideological iuffrrences. Especially when someone employed as a philosopher of religion intrudes into scientific epistemology one should not take such authority for granted.

    However. I think the case for scientific epistemology has been presented here. You guys are mostly silent on the word “false” and Madeleine’s naive “graveyard of scientific theories.” I don’t think your hearts are in defending such nonsense.

    However, I hope some of you take on board the lesson that the concept of scientific epistemology you previously had is inadequate (in some cases truly “false”).

  • “You guys are mostly silent on the word “false”

    Apart from where we explain what it means. Yeah. Silent apart from that. And as for this ridiculous idea that scientists don’t use words like “true”…. good night. Good for a laugh, but little else. It makes me wonder how many scientists you actually know or have read, Ken.

    What’s genuinely comical, ken, is that you say such obviously mistaken things as this, and then play the educator, hoping (desparately) that we’ll “take on board” your words of wisdom.

  • “Claiming to know the truth in the same sense as theists claim”

    No, this is just the normal sense of the word truth as used in philosophy, and epistemology. Ken, you can redefine words if you wish but then you are not using the words the way they are used in these fields and people like Pruss are quite within their rights in saying the theories are not true in this normal sense of the word.

  • Matt – that’s muddled. perhaps you should give your definitions of “truth.”

    I have clearly said that scientific epistemology doesn’t describe theories as truth – they are imperfect reflections of reality.

    But this is very different to saying they are “false” as Pruss did. Or claiming there is a graveyard of scientific theories where we discard things like Newtonian mechanics as you did.

    Despite repeated requests you have done nothing to justify either of these.

  • Ken, three things,

    First, you misunderstand the situation here, I was not claiming X was true because some authority said so. I was rebutting your suggestion that anyone who offers a certain line of argument (the pessimistic meta-induction) is ignorant of scientific epistemology. All thats needed to refute this claim is to show that one person who is not ignorant of scientific epistemology takes the argument seriously. In fact in this case a large number of experts in scientific epistemology advance the argument and those experts who disagree with it take it seriously, so your claim is refuted. Repeating it over and over does not change that.

    Two, I have given the standard definition of truth before in previous posts. A statement is true if what it affirms is the case. A description of reality is true if what it says about reality is the way reality reality is. I noted this is not some “theological definition of truth” I also noted its the normal way the word is used in epistemology. So this has already been dealt with.

    I have clearly said that scientific epistemology doesn’t describe theories as truth – they are imperfect reflections of reality.

    But this is very different to saying they are “false” as Pruss did.

    Yes it is, if a descriptive statements is true then its false. As Pruss pointed out the fact that something like it is true, or parts of it are true, does not mean it is true.

    As for the “grave yard of false theories” as I pointed out that’s what serious studies of the history of science have defended. Others like Kuhn have claimed that new theories are incomensurable with past ones, and involve a radical paradigm shift. These writers may be wrong, but the requires argument not you asserting that they are all liars or ignorant.

  • Pboyfloyd, there is a big difference between an incomplete description, one that is not exhaustive that is accurate in what it describes. And two partial descriptions which contradict each other. The latter can be true but the former cannot be.
    When partial descriptions contradict each other that shows one of the partial descriptions is false. It may be that other description a lot like it is true. But the fact some other description is true does not mean the original one is.

  • There’s a trivial God-of-the-gaps argument at the root of this post, because there is no argument among physicists over who is right, so you’re suckering poor Jeremy into being all smug about it, for no good reason. Perhaps you can show where Pruss offers a “God of the gaps” argument in the above statement?

  • Well Matt, obviously there is a gap between the astrophysicists knowledge and the quantum physicists knowledge, right?

    Isn’t that the whole point of sneering at ‘scientific standard of proof’ and claiming that Christians ought to aspire to a higher standard?

    Perhaps he was refering to tarot or astrology?

  • I am confused now – was my last reply to Madeleine – I thought it was – Madeline’s avatar was in the comment (but Matt’s name was on it.

    Now Matt is responding.

    The specific questions were aimed at Madeleine as the author of the post – her use of the quote with the word “false” and her reference to graveyards.

    But now Matt seems to be replying.

    Which is who?

    Is it Arthur or Martha?

  • I decided to test Ken’s claim about scientists not using words like “true.” I only used one source, but it’s one that Ken seems to show mild respect for, namely Stephen Hawking in The Grand Design.

    I just did a quick scan admittedly, and I only tried to find a few examples. That’s all we need to see that Ken’s claim was false. OK, here we go:

    The first actual scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning came in the 1920S. As we said in Chapter 3, that was a time when most scientists believed in a static universe that had always existed. The evidence to the contrary was indirect, based upon the observations Edwin Hubble made with the 100-inch telescope on Mount Wilson, in the hills above Pasadena, California. By analyzing the spectrum of light they emit, Hubble determined that nearly all galaxies are moving away from us, and the farther away
    they are, the faster they are moving. In 1929 he published a law relating their rate of recession to their distance from us, and concluded that the universe is expanding. If that is true, then the universe must have been smaller in the past.

    OK, example 1. Hawking refer to a theory and then say “if that is true,” then a certain conclusion follows. ken is wrong. But wait, there’s more.

    We saw in Chapter 5 that our universe seems to be one of many, each with different laws. That multiverse idea is not a notion invented to account for the miracle of fine-tuning. It is a consequence of the no-boundary condition as well as many other theories of modern cosmology. But if it is true, then the strong anthropic principle can be considered effectively equivalent to the weak one, putting the fine-tunings of physical law on the same footing as the environmental factors, for it
    means that our cosmic habitat – now the entire observable universe – is only one of many, just as our solar system is one of many.

    Here again Hawking is happy to describe a scientific principle in terms of being “true.” And let’s recall again what Ken said: “Really, Glen – you should attempt to understand scientific epistemology. We don’t use words like “true.” ”

    Oh dear, Ken. Maybe you don’t use words like that. But scientists do.

    And one more for good measure, from the same book:

    One requirement any law of nature must satisfy is that it dictates that the energy of an isolated body surrounded by empty space is positive, which means that one has to do work to assemble the body. That’s because if the energy of an isolated body were negative, it could be created in a state of
    motion so that its negative energy was exactly balanced by the positive energy due to its motion. If that were true, there would be no reason that bodies could not appear anywhere and everywhere. Empty space would therefore be unstable.

    OK, I will stop there. I will also make three claims that I think are true:

    1) Ken claimed that scientists don’t use words like “true.”
    2) Hawking uses the word “true” many times when discussing scientific theories, laws, principles etc.
    3) Even having been shown this, Ken will not acknowledge that he was wrong. Ever.

  • Glenn – have you actually read Hawking’s book?

    I ask because I would have thought that it would be the last book you would dare use to counter my argument. In fact one of the criticisms I have of the book relates to epistemology – his promotion of a multi-model concept of reality. (I believe he needs to clarify and stress limitations for this.) He is effectively going a lot further in my direction – certainly not in yours at all.

    You have clearly just searched for the word – ignoring its use. That’s not an intelligent interpretation of my comment at all.

    There are in fact some very clear paragraphs in this book making exactly my point. I’ll hunt some out tonight and include them in a comment.

    I recommend this book to anyone interested in these ideas, the history of science and of cosmology. It’s very readable, he is obviously an excellent educator. It’s even humorous in his rather dry style.

  • Oh Ken, that’s just sad. You were utterly explicit: Scientists don’t use words like “true.”

    Hawking used the word “true” multiple times.

    Whatever else Hawking said, you were wrong. Black and white, open and shut. If your “direction” means scientists never using terms like “true,” then Hawking stays well away from your position. Crystal clear.

    As predicted, you will never ever admit to being wrong. Never. Evidence is irrelevant to you. What a pathetic spectacle. You just can’t say it, can you?

  • Now – that is childish, Glenn. Is this your level of epistemology?
    Surely my meaning was very clear to all but the most stubborn.

    I was specifically reacting to your comment:
    “Two incompatible theories cannot both be true.”

    Clearly you were interpreting theories as “true” – corresponding exactly to reality. That is not how we see our theories. None of them.

    Look at Matt’s definition of the word “A description of reality is true if what it says about reality is the way reality reality is.”

    No scientific theory is “true” in that sense. All our knowledge is relative – some aspects probably do correspond exactly to reality and with time we try to increase the proportion of “relative knowledge” which is “absolutely true.”

    There is nothing unusual about relativity or quantum mechanics in this respect. It is just not valid to call either of them “false.”

    Perhaps you are no longer genuinely interested but I will post one of Hawking’s comments tonight.

  • Just for laughs, I thought we’d take a look at another test of Ken’s claim.

    So that there’s no back-paddling or worming out of it, let’s hold his feet to the first by once more recalling what Ken said:

    “Really, Glen – you should attempt to understand scientific epistemology. We don’t use words like “true.” ”

    Nice and clear, right? OK, now we have all seen that Stephen Hawking falls afoul of Ken’s rules about scientific epistemology, because he does use the word “true” of scientific claims, theories, principles etc. Open and shut case. He breaks Ken’s rules. I wonder if there’s anyone else who does?

    Let’s take a look at Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, the 30th anniversary edition. Let’s see if Dr Dawkins uses words like “true,” shall we?

    In the introduction, Dawkins notes that some people have scolded him for the book, as his scientific explanations made some people depressed, feeling that life had no meaning. Dawkins reply:

    “If something is true, no amount of wishful thinking can undo it.”

    Oh, but what’s he referring to? He is referring to the scientific theses contained in The Selfish Gene. And he called them true. Bad Dawkins! How come he hasn’t heard of scientific epistemology? Maybe Ken should drop him a line and sort him out.

    Things only get worse for Dawkins as we scan through the book.

    The cornerstone of the argument, as given earlier, was the assumption that genes are potentially immortal, while bodies and all other higher units are temporary. This assumption rests upon two facts: the fact of sexual reproduction and crossing-over, and the fact of individual mortality. These facts are undeniably true.

    Whoops. He just can’t stay within the rules, can he? Or this:

    The true ‘purpose’ of DNA is to survive, no more and no less.

    Oh dear… Ken, clearly this guy needs to be schooled!

    I have a hunch that we may come to look back on the invention of the ESS concept as one of the most important advances in evolutionary theory since Darwin. It is applicable wherever we find conflict of interest, and that means almost everywhere. Students of animal behaviour have got into the habit of talking about something called ‘social organization’. Too often the social organization of a species is treated as an entity in its own right, with its own biological ‘advantage’. An example I have already given is that of the ‘dominance hierarchy’. I believe it is possible to discern hidden group-selectionist assumptions lying behind a large number of the statements that biologists make about social organization. Maynard Smith’s concept of the ESS will enable us, for the first time, to see clearly how a collection of independent selfish entities can come to resemble a single organized whole. I think this will be true not only of social organizations within species, but also of ‘ecosystems’ and ‘communities’ consisting of many species. In the long term, I expect the ESS concept to revolutionize the science of ecology.

    Oh dear oh dear. And in fact Dawkins does this many times in the book.

    And let’s not forget, here’s what Ken said:

    “Really, Glen – you should attempt to understand scientific epistemology. We don’t use words like “true.” ”

    Well I guess whoever “we” is, it excludes Hawking and Dawkins. Ken, I wonder how they feel about not being in your exclusive club?

    Prediction: Ken will again dig his toes in, ignore the evidence and refuse to admit any mistake at all.

  • This one provided an interesting chuckle –
    http://atheism.about.com/od/philosophyofscience/tp/CriteriaScientificTheory.htm

    Atheism.about.com has an article on scientific theories, and it contains this wee gem that breaks Ken’s rule:

    The logical criteria are cited in discussions about the nature of scientific theories and how science differs from nonscience or pseudoscience. If a theory includes unnecessary ideas or is inconsistent, it can’t really explain anything. Without falsifiable, it is impossible to tell if it is true or not, so we correct it via experimentation.

    Whoops! Those dunderheads should have consulted Ken, who could have told them that no real scientist talks about a theory being “true.” In fact they don’t even use that word!

    Oh dear, Ken, so many people need to be corrected. You’ve got your work cut out for you! You need tot ell them:

    “you should attempt to understand scientific epistemology. We don’t use words like “true.” ”

    Thanks again for the laugh. Good times.

  • Glenn,

    In which of those quotes is Dawkins talking about a scientific theory. I count none.

  • Glenn you are like a little kid with a new plastic toy. One bound to be broken quickly by overuse.

    You are attempting to divert attention away from the real issue and making yourself ridiculous in the process. Confusing facts (which if course can be true – can correspond exactly to reality) with theories ( which are overarching and, for this reason, are extremely unlikely to correspond completely with reality in their entirety).

    Grow up Glenn. I think observers here will be dissapointed in such childish behavior for someone who claims an expertise in epistemology. You have an ideal opportunity to show me up as ignorant in this area (if that is the fact) and you are throwing it away.

    Engage with the real issue. Of have you given up?

    You are avoiding the fact that you referred o theories being either “true” or “false”. With Matt’s definition of truth (and I accept it as far as it went) no scientific theory us “true@ so according to you all scientific theories are “false.”

  • In his new book “Grand Design” (coauthored with  Mlodinow) Hawking advocates a “model-dependent realism”. He says: ““there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality. Instead we adopt a view that we call model-dependent realism: the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations.”

    And: “According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.” Substitute “truth” for “real” and you see the relevant meaning.

    Further, to bring it down to common experience: “We make models in science, but we also make them in everyday life, Model-dependent realism applies not only to scientific models but also to the conscious and subconscious mental models we all create in order to interpret and understand the everyday world. . . Our perception – and hence the observations upon which our theories are based – is not direct, but rather shaped by a kind of lens, the interpretive structure of our human brains.”

    There is more, and it is excellent. But you get the idea. When he talks about a theory or model being “true” he uses the word in it’s colloquial sense. Not as meaning exactly corresponding to reality -as Matt’s definition.

    I realise that Glenn won’t understand – he is currently away with the birds and his new scanning toy (pity he didn’t actually read the books – he might learn something).

    But, for the rest if you, I think I have made my point and it is very similar to Hawking’s

  • I don’t know why this is so contentious. Classical mechanics, relativity and quantum mechanics are all useful theories, they describe what we observe and make reasonable predictions. But we do not have a grand unified theory, so they must not be complete. In that sense they are not ultimate descriptions of reality. In that sense they cannot all be ultimately true. They may approximate what we discover to be the complete description of the physical world (if we do) in certain situations: small, big, fast slow.

    Are far as physics is concerned, this is understood, and Pruss says the same.

    At minimum I guess Pruss is arguing for theology being self-consistent and true. He may also indirectly be suggesting that we strive for what we think is true, not just what works. The analogy is not about how science and theology is done (science is inductive, theology is deductive and revelatory).

  • Sure, bethyda, most of what you say is sensible. You, however, ignored the claim that a well established scentifuv theory is “false” implying purposely deceptive. You also ignored Madeleine’s claims about a graveyard of scientific theories.

    Theological claims are a different issue and really you guys are welcome to them. They are of no interest to me. I am just opposed to the misrepresentation of scientific epistemology in that post and quote.

  • “I realise that Glenn won’t understand”

    Ken, the problem for you is that I did understand it, and see that you are – as before – just wrong. Hawking et all have in fact said that theories can be thought of as true – as I showed you already – and in the material you quoted they never say that a theory cannot be true.

    In a funny twist you realised this at the last minute, and so you ask us all to generously “Substitute “truth” for “real” and you see the relevant meaning.”

    Ah, no. No need to substitute. The meaning was just clear enough already. You got it wrong. Simple.

    I don’t even know why this is a problem for you. You’re a realist who believes that there are facts out there that do not change based on our theories, so you should not feel threatened by talk of theories being true tot he extent that they match reality. It’s common sense, which is why scientists talk about theories being true (or failing to be true) – as Hawking does.

    As I said, the facts just don’t matter to you. The fact is that Hawking clearly accepts that a theory can be “true” (that is, it can conform to reality), and he says so explicitly. I showed you this. You, however, will never ever concede that you made a mistake.

    You are much more religious than I am.

  • Ken: “implying purposely deceptive”

    Wow… talk about hilarious re-definitions. Since when does false mean “deliberately deceptive”? Is that your objection? Then forget it. Pruss said nothing about a theory being deliberately deceptive. For a theory to be false, in need only say things that are not fully true. Forget motives, that has nothing to do with it.

  • Oh, and Ken, the issue won’t go away, nor can you pretend it didn’t happen. I gave a good example of Hawking et al talking about a theory in terms of being true, and I cited atheism.about.com clearly discussing theories int erms of them being true.

    Theories, both times. You saw it, no point denying it. Waving your hands isn’t going to help. You were seen making a claim, and the disproof was public. All we need to see now is the admission. Come on Ken, you’ve got it in you. Or have you?

    I’m waiting (but not with bated breath).

  • What a great victory for the proponents of God. Ken said something that is demonstrably false.

    Guess it’s back to school for you Ken, me-old-bucko!

    Not one of these schools that teach you science either, my lad. We can see what a complete ‘fail’ that turned out, right?

    What do we need science for anyways when we could be out there, hard at work, building a pyramid or a cathedral. You know, something useful, something worthwhile!

    Anyone have a list of schools which don’t teach any science, with the list of non-scientific subjects and the list of ‘things we can know’ which have nothing at all to do with science? (that kind of thing)

    Since Christendom claims billions of adherents, there must be one or two schools willing to teach us how to know things without using any science, yes?

  • Ken, you write According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.”
    Perhaps you could explain to me how “model dependent realism” differs from anti-realism, apart from the fact that the name “realism” is used to describe it.

    Take Bas Van Frassen’s view that scientific theories are not true descriptions of the world but just empirically adequate models. This is a paradigm version of anti realism, how does it differ from the phrase above?

    A second issue is that if science is only true in a model dependent sense, how people like Dawkins and Hawking’s draw conclusions about theology from it.

    To give an example, how can the claim that evolutionary theory is true contradict a literal account of Genesis?. Those who believe Genesis is literally true use the term truth in the standard sense I mention, hence scientific theories can contradict it only if they claim to be true in the same sense.

    A creationist could quite agree that evolution is true in the sense of an empirically adequate model, and the affirm creationism is true in the sense I mentioned, this would be a consistent position as far as I can tell.

  • Matt, the quote you attribute to me is not mine – its from the book “The Grand Design” by Hawking & Mlodinow. You should read the book to get a proper idea of the epistemology they present. I can assure you it is not anti-realist. That is probably obvious from the other quotes from the book included in my last comment.

    I don’t see anything radically different from the normally accepted scientific epistemology (which is realist) in Hawking’s idea. He is advocating a necessary use of different models for different parts of reality. This comes out of string theory and the realization that what were considered different theories could actually be incorporated into one (“M theory”). This obliges different models in different situations and the book demonstrates a parallel situation with maps.

    My original comment was that this seems OK for something like “string theory” where we are at the boundary of our knowledge but I don’t see any justification for this in more established areas where a single model should suffice.

    I have made clear my position on the relative nature of scientific knowledge previously and won’t repeat that. However I will say that none of our knowledge (scientific, theological, etc) is true in an absolute sense as you and I define the word. (Let’s not confuse single facts which of course can be absolutely true, with knowledge in the sense of theory or overarching body of knowledge).

    Consequently I think it is ridiculous to assert that “genesis” is absolutely true just by claiming it as a belief. It is a mythical attempt by ancient people to explain reality. Like any other idea or theory it is open to examination and judgement. And of course, given it’s providence, it’s not surprising to find it worthless as a description of origins. We have far better knowledge of that today. 

    Of course that knowledge is relative but it is improving all the time. We see it as an imperfect reflection of reality. And scientific methodology is well accepted as a way the improve our ideas and theories. To get closer to the absolute truth while recognizing we may never reach it complete.

    Humanity’s progress would soon dry up if the advocates of any crazy idea was able to declare they believed it to be absolutely true and therefore not amenable to investigation by scientific methodology which doesn’t promise absolute truth.

    Matt, your little trick is a way to avoid proper scientific scrutiny and justify ideas that have been well proven wrong. But no scientifically honest person will accept it.

  • Pboyfloyd, again perhaps you should address what people have actually said rather than silly stero types and caricatures.

    Its difficult I know, having to actually address something you disagree with sensibly, but its a great learning experience.

  • “Look at Matt’s definition of the word “A description of reality is true if what it says about reality is the way reality reality is.”No scientific theory is “true” in that sense. All our knowledge is relative – some aspects probably do correspond exactly to reality and with time we try to increase the proportion of “relative knowledge” which is “absolutely true.” There is nothing unusual about relativity or quantum mechanics in this respect. It is just not valid to call either of them “false.”

    On the contrary Ken, that’s precisely valid way to refer to the position you state above. If a conjuction contains both true and false propositions, then the conjuction is false. of course individual members of the conjunction are themselves true, but the truth value of the whole conjunction is false.

    Moreover scientists have rejected creationism because its incompatible with evolutionary theory. This inference relies on the notion that incompatible theories cannot both be true, so either you accept this notion or you don’t if you don’t then creationisms incompatibility with evolution does not mean its false. If you do then you have to draw the same conclusion about other theories.

  • “Moreover scientists have rejected creationism because its incompatible with evolutionary theory.”

    There are simpler reasons to reject creationism.

    One being that there is no good reason to suppose the existence of a being who creates matter and energy. This being would need to be made out of something, no? What kind of energy would this being use to create natural stuff? Where would this come from?

    That kind of thing.

  • Ken and yet the quote says “According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.” You suggested I replace real with truth ( in the standard sense I mentioned). But this would mean that on “model-dependent realism” is pointless to ask wether what theory affirms about reality is the way reality actually is, all we can ask if a theory is fits observation. That is almost a definition of a constructive empiricist anti-realist position. Perhaps you can explain then what you mean by appropriating this statement and claiming its realist.

    I have made clear my position on the relative nature of scientific knowledge previously and won’t repeat that. However I will say that none of our knowledge (scientific, theological, etc) is true in an absolute sense as you and I define the word. (Let’s not confuse single facts which of course can be absolutely true, with knowledge in the sense of theory or overarching body of knowledge). Ok here I think you are using the word knowledge in correctly, you seem to use the word knowledge for some kind of overarching theory. But that’s an acronistic definition, knowledge refers to any belief we have which is both true ( in the sense I mentioned) and warranted in the correct way. The idea that one can know a proposition and it also be false, is pretty much rejected by all epistemologists wether they are scientific epistemologists or not.
    Your point if I understand you is that theories make lots of claims about the world, some of them are true, others are false. But science aims to make the ration of truth to falsity better. If this is correct then Pruss is correct, the entire theory is false. Though individual parts may be true. But to claim that because parts are true you can’t call the whole thing false is nonsense. A contradiction is a conjunction of A and not A, it follows that one conjuct of any contradiction will be true. It does not follow from this that we can’t unequivocally claim contradictions are false.

    Consequently I think it is ridiculous to assert that “genesis” is absolutely true just by claiming it as a belief. Well if I or anyone had actually claimed Genesis is true because it’s a belief this might be a valid argument, but I certainly have never said otherwise. What I said was that unless one holds evolution is true in the sense I put forward, one can’t use evolution to claim creationism is not true in that sense.
    If we followed Hawking’s quote one would have to say that the question of wether evolution is a correct description of origins is meaningless, the question is wether the theory fits observation. But if evolution is meaningless as a description of reality then it can’t contradict creationist descriptions of reality.
    It is a mythical attempt by ancient people to explain reality. Like any other idea or theory it is open to examination and judgement. And of course, given it’s providence, it’s not surprising to find it worthless as a description of origins. We have far better knowledge of that today. This does not follow, if Genesis is a mythical explanation it does not purport to offer a true description of what happened.
    ”Of course that knowledge is relative but it is improving all the time. We see it as an imperfect reflection of reality. And scientific methodology is well accepted as a way the improve our ideas and theories. To get closer to the absolute truth while recognizing we may never reach it complete.” That sums up one realist account of progress, a controversial one. As I noted other people disagree with this, so simply asserting it over and over does not prove anything.
    ”Humanity’s progress would soon dry up if the advocates of any crazy idea was able to declare they believed it to be absolutely true and therefore not amenable to investigation by scientific methodology which doesn’t promise absolute truth.” I agree, no one said “any” idea can be justified without scientific validation, the claim is that not all claims need such validation. Ethical claims are an obvious example, claims of pure logic, and certain metaphysical or meta scientific claims would be others.
    ”Matt, your little trick is a way to avoid proper scientific scrutiny and justify ideas that have been well proven wrong. But no scientifically honest person will accept it.” Well that would be a fair criticism if you could show that I justify ideas that have been “proven wrong” but typically the claim that science has proved theism false or religion false don’t stand up to scrutiny.

  • Ken and yet the quote says “According to model-dependent realism, it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.” You suggested I replace real with truth ( in the standard sense I mentioned). But this would mean that on “model-dependent realism” is pointless to ask wether what theory affirms about reality is the way reality actually is, all we can ask if a theory is fits observation. That is almost a definition of a constructive empiricist anti-realist position. Perhaps you can explain then what you mean by appropriating this statement and claiming its realist.

    Exactly – I don’t even know if Ken understands the difference between realist and anti-realist views.

    Ken: Realism affirms that theories, claims, models etc can actually be true if they correspond to reality. Value, in realism, lies in truth value.

    Anti-realism, by contrast, is where a claim, theory, model etc, has value if it does something, and the question of being objectively true is left out of the picture.

    I don’t think you recognise this difference, you’re just quote-grabbing.

  • Matt and Glenn – I suggest you read the book. Or at least look at the other 2 quotes I gave. Eg:

    “the idea that a physical theory or world picture is a model (generally of a mathematical nature) and a set of rules that connect the elements of the model to observations.”

    and

    “We make models in science, but we also make them in everyday life, Model-dependent realism applies not only to scientific models but also to the conscious and subconscious mental models we all create in order to interpret and understand the everyday world. . . Our perception – and hence the observations upon which our theories are based – is not direct, but rather shaped by a kind of lens, the interpretive structure of our human brains.”

    I could pull out some other quotes tonight If you wish. But surely this is not worth pursuing, is it? Are you trying to claim that Hawking is not a scientific realist? That he is arguing against realism?

    Come on. I should not have to do that work for you. Read the book and make up your own mind. Don’t expect to argue your case through me. Hawking’s views are not an issue for me.

    If you want a response from me then critique what I have written in my comments. Surely I have said enough about scientific epistemology to give you a lead.

  • One being that there is no good reason to suppose the existence of a being who creates matter and energy.

    No thats actually a basic fallacy, confusing the absence of reason for X with the presence of a reason for thinking not X.

    This being would need to be made out of something, no? What kind of energy would this being use to create natural stuff? Where would this come from?

    This assumes that God if he existed would be “made” out of something. It assumes that things can only be created by using energy, that everything needs to have come from somewhere and so forth.

    If your going to ask for reasons for thinking God exists I am going to ask you for reasons why anyone should accept these assumptions?

  • Ken, actually both those quotes express anti realist sentiments and neither expresses realism at all. They suggest science makes empirically adequate models. Nothing is said about the truth of the models.

  • I said, “One being that there is no good reason to suppose the existence of a being who creates matter and energy.”

    To which you replied, “No thats actually a basic fallacy, confusing the absence of reason for X with the presence of a reason for thinking not X.”

    I didn’t say that there was an absence of reason for X at all, now did I?

  • “This assumes that God if he existed would be “made” out of something.”

    Do you know of a being that exists which isn’t made out of something that might separate that being from that which is not that particular being then?

  • PBOY said

    a) ‘ I said, “there is no good reason”’ … for X

    b) ‘I didn’t say that there was an absence of reason for X at all, now did I?

    To me it looks like you did.

  • Matt – I suggest you either read Hawking’s book or advance better reasons for your belief that Hawking is not a scientific realist. It is silly to make such conclusions on the basis of 2 quotes – although I think there is a conflict between what you understand as the truth of models and what he and I understand.

    However, the points where you do take issue with me (not Hawking).

    Yes I used knowledge in a more general way – colloquially to cover what the person in the street would claim as knowledge. The relationships of that knowledge to reality will obviously vary (I am a realist so will talk about reality – my prerogative) from absolute rubbish to fairly accurate, enough to be used instrumentally anyway.

    Your attempt to use “knowledge” to mean any belief that is true (in the absolute sense as corresponding exactly to reality) and warranted (in the correct way?) has proved useless here. Remember Glenn and the jellybean jar? He claimed he knew exactly how many jellybeans were in the jar. He thought he knew (he had counted them by sight) but I showed he was mistaken. Well in science we confront that situation all the time. We have to acknowledge that our knowledge is relative and open to revision as more information comes in. (In Glenn’s case these were jelly beans which did not interact with electromagnetic radiation). There may well be a way of applying your definition of “knowledge” correctly but it obviously failed here.

    The fact is that we have no way of “knowing” about the external world, reality, except through our senses, empirical information and logical reasoning (science). This can deliver a fairly reliable reflection of reality but never (yet anyway) an absolutely correct and accurate reflection). Hence my reference to relative knowledge and our need to be open to revision.

    Before commenting on the points in the post. Look at the dictionary definitions for “false.” – “disloyal and untrustworthy; intentionally made or adopted to deceive somebody; done with or having the intention of deceiving somebody; resulting from a mistaken belief or a misunderstanding”.

    Now I don’t believe any of these cover the situation correctly – that some parts of an accepted scientific theory are inevitably inaccurate, wrong, need modification, etc. – Even the last mild meaning (resulting from a mistaken belief or misunderstanding) is not really adequate. In most cases the inadequate features are probably results of lack of data, information, technological ability, etc. Not mistakes.

    Now you may claim a method which gives you a completely accurate picture of reality, absolute truth. If you do – justify it. Otherwise I won’t accept your assurances and most other people are in my position on that one.

    Referring to Pruss’s quote:

    I am quite happy to say most if not all scientific theories are wrong (in detail, to some extent, etc). Although they obviously do have a high degree of correspondence to reality to be confirmed in validation tests and to be used in technology. Pruss could have said that without relying on relativity and quantum mechanic and their supposed conflict. And without using the pejorative word “false”. Both those distract form his argument.

    However, having pointed out the relative nature of scientific knowledge (which I hope we can all agree on) he then argues that Christians can have a higher standard. I assume he means they can have completely correct knowledge somehow. Absolute truth.

    Well, all I can say is bring it on. Here is the answer to the elusive grand unified theory. We can do away with scientists if he can produce a method which provides absolute truth!

    Its very noticeable though he doesn’t provide us with this amazing method. Get back to me when he does.

    Madeleine’s comment of the graveyard of scientific theories.

    I am well aware that some philosophers of science (and religion I guess) make this argument. I suspect that it is not a majority position today and I am sure most scientists would reject it from their own experience.

    This is my point that “philosophy” has many different schools and it is easy to pull out an argument like that and present it as representative and true when it is neither. This was illustrated in the Dover trail where both sides used expert witnesses who were “philosophers of science.” The creationist philosophers did not convince the judge. And they certainly didn’t impress me.

    It’s worth reading someone like Alan Chalmers on the philosophy of science. He describes all these different schools and how concepts have changed over the years. As he describes it the “graveyard” school are certainly not in the ascendancy. I think most philosophers accept that scientific knowledge is progressive – and I am sure most scientists do.

    Madeline used that minority position to imply that the scientific method was piss poor (“surely it would not be that hard to aim higher.”) That is a childish position for someone typing away on a computer in an internet discussion.

    To clarify – by progressive I mean that as more information comes in and old theories are revised, or even dumped or replaced by new theories, much of the old theory is incorporated into the new theory (eg Newtonian mechanics and Einsteinian mechanics). In other words the new theory is not just different – it is better. It is a more accurate reflection of reality.

    I am aware that people like Kuhn get used to argue against this. It’s easy to pull out quotes and Kuhn’s position was somewhat muddled. He had to clarify this position in a preface to his second edition of his book. But of course that doesn’t stop creationist “quote miners” misrepresenting him.

    Finally, this post could have made the basic point of limitations in scientific methods without misrepresenting the quantum and relativity theories or using the pejorative word (“false”). That would certainly have avoided distraction from the main point of the claim that Christians had a higher standard or better method, than science. The implication of being able to get to absolute truth. But it would still have been piss and wind unless it put some effort into describing this miraculous method and demonstrating how it perhaps produced a grand unified theory which was absolutely true.

  • But cj_nza, there’s no good reason to suppose that Santa exists.

    Some children suppose that Santa exists. They suppose that because they have been told Santa exists by people that they trust.

    In a way Santa does exist as a transcendental ‘person’, much like a corporation is a transcendental ‘person’.

    There doesn’t seem to me to be a good reason not to suppose that God is a transcendental ‘person’ much like a corporation or Santa.

  • Pboyfloyd that is actually the fallacy of the argument from ignorance, I have reason for thinking X exists, therefore X does not exist. It simply does not follow.

    As to the santa example, that really is problematic. First we have good reasons for thinking Santa does not exist. Second, even if the example worked all it shows is that there are some entities that we need reasons for believing otherwise it is rational to say they do not; it does not follow this can be generalised to all cases. In fact, to say it should has all sorts of absurd consequences.

  • “First we have good reasons for thinking Santa does not exist.”

    Taking the case of Santa to be like the case of a corporation, there are people who represent Santa much like there are people who represent a corporation and people who represent any particular religion.

    The answer to ‘how do I know these persons exist?’ is very similar.

    How do I know Santa exists?
    a)stories
    b)the gifts which show up
    c)Santa at the mall(building + representative)
    d)Santa on the street collecting for charity
    e) and so on.

    How do I know GM exists?
    a)the vehicles, there they are
    b)the commercials(stories)
    c)dealerships(buildings + representatives)
    d)and so on.

    How do I know God exists?
    a)churches
    b)stories
    c)representatives
    d)and so on

    BTW, I’m not equating Santa with God to try to make a connection with ‘childish ideas’, corporations are not exactly childish.

    One difference I can see here is that with corporations, their product shows up, with Santa, the gifts show up, with God, not so much.(Unless you count ‘everything’, I’m not trying to be dickish)

    We can all imagine(sort of) what it is we’re talking about when we imagine a corporation, Santa and God, yet they are all immaterial.

    So we have these immaterial persons right? Sure there ARE differences but why should I not notice the similarities?

  • And once again Ken Perrott proves to everyone that his arguments have no substance beyond mere bombast and name calling.

  • Andrew, yes he still confuses the fact that our beliefs about reality are subject to revision, when we discover good reasons to think they are false, with the idea that our knowledge is subject to revision.Glenn and I pointed out to him the point, known to anyone who has done two lectures in epistemology. That knowledge is a form of true belief and hence cannot be shown to be false, if we discover its false we learn we did not really know it.

    When a person simply does not understand the basic conceptual issues in a subject and thinks that questions like “what is truth” or logical questions about the truth of a conjunction with a false conjunct can be answered by citing the dictionary its clear they are simply don’t have a foggy.

  • Pboy, if by Santa you mean the fat man from the north pole, then we have reasons for thinking he does not exist. Everything else we know makes his existence highly unlikely.
    For starters we know the north pole is in the middle of the ocean, we know about the origins of the santa story from St Nick through Hagiography how it developed as a ritual morality story that was not to be taken literally but reinacted through ceremony. A person can stay up on dec 24th and wait to see if Santa comes, parents with kids know they bough the gifts and put it in the stockings themselves. They know no other presents turned up and no person arrived. We know that all children in the world did not get a Christmas present, and so on. We know that in Mall A Santa is there and when you walk down the road to Mall B santa is there two and we know people can’t all be in the same place and so on. This is just the tip of the ice berg, with santa adults have a massive amount of disconfirming evidence which defeats the testimonial evidence you placed below.

    If one the other hand you think Santa is a corporation like GM, then its not obvious that belief in Santa is silly absurd and so forth. I don’t find the claim that there is a corporation called santa crazy or absurd, though I am not aware of any corporation with that name. The reason I have this reaction is because I do not have a massive amount of evidence against the existence of a corporation called Santa. I simply have no evidence for such a corporation.

  • Matt,

    I should have thought that it would be almost self evidently clear that our knowledge per se is not subject to revision! what is KNOWLEDGE apart from justified, TRUE, belief?

  • Andrew, I thought Glenn’s mistake with the jelly beans showed the problem with that definition. You either fall into the trap of arrogance by declaring what you claim to know corresponds exactly and completey to objective reality (absolutely true) or you are humble enough to realise you can know nothing for sure.

    Here’s an extract from Wikipedia which is a little more balanced and helpful:

    “Philosophical debates in general start with Plato’s formulation of knowledge as “justified true belief.” There is however no single agreed definition of knowledge presently, nor any prospect of one, and there remain numerous competing theories. Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, learning, communication, association and reasoning. The term knowledge is also used to mean the confident understanding of a subject with the ability to use it for a specific purpose if appropriate.”

    Its worth being a little skeptical of dogmatically pronounced definitions.

  • Ken, actually what wikipedia says does not confirm your point. Whats disputed about “the justified true belief” criterion is not the contention that knowledge involves a true belief. Its what in addition is needed to turn to true belief into knowledge.

    Your jelly bean example does not provide a counter example to the claim knowledge involves true belief. what your example shows is that sometimes we mistakenly believe that we know when we don’t. Hardly anyone rejects this, but that does not show knowledge does not involve a true belief. As Andrew said that’s pretty much self evident and almost no epistemologist denies this its been pretty well accepted since Plato.

    Ken imagine if someone were to assert that one of the most well established doctrines in science, was false, one that all scientists had had a consensus on for over a thousand years, and they did so because they believed wikipedia said so, that’s the equivalent of what you are doing here.

  • The point about the jelly bean example is that Glenn’s belief in the number of jelly beans was mistaken. But he still declared his belief was true and warranted – that it qualified as knowledge. He claimed to know the number if jelly beans but was shown to be wrong.

    According to you he should not have claimed this belief as knowledge?

    Are there any beliefs you have that you claim as knowledge? Is so please present me with some examples.

    Please let us in on what you claim to know ?

  • Ken on your blog on July 29, 2009 at 7:46 am
    Iapetus, wrote
    As I am presently very short on time, just a quick comment on the definition of “knowledge” as “justified true belief”.
    This is indeed the definition that was used by philosophers from Plato and Aristotle onwards. Incidentally, “Belief” in this case is not limited to a religious, faith-based belief, but refers to any proposition that one is prepared to affirm as true. As a matter of fact, the condition that “knowledge” must be a true belief is pretty self-evident and not in serious dispute.
    The catch is the third requirement,

    When I pointed out you had repeatedly denying this on my blog He wrote
    Although I am not Ken’s and Heraclides’ spokesperson, I would very much doubt that either of them would deny that a “true belief” constitutes “knowledge”.
    …Ken explicitly stated that he would not consider a false scientific theory to be “knowledge”. As I understood him, he merely pointed out that all scientific theories are provisional and may be improved or discarded if new data comes in.

    You then idignity responded on July 30, 2009 at 10:39 am
    Matt – you do the old creationist/apologetics tricks of quote (out of context) mining (you haven’t responded to my point on Dawkins and evolution) and false attributions (you misrepresent Heraclides and me on our comments of your definitions of knowledge).
    So on your own blog you denied that you were rejecting my definition of knowledge as involving true belief, you said I was being dishonest, this was after a philosophically trained contributor on your blog pointed out I was correct. Now your trying to say here that you think this claim is in serious dispute.

  • Ken, Glenn and I both responded to that argument, pointing out you are conflating two issues. They are “what is knowledge” how do you know that a particular proposition is one you know. Glenn repeatedly pointed this out to you. Your question asks for an answer to the second question, when what was being discussed was the first.

    As to the jelly beans, if I claimed to know the number of jelly beans was N, and it turns out the number was less than or greater than N, then my claim was mistaken. I did not know, I might have thought that I did but I was mistaken.

    What is not the case is that I actually knew and latter revised my knowledge I had no knowledge in the first place, though I may have had a justified (false) belief..

    This has been pointed out to you before Ken.

    Hence the jelly beans case is not a case where one knows something that is false.

  • So Ken, let me ask you a very simple question. If a person believes a false proposition yet has abundant justification for believing it, is it plausible to say that he has “knowledge” of said proposition?

    I’m not entirely deterred by the “horn” of arrogance. If I must admit that to some extent I am “arrogant” in order to ensure clarity, then by that I guess I’m “arrogant”. In any event, it’s a strange form of “arrogance”, to say the least, which contends that at no time do we know what corresponds with reality. As GE Moore contended, “I know for certain that I have two hands” (I admit that’s paraphrased but that’s the general gist of it). I scarcely think it’s “arrogant” to think that one absolutely knows that it completely corresponds reality to say “I have two hands”.

    Matt is correct in saying that the dispute surrounding the “tripartite definition” of knowledge consists not of a dispute around whether “truth” is a necessary element of knowledge, but whether or not “justification”, “truth” and “belief” is collectively sufficient to account for all cases wherein “knowledge” obtains.

  • I’ll repeat my question, Matt:

    Are there any beliefs you have that you claim as knowledge? If so please present me with some examples.

    Do you know any philosophy? Any theology?

    Give some examples of what you claim to know according to the definition you are attempting to impose. No relative knowledge allowed.

  • Ken,
    If someone claims that they “know” a proposition x to be true, but then x turns out to be false, then the initial claim to “knowledge” was misplaced. That someone CALLS something knowledge, provides little, if no indication of whether or not it actually is knowledge.

  • Ken, I just pointed out to you that the question of what knowledge is, is a different question to the question of whether a given proposition is a case of knowledge. Seeing these are different questions my my answer to the first does not entail and answer to the second. Your question then consists in repeating an inference I have already responded to and shown is false.

    Moreover, the talk of “relative” versus “absolute” truth or knowlege is yours not mine. I think your probably confused in those terms so asking me to meet definitions I don’t accept is pretty lame.

    But if you want to ignore my argument and ignore how things are correctly defined and want me to identify some things I think are cases of knowledge I’ll give you some.

    I think I know that torturing babies for fun is wrong.

    I think I know Ken Perott exists.

    I think I know that A and not A cannot both be true in the same way and the same time.

    I think I know the world is not flat.

    I think I know other people exist and have thoughts and feelings.

    The list of things I believe I know could go on, there are many obvious paradigms.

    I might be right or I might be wrong in thinking these things are cases of knowledge. That does not however in the slightest call into question the claim that if they are cases of knowlege they are beliefs which are true and satisfy some third condition, such as being warranted, justified, reliably formed and so on.

    I also contend that if a scientific theory is false then its not case of knowledge, and I contend that if a scientific theory T contradicts another theory T1 then one of them is false.

  • Andrew, you are just demonstrating the relative nature of almost all knowledge. We might have very firm convictions but will almost inebitably be proven to be wrong. Silly to then use such a dogmatic definition of knowledge as almost everything you know will be proven wrong.

    Far better to recognize all knoweldge as open to improvement as we do in science. More humble too.

    Notice that Matt is now afraid to claim he knows anything because he will expose his definition as unrealistic – just as Glenn did when he claimed to know the number of jelly beans.

  • Andrew, I thought Glenn’s mistake with the jelly beans showed the problem with that definition. You either fall into the trap of arrogance by declaring what you claim to know corresponds exactly and completey to objective reality (absolutely true) or you are humble enough to realise you can know nothing for sure.

    ken that would be relevant if the definition Glenn offered or I offered claim we can know things for certian or that we are infallible when it comes to judging what is true. But as has been pointed out to you the definition does not do this, it only claims that if something is known its true ( as well as having other conditions). A first year epistemology text can explain this to you if you like.

  • Ken,

    Your “rejoinder” (if we might deign to call it that) is premised on a fundamental confusion between “justified belief” and “knowledge”.

    You’re certainly right to say that most of our BELIEFS may be revised. Scientific facts are, as I think you agree, provisional in that they may change. However, that’s quite a separate question from whether or not our knowledge will change. Knowledge, it seems, consists of truth and there are some instances of knowledge which simply won’t change. Knowledge of logical and mathematical truths is knowledge that will not change.

    I’m not quite sure how you infer that Matt is afraid. He did after all list a bunch of propositions that he claimed to know. That doesn’t strike me as particularly “afraid”. It seems that you have a history of ascribing feaux emotional states to people.

  • “Far better to recognize all knoweldge as open to improvement as we do in science. More humble too”.

    Your appeal to humility is far less than convincing. If there are fundamental conceptual problems (as there are) with your claim that knowledge does not necessarily consist of “truth”, then considerations of “humility” count for very little.

  • Andrew, I don’t know if this will get through. There seems to be problems with access at the moment or the site is down.

    This dispute has arisen because both Matt and Glenn dispute the normal scientific epistemology which sees our models, theories and ideas as imperfect reflections of reality. There are of course some things I know accurately like the number of arms I have. But our knowledge of the mass/charge ratio of the electron is measured and always open to improvement. We say that we know what it is but acknowledge room for improvement. Similarly we can deduce theoretically the speed of light as a universal constant but acknowledge we may find that it is either not constant over time or varies in different parts if the universe. 

    We knew the laws of motion discovered by Newton. We still know them although now we know more – there are situations when those laws are not adequate. We still use them though, don’t we? Haven’t buried them in Madeleine’s graveyard.

    In fact this is the normal use of the word. Just imagine if we all had to put “I think” before each of our declarations of knowledge! I think the Wikipedia extract demonstrates that Matt’s use of Plato’s definition is not as widely accepted as he claims – nor should it be.

    Have you never claimed to know something which you have found out later  to  not be the case? I certainly have. That is why I would never claim my knowledge as corresponding exactly to objective reality – to be absolutely true.

    And similarly I never accept another’s claim of knowledge to mean that it corresponds exactly to reality.

    Your question – “If a person believes a false proposition yet has abundant justification for believing it, is it plausible to say that he has “knowledge” of said proposition?”

    The point is that person will say they know, won’t they? It us up to us to make our own judgement of how reliable his knowledge is. Is it based on evidence? Is it based on ideology, prejudice, bias emotion?

  • Ken says: “This dispute has arisen because both Matt and Glenn dispute the normal scientific epistemology which sees our models, theories and ideas as imperfect reflections of reality.”

    Ken, show one example where Matt or I have ever disputed this.

    Good grief Ken, you sure love pulling rabbits out of hats. Amusing but sad.

    On a different note: You think you know that the above desciption of ideas etc (that you falsely attribute to me and Matt) is wrong. Are you sure that it’s wrong? Or is your claim that it’s wrong merely an imperfect depiction of reality?

  • I have tried several times with no lcuk (the site is down). Hope this works:
    Matt – you say “it only claims that if something is known its true”. So when Glenn claimed he knew, he had knowledge of, the number of jelly beans he was wrong. Yet he claimed that as knowledge. And most people would have accepted that he was justified in claiming that knowledge – and when the later evidence came in they would have see him to be justified in acknowledging he was wrong (which he refused to do by the way). That is because we use the word more in the sense advocated in Wikipedia.

    Glenn would have been more honest if he had said “I think there are so many jelly beans” (Seems silly to say “I think I know”).

    In colloquial use we use knowledge in a more generally accepted way. We talk about “scientific knowledge” accepting that some, if not all, that “knowledge” (faces and theories) is provincial and a certain fraction may be wrong (*not “false” which is pejorative).

    (Bloody hell, some even talk about “theological knowledge” even through this has no relationship to reality).

    When people mention knowledge to me I NEVER think it is the absolute truth, and I never assume the person thinks that way. In other words they are not using the word with Plato’s meaning, but the more accepted meaning. I am sure that is also true for you.

    It sounds to me that we actually do agree that well accepted scientific theory, knowledge, is provisional. Open to revision and improvement. (In saying this I will also assert that the proportion of concrete truth vs relative truth in well accepted scientific theory is pretty high).

    I go a little further and say that all our knowledge is relative. All we know can only be an imperfect reflection of external reality. So in common use our “knowledge” is open to improvement.

    Of course we can know some facts absolutely (like I have two legs) but that is hardly a theory or model of reality.

    I think there is also a disagreement on the nature of scientific epistemology – is scientific knowledge progressive? – or are “old” theories abandoned on the “graveyard of science” as Madeleine asserted? I think you agree with Madeleine. I say that is naive and mechanical. Just look at well accepted theories of former years and today. The most normal situation (eg Newton’s laws of motion) is incorporation of most of the content of old theories into new one. The old theories become limiting cases of the new theories. We see this again and again. There are some exceptions, but even many of them will have elements that are retained.

    It’s an important distinction. While you can find philosophers – especially post-modernist and anti-science ones) who deny that science is progressive I think the majority of reasonable philosophers of science say otherwise. As would the majority of scientist who know this from their own experience. (I am always amazed how even some “philosophers of science” really have no proper concept of how the scientific method works in practice.)

  • So, Glenn, do you now accept “scientific epistemology which sees our models, theories and ideas as imperfect reflections of reality?”

    If so, do you accept that also about much of our knowledge in general (especially as it relates to an overall perception or models of reality)?

    If you accept these then we have made progress (and it would be pointless and never-ending (and diverting) to rehash arguments about the definition of “knowledge” and jelly beans)..

    The next step would be to ask if you accept that scientific knowledge is progressive, or do you adhere to the scientific graveyard model?

  • Ken – do I now accept? Good grief… have you ever seen me say otherwise?

    Stop pretending that people are changing their mind. This entire discussion has been an exercise in trying to get you to understand what is going on. One last time, Ken:

    Scientific theories are provisional. They are attempts to get at the truth, but they could be wrong. We use them in an attempt to know things, and they amount to a provisional claim to have knowledge. They could be wrong, and maybe we don’t really have knowledge, but they are an attempt to have knowledge.

    Knowledge is a beleif that is both true and warranted. Knowledge is not provisional, because knowledge is not an attempt at anything. Knowledge is stuff that we can have. Sometimes it’s obvious that we know something (e.g. I know that I exist). other times we’re not sure that we have knowledge – as in the case of scientific theories.

    Your attempt to (apparently) deliberately misconstrue what others are saying in this regard has been time consuming and boring.

  • Oh, and of course there is a graveyard of scientific claims. You already agree with this, because you accept that scientific theories and cliams are provisional.

    If a claim is provisional then we are saying that we might have to discard it in favour of a modified version.

    If you don’t believe in a graveyard of scientific ideas, ken, then you’re stuck with a dogmatic stance where scientific beliefs can never be given up, never exchanged for new ideas, etc. You have presented yourself as somebody who rejects such dogmatism, so I guess you’ve now decided to join us in admitting that there’s a graveyard of old ideas, replaced with new versions.

  • Ken, you are again quite mistaken.

    1 I never rejected “scientific epistemology which sees our models, theories and ideas as imperfect reflections of reality?”. In fact one of the things you have objected to is the claim that past scientific theories have been shown to be false. What I rejected was the claim that knowlege does not involve at least a true belief. As noted repeatedly this is not the same thing.

    2. Moreover, you suggestion that this “contradicts” common scientific epistemology is simply false, there is a consensus on this claim from pretty much all epistemologists.

    3 Moreover, the wikipedia claim you cited did not show this, as I and Andrew, and Glenn and Iapetus, pointed out to you the controversy is over what else can be added to true belief, not wether knowledge involves true belief.

    4. Your suggestion that one can appeal to Wikipedia to find out the answers to fundamental questions of epistemology is questionable anyway.

    Like I have said simply repeating falsehoods over and over and pretending they have not been addressed is not a compelling argument.

  • OK so both Matt and Glenn agree with my description of “scientific epistemology which sees our models, theories and ideas as imperfect reflections of reality?”

    Progress. Now just recognize my right to use “scientific knowledge” in the generally accepted sense. Because I will. Don’t let that distract you.

    But Glenn states he agrees with the graveyard concept! Interesting, as at least in the post-modernist version this conflicts with my description of scientific epistemology. It sees one theory as really no different to another in terms of reflecting reality so existing knowledge can simply be dumped and new knowledge used until it is again dumped. One theory is not really judged as a better or closer fit to reality than another. Often proponents of graveyard ideas are actually anti-realist anyway.

    So Glenn, do you think the Newtonian mechanics has been dumped in this graveyard? Copernican, Galilean and Keplerian astronomy?, Galilean relativity?

    Do you reject the epistemological idea that many if not most elements of old theories are incorporated in new theories?. Old theories often retained as limiting cases? Etc.

    Do you see scientific knowledge (theories, ideas, factual information) as progressive? Improving with time?

  • “Progress”

    LOL! It’s hilarious that when Ken finally starts to realise what’s going on, he covers up the fact that he didn’t get it before by pretending that other people have changed their position. Right, because it couldn’t possibly be that you missed the point and refused to listen earlier, could it Ken?

    OK, progress then. Maybe you’ve started to listen a little.

    Do you see scientific knowledge (theories, ideas, factual information) as progressive? Improving with time?

    Of course. This is what everyone here has been loudly saying to you, but you just don’t listen: Just scratch the word “knowledge” however, and keep theories and ideas. Of course scientific beliefs make progress over time, with old versions dumped in the graveyard and new versions adopted.

    Your problem is with the word “graveyard.” You’re worried that if we admit to dumping old versions and adopting new versions this somehow amounts to re-inventing the wheel and forgetting everything we’ve learned. This is just wrong. Your problem is merely one of language, yet you’ve made a huge song and dance about it.

    Old versions of theories are history. Progress is made by having the humility to adopt new versions of theories when the evidence requires it. That is the graveyard model you keep banging on about.

    Do you accept this model or reject it? And don’t just say “I reject it ebcause scientific knowledge is progressive.” The “graveyard” model just is the view that scientific knowledge is progressive and we need to move to better models when the evidence presents itself.

  • No, Glenn, the “graveyard model” is not widely accepted by most philosophers of science and scientists. And I certainly reject it.

    But what about my specific questions – I think these help clarify things:

    “So Glenn, do you think the Newtonian mechanics has been dumped in this graveyard? Copernican, Galilean and Keplerian astronomy?, Galilean relativity?”

    Your claim “Old versions of theories are history. Progress is made by having the humility to adopt new versions of theories when the evidence requires it.” is unclear. Do you accept that “old versions of theories” are very often, at least mostly, components of new theories? (You seem to be conceding and actually agreeing with me by using the term “version” – could you clarify?)

    Do you accept that the “old theory” of Newtonian mechanics” is in effect a limiting case of Einsteinian mechanics, and in fact used a lot more than the full theory?

    While I think a graveyard may well be appropriate for well discredited theories like phlogiston or special creationism I think the term gives a completely wrong impression of scientific epistemology. But it is one promoted by post modernists and creationists who distort Kuhn’s ideas.

  • Ken,

    You have yet to respond to my charge that your claim fundamentally confuses “justified belief” with “knowledge”. I previously spelled it out that if we claim to “know” some proposition x, and x turns out to be false, then the original claim to “know” x was not a true claim to knowledge.

    Again, that someone claims that something is knowledge is no indication of whether it actually constitutes knowledge.

  • Sure Andrew – I haven’t been able to respond because the site has been down until recently. In fact I lost my initial response to you. However you say:

    “if we claim to “know” some proposition x, and x turns out to be false, then the original claim to “know” x was not a true claim to knowledge.

    Again, that someone claims that something is knowledge is no indication of whether it actually constitutes knowledge.”

    The first sentence is obviously true. Surely my comments have made that clear. All of us claim to know things. We are often shown by experience to be wrong (its part of learning) so we revise our knowledge accordingly. As a scientist I am well used to proving myself wrong. Clearly I use”knowledge” in the normal accepted sense here.

    We could not operate if we didn’t at least feel we knew things. But of course it is arrogant to hold on to old knowledge when it has been shown to be wrong. Unfortunately many do.

    You introduce the word “true” here which has caused similar problems. None of our knowledge (at least the more explanatory knowledge) is ever true in the sense of corresponding exactly to reality (Yes, some facts are obviously “true” in that sense, as I have said). Scientific epistemology sees our knowledge as an imperfect reflection of reality. In a sense it contains both “concrete truth” (corresponding exactly, like having 2 legs) and “relative truth” (probably not corresponding exactly but we usually don’t know without more information). The progressive nature of science arise from detecting which bits of “relative” knowledge don’t correspond to reality and replacing these with something that we at least think does). We don’t dispose of the well established “concrete truths” and so far viable “relative truths” into a graveyard in the process. That is why I reject the “graveyard” hypothesis. It is misleading.

    I certainly agree with the second sentence in essence. In practice most of us make some evaluation of what others claim as knowledge. If my evaluation tells me that it has good scientific reasons, the person and sources are honest and reliable I provisionally accept it. But I had a correspondent recently who had claimed to have met his god. I asked for the evidence which was so silly (he claimed to feel very grateful) that I did not accept this knowledge he claimed, even provisionally.

    My post “Other ways of knowing” – some sense at last lists 7 “ways of knowing” in order of reliability. Faith and revelation is at the bottom – worth rejecting. So it’s not actually very hard to evaluate people’s knowledge claims.

  • “I also contend that if a scientific theory is false then its not case of knowledge, and I contend that if a scientific theory T contradicts another theory T1 then one of them is false.”

    But there are different truths which are all knowledge.

    Why did Jesus die?

    Theologian: He died to save us.
    Doctor:He died from physical trauma
    Politician: He was convicted of blasphemy and the penalty was death.

    The Big Bang theory is knowledge. Quantum Theory is knowledge.

    I could also contend that if a religion has many competing interpretations, it is impossible to say that it’s sacred scriptures are inspired by anything other than the writers willingness to be vague and the interpreters’ willingness to be deceptive.

    The Holy Spirit can’t be talking to all of you guys and yet saying different things, yes?

    You seem to be desperate to skate by Ken’s point here.

    You seem to be willing to skate by my point about immaterial ‘corporate persons’ being comparable to immaterial ‘religious persons’ too.

  • “But there are different truths which are all knowledge.”

    Of course, but they do not contradict each other, or else at least one of them is not true.

    Why did Jesus die?

    Theologian: He died to save us.
    Doctor:He died from physical trauma
    Politician: He was convicted of blasphemy and the penalty was death.

    This is a case in point. None of these statements conflicts with the others.

    Don’t go all postmodern on us and start talking about things being “true for you” and “true for me.”

  • You seem to be desperate to skate by Ken’s point here. I am not sure which point you are refering to, pretty much every comment Ken makes misses the point made by myself, Glenn, Andrew, Iapetus, and pretty much every contemporary epistemologist in the world.

  • I could also contend that if a religion has many competing interpretations, it is impossible to say that it’s sacred scriptures are inspired by anything other than the writers willingness to be vague and the interpreters’ willingness to be deceptive.

    You can contend anything you like, actually providing an argument for it is a different matter.

    The Holy Spirit can’t be talking to all of you guys and yet saying different things, yes?

    I agree the holy spirit is not saying “contradictory things” but who said that Christian’s believed that their interpretation of the text constitutes the “holy spirit speaking to them”?

    and more importantly what does this comment have to do with the issue being discussed, is it just a matter of throwing provocative comments out there?

  • ” what does this comment have to do with the issue being discussed, is it just a matter of throwing provocative comments out there?”

    “You can contend anything you like..”

    You answered yourself, but in reverse order.

    I think that science books and science text books and such are quite open about what natural philosophers of yore believed.

    Wasn’t there some moron who believed in the objective existence of essences?

    Don’t know about imagining a perfect triangle, but when I hear that kind of stuff from a supposedly smart person I do imagine a perfect something!!

    There are many things which we take to be truth which cannot be justified. For example free will, properly basic belief, the existence of anything outside your mind, the existence of a spirit(ual) realm and so on.

    “…who said that Christian’s believed that their interpretation of the text constitutes the “holy spirit speaking to them”? ”

    Different Christians have said to me that the Holy Spirit is guiding them, guiding them in their understanding/interpretation of the Bible and so on.*

    What’s with this, “Who told you this?”, style? Don’t you believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding you? What I was ‘getting at’ there is that many, many Christians feel that it is true that the Holy Spirit is guiding them and it is clear that whatever it is that IS guiding them it can’t be the Holy Spirit, it must be something a little more part of themselves than that.

    This is not hard to verify if one quizzes a few Christians on how it is that the Holy Spirit is guiding them to interpret the Bible, no?

    So, by your standards here, if we were to ask 10 Christians what the Holy Spirit had guided them to interpret a passage as meaning, and we got 10 different answers, then 9 of those Christians are mistaken, if not all of them!

    How did you word it again? If there are two theories and one doesn’t correspond with reality? No, that wasn’t it, was it.

    You can see what I’m getting at with the many Christians and their Holy Spirit guidance not matching each other, at least???

    What’s your ‘take’ on that? We ARE talking about standards of truth here and how scientists are being disingenuous since two physics theories contradict(is it contradict? Do they actually contradict? Not sure that that is true).

    What’s the Holy Spirit’s word on this? Anyone?

  • “The first sentence is obviously true. Surely my comments have made that clear. All of us claim to know things. We are often shown by experience to be wrong (its part of learning) so we revise our knowledge accordingly. As a scientist I am well used to proving myself wrong. Clearly I use”knowledge” in the normal accepted sense here.”

    Clearly you do not find it “obviously true”, as you deny the very point I make by claiming that “knowledge” can be revised. My point is that “knowledge” by its very definition cannot be revised. If “knowledge” is revised, then it’s not knowledge in the first place….duh!

    “We could not operate if we didn’t at least feel we knew things. But of course it is arrogant to hold on to old knowledge when it has been shown to be wrong. Unfortunately many do.”

    Knowledge cannot be revised. BELIEF can be revised, but not KNOWLEDGE. It would pay for you to at least learn to differentiate between the two.

    “None of our knowledge (at least the more explanatory knowledge) is ever true in the sense of corresponding exactly to reality ”

    If none of our explanatory “knowledge” corresponds exactly with reality, then it isn’t “knowledge”.

  • Andrew if you persist in using an unworkable definition of knowledge then of course you cannot have any knowledge. Try the exercise. Tell me what knowledge you have . And then justify it according to your definition by showing that it is absolutely true. Come on – do that exercise. (And no, your number of feet or similar trivialities is not adequate).

    Glenn was convinced he could do it but fell into the trap of arrogance with the jelly beans.

    The fact is, Andrew, we all talk about knowledge.( Belief as a word has unpleasant connotations). Yet almost all if us are prepared to revise our knowledge when it is shown to be wrong.

    Only a fool would refuse to revise their knowledge because of Plato’s definition.

  • Ken both Glenn and Andrew and I have shown you this “jelly bean” argument does not work, your continually repeating claims about the definition of knowledge that anyone who is familar with the issues knows is false, and pretending no one has answered you does not cut it.

  • The logic of the situation is this, according to the standard definition we know a proposition P if and only if P is (a) true
    (b) I think p is true and
    (c) I am warranted in thinking p is true.

    To show this definition is false you need to come up with an clear cut example where we do know something and it either (a) is not true or (b) we don’t believe it or (c) we are not warranted in believing it.

    Pointing out that there are something we do not know mistakenly but think are true does not do this. The example is not a case of knowlege nor does it lack (a) or (b) or (c). At best we mistakenly think it posses (a). But mistakenly thinking something posses (a) and it actually not possesing (a) are quite different.

    Ken you are simply logically confused here, you don’t show a case of knowledge does not posses (a) or (b) or (c) by showing there are cases of non knowlege which we mistakenly think do posses (a). Any more than one can show a mammals lay eggs by pointing to the existence of non mammals that do. That is one of the silliest inferences imaginable.

  • pboyfloyd, some brief responses..
    You can see what I’m getting at with the many Christians and their Holy Spirit guidance not matching each other, at least???
    Yes there are many denominations and interpretations. I believe that the “church” is ultimately one body but the transcendent truth of God cannot be contained or entrusted to a single person or institution. The ancient creeds (example) summarise the basics of Christian belief. A hegemony of doctrine and ritual, subject to flawed human nature, is not what God intends.

    What’s your ‘take’ on that? We ARE talking about standards of truth here and how scientists are being disingenuous since two physics theories contradict(is it contradict? Do they actually contradict? Not sure that that is true).
    Yes there is a contradiction. See Graviton (and some more such problems).

    What’s the Holy Spirit’s word on this? Anyone?
    Ultimately the Bible is revelation from God, but random “private interpretations” are not so reliable. The literature from academic disciplines such as hermeneutics, theology, translation, (…) reaches back thousands of years. A good commentary Such as Eerdmans or Oxford can help distil the scholarship into accessible concepts to a lay reader.

  • No Matt, the jelly bean example did catch Glenn out.

    According to his definition he should have said he thinks the number is such and such. Or, as you do, he thinks he knows the number is such and such. It was a point io honour to him to claim knowledge as a wayoif explaining his definition. In the process he showed why the definition is inappropriate in science.

    1: If you stick with your definition is there anything you are prepared to claim knowledge of, that you know (and please avoid the obvious like the number of legs – that’s not an issue)?

    Claiming you think you know avoids the issue so is not permitted.

    2: Do you acknowledge that in normal conversation we often talk about knowledge without limiting the word to Plato’s definition? For example we commonly talk about scientific knowledge. You may even do so yourself for all I know.

  • Sorry Ken, but merely asserting your example works when I have shown it does not, and ignoring the arguments and distinctions showing it does not , simply shows how you continue to assert things in the case of counter evidence.

    Your questions continue to conflate the question of what knowledge is with the question, what things do we know that we know? You seem to think making an obvious mistake like this and then demanding people respond to questions based on this mistake counts as an argument, it doesn’t.

    To actually rebut Glenn you need to find a clear cut case of something we know and which is also false. Can you provide a case?

  • The jelly beans are the elephant in the room. Glenn knew exactly how many there were. He used Plato’s definition. Yet he was wrong.

    And you seem to be very scared of this word now. You are refusing to identify anything you claim to know.

  • Simple test, Matt.

    Have you ever used the term “scientific knowledge” in any of your blog posts (easy enough to check so don’t give a knee jerk answer of no)?

    If you have used this term (and the bet is you have. Anyone writing on science and religion will naturally have done so) then what do you mean by “knowledge” in the term.

    Well you acknowledge that scientific theories, models and ideas (what we humans call scientific knowledge) is provisional. That these are imperfect reflections of reality. (How could they be otherwise)

    So if you have used the term “scientific knowledge” then you have used it in this sense – not Plato’s sense.

    If this is the case why try to divert the discussion here with such a limited definition of knowledge? (And shonky logic which “proves” something by using the conclusion as the premise?).

  • Ken, perhaps then to settle this you can show how
    The proposition

    [1] a person knows p if and only if they believe p, and p is true, and they are warranted in accepting p

    Entails

    [2] Glenn can correctly guess how many jelly beans there are when Ken asks him.

    Please demonstrate how [2] follows from [1].

  • Matt: 1 is just a statement of your preferred definition of “knowledge” – attributed to Plato but clearly not the common meaning – or the meaning you have probably used in your posts on this blog in the past (“scientific knowledge” – check it out).

    (Incidentally – this is something people must be very aware of when logical arguments are used. It is common for the “logician” to bury their desired conclusion in their premise).

    I can’t speak for Glenn but he clearly did beleive that he knew the number of jelly beans and that his knowledge was absolutely true. He was using your definition and using this example as an illustration.

    I imagined he wouldn’t guess correctly because I was proposing the thought experiment (and realised his limited understanding of the scientific method). I knew there were jelly beans he hadn’t detected by the method he assumed was warranted/justified.

    This illustrates why one should never use that meaning you advocate to apply to what is essentially the area of scientific knowledge. The very nature of our achieving any understanding of external reality is via perception and models of reality in our mind. These can never conform exactly to reality in an absolute sense. All we can hope for is to achieve a reflection of reality as close to the absolute truth as practical., And be prepared to revise our models (our knowledge) as more information comes in.

  • I see Ken again you evade the issue.

    Yes [1] is my definition, I was asking asking you to show that [2] follows from [1].

    You see Ken, if [2] does not follow from [1] the fact Glenn mistakenly tells you how many jelly beans there are does not show [1] is false.

    So again please actually provide proof for your claim, by showing how you get [2] from [1].

  • No, of course not 2 doesn’t show 1 false – the argument is designed that way.

    The point is that 1 is your proposal. It’s your definition of knowledge. The fact that someone defined knowledge that way 2500 years ago is enough for you to advocate it (or pretend to) even though that is not its common usage. Nor is it the usage I advocate and use. Nor is it the “scientific standards of proof” referred to in Madeleine’s post and comment.

    The point is the different definitions.

    Your definition is not practical. That is shown by the fact that you will not declare there is anything you know – only that you “think” you know.

    In practice however you have been quite happy about using terms like “scientific knowledge ” in the conventional way. For example “Despite the bravado of self-professed free thinkers, our acquisition of scientific knowledge is pervasively shot through with faith – faith in authorities, faith that others are being honest to us and are trustworthy and so on. ” You were attempting to discredit scientific knowledge here but the point is you were using the term with its conventional meaning.

    You certainly were not indicating you thought “scientific knowledge is absolutely true.

    Now, I can appreciate you have a motive for stubbornly fighting this issue in the way you have. You wish to be able to argue via several manipulations that “Christian knowledge” is absolutely true and can be obtained without evidence.

    You are welcome to make you case for this (and isn’t this the assertion implied by Madeleine’s post and comment (but without any support or justification).

    Just don’t expect us to redefine our language for your convenience.

  • @ropata

    Right, so what you’re saying is that when it comes to theology, Matt and his logicians are willing to give a giant pass to their truth, but not to scientific truths, all the while claiming that, ” I don’t think scientific standards of proof should be something for Christians to aspire.”, theological truth IS something that theists ought to aspire to!

    Interesting, no?

  • Nobody is giving theology a free pass here. Prof. Pruss’s observation may have been hyperbolic but it indicates the very high standards of proof set by Christian apologetics.

  • “Nobody is giving theology a free pass here. Prof. Pruss’s observation may have been hyperbolic but it indicates the very high standards of proof set by Christian apologetics.”

    I don’t think that that is true. Here we’ve been reading Matt’s comments to Ken, not willing to give an inch as far as Matt’s ridiculous logic that physics is inconsistent therefore either QM or BB theory is false(logically).

    Try using logic when Matt is explaining his theological theories, and Matt is likely to claim that one is making a characature of it.

    Seems that we’re all expected to be ‘more than reasonable'(in the sense of forgiving*) when it comes to Matt’s pet topics but visciously logical when it comes to physics?

    Was Pruss being hyperbolic here? Seems that Matt et al disagree with you on that, ropata.

    *let’s not take logic ‘too far’, kind of thing.

  • ropata – “very high standards of proof set by Christian apologetics”

    Could you, or anyone else, please describe these high standards and show us that they are applied and work.

    Do they, for example, produce as good results as relativity or quantum mechanics?

    If you are not prepared to describe those standards and provide evidence for their application and effectiveness you are just spouting piss and wind.

  • I can’t speak for Glenn but he clearly did beleive that he knew the number of jelly beans and that his knowledge was absolutely true.

    In the scenrio I describe that you are referring back to, the following this were the case:

    1) In fact there were X jellybeans in the jar (where X is a number)
    2) I gained warrant for believing that there were X jellybeans in the jar by investifation.
    3) I formed the belief that there were X jellybeans in the jar.

    No dogmatism here. Either there are X jellybeans in the jar or there are not. In this case, it happens that my belief was true and that I was justified in holding it.

    This is scientific epistemology. Now, can I form mistaken beliefs about the number of Jellybeas? Of course. I could have made an error and concluded that there were X + 3 or some other number. Easily done with so many jellybeans. As it turns out, I happened to get it right.

    Where’s the problem?

  • Do they, for example, produce as good results as relativity or quantum mechanics?
    Depends how you measure “good”.
    Christianity has been around 2000 years, knowledge of Yahweh much longer.
    God can be apprehended in a personal way, QM etc is totally abstract.
    The Gospel is a simple message with deep implications for the human race, Modern physics is obscured in complex mathematics that does not speak to the human condition at all.

  • Glenn, you went further by claiming that you had knowledge, true, justified, warranted belief, of the number of jelly beans in the jar.

    I agreed with the knowledge but pointed out that it was not necessarily absolutely true – did not necessarily correspond exactly to reality.

    You weren’t mistaken with your counting (presumably checking was done). However, you relied on the jelly beans being visible and easily counted (a perfectly reasonable assumption given your state of knowledge).

    However, some bright spark later did a bit of extra work and used another method. She weighed the contents of the jar and found the weight to be much greater than the total of the jelly beans you counted. She postulated that some jelly beans in the jar were not visible and therefore were not counted, because they did not interact with visible electromagnetic radiation. She was able to confirm these “invisible” jelly beans were present using non visible em radiation and suitable detectors. She further confirmed this by visibly counting the total as shown on these detectors.

    So your knowledge, while justified within the limitations imposed (possibly for technological reasons), was not absolutely true. Scientists understand that. They would have accepted your knowledge and used it until anomalies appeared. They would always have seen that knowledge as provisional, open to updating and improvement.

    Our knowledge about those jelly beans is now more accurate than when you reported your findings. Our reflection of reality is closer to the truth. Our model will be more effective and more widely applicable.

    But our knowledge is still provisional. We don’t delude ourselves into thinking it corresponds exactly to reality. We are always open to new evidence.

    That is scientific epistemology. We don’t stop with our first findings and declare then absolutely true. This together with verification against reality (weighing the jar, for example) is what makes the scientific method so powerful.

    I really don’t believe that Christians can have higher standards than this as Madeleine claims on her post and comment. And as ropata also claims.

    But I am open to the evidence??

  • I think ropata that your Christian methods can’t compete. Your revelations and scriptures have not enabled you to produce theories anywhere near as good as relativity or quantum mechanics.

    Madeleine’s claims are just silly bravado. Christian standards are very much lower than scientific one’s.

  • ” Your revelations and scriptures have not enabled you to produce theories anywhere near as good as relativity or quantum mechanics.”

    In fact i dont know of any Christian doctrine on the subject at all.
    So what has Physics got to say on the issue of evil, or how to cope with heartbreak or loss. Would i come to you Ken for advice on how to deal with sin in my life or how to respond to a friend who has lied about me for some reason. How will Chemistry or Mathematics help deal with the guilt of having mistreated someone? Can science teach me wisdom in living?

    If great grief or great joy comes into your life Ken, i doubt you will run to the lab and devise a set of experiments to figure how to deal with it. Will understanding the neural and chemical pathways invovled make your pain less or joy greater? Do you love your grand daughter or is that just a neuro-chemical bonding to ehance the survival of a related genotype?
    There is an awful lot more to life than just than just the hard physical, chemical, biological facts.
    Christianity adresses first and foremost the heart and character of man.

  • “Glenn, you went further by claiming that you had knowledge, true, justified, warranted belief, of the number of jelly beans in the jar.”

    That is not “further.” Read my last comment again. As is often the case, the issue is that you don’t realise what is being said.

  • “However, some bright spark later did a bit of extra work and used another method. She weighed the contents of the jar and found the weight to be much greater than the total of the jelly beans you counted. ”

    No – this didn’t happen. I already gave the scenario, and this wasn’t part of it. As I explained, in the scenario the number of jellybeans really was X. I’m telling the story here.

  • So, Glenn, when confronted with new information you close your eyes and cover your ears.

    The basic problem – you don’t get to choose or create reality, you interact with it and this provides you with an opportunity to gain knowledge about it.

    At the start you have absolutely no way of knowing how many jelly beans there are. Your point 1 was a complete fallacy.  Only by interacting with the jelly beans were you able to obtain any information about their number and nature. To obtain knowledge, provisionally.

    You didn’t know how many jelly beans there were before your interaction. Therefore you had no real way of supporting your claim that your knowledge after the interaction was absolutely true. That knowledge could be no more than provisional, open to improvement with more data.

    Your rejection of that improvement is simply an arrogance. An impossible claim that you had the absolute truth.

    That is dogma – not scientific epistemology.

  • Jeremy, you will notice Madeleine’s post was restricted to commenting on relativity and quantum mechanics and claiming Christianity has higher standard. You admit it has nothing to say about those subjects.

    OK consider astronomy. Christian standard led to the conflict with Galileo. Yet his astronomic observations proved he had higher standards than the church!

    So what is the justification for the claim?

    Of course there is a hell of a lot more in life than hard chemical and physical facts. There is a lot we do in our mind and judgements we must make which science cannot do for us (although it might investigate how we do it).

    But again, while Christianity might also make claims in that area these are not supported and verified.

    The truth is that all humans deal with these issues, what5ever their religions or beliefs. Christianity does no better than the rest of us and there is no reason why it should.

    But I get back to the real issue.

    Where is the support for the claim that Christian standards are higher than those of science? I don’t think you have any. Hence the attempt to divert.

  • @ Ken
    For goodness sake Ken this discussion has already covered this ground. Pruss was making the point that Christians should be aiming higher than accepting as good enough apparently contradictory theories. You have even agreed in as much as you have stated all scientific theory is open to improvement and correction when new info comes to hand. His comments were not even about science although he used science theories by way of example.
    I do not for a moment believe Pruss comments as applied to Christians were specifically or exclusively on the subject of scientific endeavour, but rather our whole approach to life and God.
    I understand you are an artist, what do you strive for in your art, “contradictory but its good enough for the moment” messages in what you seek to convey or the way you produce?

    And yes although you dont believe it doenst change the fact that Christians do believe in Absolute Truth and that God seeks to reconcile men to Himself, and has made this possible through the only means possible, revelation and action on His part.
    Again i know you do not believe but just maybe you could read what is known as the Sermon on the Mount [Matt 5,6 & 7] and see the standards Jesus Christ set before us. And yes we all fail to live up to them.

  • Jeremy. Most sensible people believe there is an objective reality, an absolute truth. But only the most deluded, arrogant and dangerous claim they can access that using magic and impose that view on others.

    More sensible to accept our ability to approach that truth with an imperfect but always improving reflection of reality or model. This brings us closer to the truth than religious magical thinking ever can. Science has far higher standards than Christianity when it comes to the truth about reality.

  • Thanks Ken. i guess you didnt bother to read the passage.
    And you avoided all the questions, well done.
    Maybe the love, joy, grief, hopes and aspirations in your life are nothing more than neuro-chemical reactions, you have my sympathy. I prefer my delusions.

  • Jeremy, I am OK with handling my ” love, joy, grief, hopes and aspirations in [my] life” – your help is not required. And I see no reason to appeal to a religion for this area of my life. You have no right to make assumptions or judgement of others on these questions.

    But all you guys continue to ignore my question.

    What is you justification (and evidence) for claiming that Christianity has a higher stand for knowledge than science has?

    Surely the evidence and justification is on the side of science?

  • @Ken
    “What is you justification (and evidence) for claiming that Christianity has a higher stand for knowledge than science has?”

    Cant speak for Matt etc but i thought i answered that quite thoroughly in my comment @ 9:39.
    Maybe you just dont see it because you dont recognise the areas of knowledge, theology, spirituality, philosophy etc as being worthwhile. You have a hammer, you only want nails.

    I see you never answered concerning your art, i am wondering why? or your love for your grand daughter?

  • No you didn’t Jeremy.

    I see no answer to jjustify a higher standard for Christian knowledge. Only a declaration that they have the absolute truth. Then attempts to divert!

    Yeah, right. Tell that to Galileo. Woops, that’s exactly what they did, isn’t it?

  • [...] the militant theist may not think this is good enough – they claim that “surely it would not be that hard to aim higher.” Strangely, of course, they never explain how they can get a more accurate form of [...]