How do you know?

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about belief paradigms and epistemology (kind of the same thing). To someone who hasn’t spent years questioning things, it probably seems like a silly thing to think about.  However, how we know what we think we know, and what we think we can know, is essential to a number of issues, including such apparently diverse topics as faith, science and even romance.

Think for a moment, those of you who are lucky enough to have someone love them. How do you know that you are loved? What is your criteria? Do you even need criteria? Is it just a feeling, or is your belief based on some rational analysis? What do you mean when you say that you love someone?

For at least 200 years we in the Western world have lived within a modern worldview. Modernism is essentially the result of the Enlightenment, when men suddenly realized that reason and logic were, well, reasonable and logical, and surpassed any other basis for knowledge. The ultimate reliance upon reason, combined with the questionable belief in progress (that is, the belief that change is ultimately for the better, and what is new is better than that which is old), is modernism in a nutshell. Modernists believe that science and technology improve the quality of life. Every problem is addressed in a reasonable fashion, and they take Aristotelian logic for granted.

Now, I love logic as much as the next guy, and sometimes even more. It’s a great tool. However, as I’ve studied a bit of history here and there, I’ve realized that not all cultures have thought the way that we do. For example, our concept of cause and effect, that doing this will always result in that, is a modern concept. Moderns see time as progressive – that is, like a time-line, moving from the past into the future. Ancient cultures tended to see time in a circular fashion, which is why the seasons took on the importance that they did.

Being modern, we presume that those illogical ancient cultures were wrong. After all, we know so much more now, and we have medicine and indoor plumbing.  We don’t worship the sun (well, some of us still do), and we don’t chant and wave dead chickens around. Instead, we do things like play the lottery or go to casinos even though we know (there’s that word again) that the odds are against us. And, we have indoor plumbing.

I’ve heard stories about modern missionaries encountering so-called primitive cultures, and being laughed at when they try to explain things in modern terms. To non-modern cultures, our cause-and-effect thinking is laughable, because they believe – and according to them, know – that things aren’t always what they seem. Quantum theories have also challenged some of that cause and effect thinking, especially when they do experiments that seem to show that the effect sometimes occurs before the cause, or that different effects exist simultaneously, up until the point they are observed.

So here’s the question: how do we know that modern logic is the best way – or even a good way – to think? The catch here is, of course, that we can’t use modern logic to comment on itself. How, then, do we know what we know?

Isn’t this fun?

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9 Comments

  1. Mike Haubrich, FCD wrote
    at 10:21 am - 4th July 2008 Permalink

    Hmm, it seems that you are saying that causality is immaterial to understanding and that faith has an equal standing to testing concepts such as creation, supernatural appeasement for crop and livestock fertility, for protection against natural disasters &c.

    Would you then say that the invention of calendars based on the phases of the moon and the relative position of the sun in the sky was the first step towards the problem of modernity and causality. After all, with the understanding that the seasons are predictable, ancient people demonstrated that appeals for crop fertility were pointless outside of the growing season. They planned their rituals when the rituals made sense.

    Quantum mechanics and physics are fascinating because they challenge Newtonian physics, yet physicists are loathe to throw their hands in the air because it doesn’t make sense in the classical physics. While the proposed solutions have yet to be demonstrated to the quandaries presented, physicists are edging closer.

    Are we as a species “Better Off” because of modern developments of technology through science? It’s not an objective question, so I can’t provide an objective answer. It seems that using medicine we have extended lifespans, so that may be “better,” but then the concomitant overpopulation is stretching the Malthusian boundaries of population control.

    Diverting cropland for fuel production may or may not be the cause of food shortages worldwide, but overpopulation also contributes to the problem. You may or may not be happier with a smaller population that comes with a shorter lifespan, but the two concepts show that there really is no objective way to balance the ethical problems posed by “modern logic.”

    Whatever paradigm we find ourselves favoring, there is no way to deny that philosophy that contravenes evidence is mush. It is as good as astrology at making judgments and decisions. Wayne Westerson, in our anthropology class, taught us of the philosophers who would argue for hours about the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth without ever bothering to count the number of teeth in a horse’s mouth.

    Of course, we chuckled about how “silly” they all were. But it seems to me that you are asking us to weigh the superiority of argument over measurement and analysis.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think I know why you ask this question:

    1. There is no objective reason to believe that your religion is the “correct” one, but using the pre-modern methods of logic you are able to justify your faith that you are right.

    2. Your demarcation between micro-evolution ( you agreee it is demonstrated) and macro-evolution (you say it is impossible) is not borne out by modern logic and so you resist it.

    3. Your belief seeks evidentiary justification; the methods of modern logic don’t provide the justification. Since you “know” you are correct, then modern logic is insufficient and faith should count as evidence.

    4. Pre-modern thinking provided Truth. Modern logic provides no such comfort, it can only approach closer and closer approximations of reality and this makes you uncomfortable.

    Finally, we don’t “know” what we know. We only think we do. The difference between what you call modernism and what others call post-modernism is that modern logic discards those bad explanations which have been proven to be false, post-modernism thinks that such discards are elitist and that we all create our own reality and that testing is irrelevant.

    Come to think of it, post-modernism seems quite similar to religion only without the insistence on inscripturation.

  2. me wrote
    at 2:05 pm - 4th July 2008 Permalink

    Mike, spoken like a true modern. ;-)

    btw, I’ve tried to comment on your blog but it doesn’t seem like your comments are working again.

    In answer to your questions:

    1) wrong. There are plenty of objective reasons to believe Christianity as opposed to any other religion. Just ask William Lane Craig, C. Michael Patton, or my good friend Mark Mittelberg. That’s not to say that I would agree with everything they say, and I’ll address that in a couple of days.

    2) Wrong. Modern logic does support the demarcation; however, it all depends upon your propositions.

    3) My belief doesn’t “seek” evidentiary evidence, it relies on it. However, modernism in its most extreme form excludes a great deal of evidentiary evidence. And, back to #1, modern logic does indeed provide the justification.

    4) Correct (and most observant), and incorrect. Modernism does claim hold of truth, but it fails. And, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable in the least. I simply recognize its limitations, as I’ll discuss more in the future.

    You have an interesting, and not invalid, perspective on modernism vs post-modernism. I don’t know why you phrased it the way you did, however, I think I accept the standard definitions for both modernism and postmodernism (although there are numerous definitions of postmodernism, which is a fairly elusive thing). I’ve been reading and writing about postmodernism for well over ten years. I’ve come to believe that much of what calls itself postmodernism, while claiming to have discarded modernism, is instead a neo-modernism, relying heavily on much of modernism. More on that later, too. Postmodernism inherited modernism’s arrogance and disregard for historical thought, and both are elitist paradigms. But, you are correct that postmoderns accept (on their own terms) evidence that moderns disregard out of hand, and have seen that modernism has failed to provide any claim to truth (only claiming what isn’t true).

    Stay tuned; I look forward to your thoughts as I continue to work out my thinking.

  3. Mike Haubrich, FCD wrote
    at 5:51 pm - 4th July 2008 Permalink

    The commenting at TUIBGUY seems intermittent, because I get comments and complaints from people who have trouble. It makes it hard to diagnose. I have been able to comment from both FireFox and IE6 when logged out, but then have trouble when logged in.

  4. Mike Haubrich, FCD wrote
    at 10:15 pm - 4th July 2008 Permalink

    Well, I followed your link to William Lane Craig and I am not impressed. I am aware that he said his summaries of the arguments in the Christianity Today are only summaries but he makes the claim that with the simplification the logic is clear.

    Firstly, the arguments are indeed arguments and are avoidances of “counting the horse’s teeth.” Especially in the cosmological argument, he makes the claim that as atheists agree with premise two and so premise two is not controversial. Premise two he takes as a given, but there is no evidentiary support that if there is a cause for the universe then it must be a creator. Where does he get that from?

    The remaining arguments are similar in their presuppositions, but even without those weaknesses how would they demonstrate Christianity as opposed to The Flying Spaghetti Monster, or more seriously, Islam?

    In the defense of the Kalam argument he makes the absurd claim that atheists depend on an eternal past for the universe, and I have no idea where he finds that claim. I know of not one single atheist who holds to the steady state universe idea. There may be a few who are interested in a multiverse/foam explanation for this universe, but the idea is as of now mostly a product of mathematical models and not evidentiary. We certainly don’t need the steady state to be atheists again, but even so the Kalam argument begs a bigger question of first cause.

    Don’t get me started on his deference to Dembski, Collins and Denton and fine-tuning. The complaint against long odds is surprising coming from mathematicians, because post facto measurements of the chances of an occurrence are irrelevant if there is no repeatability. If any of the so-called fine-tuned laws of nature were different it would only mean that things would be different, it wouldn’t say anything about whether or not life would exist. It likely wouldn’t exist as it does, but we have nothing against which to test the fine-tuning argument to verify it, and therefore it is meaningless as evidence.

    Here is a good counterargument to the “Fine-Tuning” argument:

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/paul_draper/no-design.html

  5. me wrote
    at 12:50 am - 5th July 2008 Permalink

    … there is no evidentiary support that if there is a cause for the universe then it must be a creator. Where does he get that from?

    Basic rule of cause and effect. The full argument doesn’t seem that profound, until you really study it for awhile. Science is based on the premise that every effect has a cause (otherwise, what value would observation have?). Everything that begins to exist, therefore, also has a cause. So, if the universe has a beginning, as opposed to being eternal (such as hypotheses about universe cycles, and so on), it had a cause (i.e. creator).

    I think we talked about this before… this is why the Big Bang was such a big deal… in the past, materialists claimed the universe was eternal, thereby doing away with the need for a creator (a la Occam’s Razor). Having a beginning triggered the need for a cause/creator.

  6. Mike Haubrich, FCD wrote
    at 6:23 am - 5th July 2008 Permalink

    Its the “i.e. creator” in your parenthetical that is problematic as evidence and for the argument. The event of planck time may or may not ever be detectable, and the argument that is necessitates a creator is a presumption that he makes, and you make.

    While it can’t be used as an argument “for” naturalism, neither can it be used as an argument against. It is still, and most likely will always be, an open question.

    At the time of the predominance of the steady-state theory, as advanced by Hoyle and others, it was held not as an argument for atheist, but because the evidence was incomplete and until the further development of the red-shift, cosmological constant and cepheids led to the conclusion of the Big Bang it held sway.

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/greg_scorzo/kalam.html

    “It should be pointed out that here Craig commits the fallacy of hasty generalization in his assumption that if one can eliminate the singularity as an ontological existent, God is the only alternative explanation of the universe’s coming into existence. If Craig is right in dismissing all existing natural explanations of the universe coming into existence, it does not follow that the universe has a supernatural cause, since the correct naturalistic model may not be formulated yet. Even if we grant Craig the notion that the universe has supernatural origins, the Big Bang could be the result of multiple deities or abstract supernatural forces lacking the attributes of the theistic God. Craig might respond that it is simpler, on the grounds of Occam’s Razor, to postulate the existence of one personal creator, as opposed to many. However, one could easily respond that no God is simpler than one God. The existence of the God of theism presupposes that there are two realities, the physical world of the universe and the supernatural realm of its creator. The creation of the universe via naturalistic means only requires the physical universe, and is thus a much simpler hypothesis.”

    Occam’s Razor is sharper than Craig wishes it to be.

  7. me wrote
    at 9:14 am - 5th July 2008 Permalink

    Actually, the author of the quote doesn’t seem to understand logic as well as he thinks he does. “No God” is not simpler that “one God” because with no “1st cause” the universe never began to exist. And, he cleverly inserts the word “supernatural” to confuse the issue. Instead of “God” just use the word “creator” to mean any cause for the universe coming into existence. Logically, it didn’t just happen… if that’s the case, science folds in on itself. So, either there was a “Cause” or the universe never had a beginning. The logic there is tight. Planck time is irrelevant to the argument. If the universe had a beginning, it had a cause.

    Have you ever read Robert Jastrow’s “God and the Astronomers?” It’s a quick read, but pretty good. Jastrow was, at the time, an agnostic, so he wasn’t trying to prove anything.

    But, we’re off topic now, and I think we’ve covered this ground before.

  8. Mike Haubrich, FCD wrote
    at 11:54 am - 5th July 2008 Permalink

    I think it’s time to count the teeth, Alden. And I confess, that I did violate your request by resorting to modern logic.

    I’m just curious, by your definition of “creator” versus “supernatural” are you saying that a “creator” is a natural entity? Follow me to the next step on this one, please. I’ll let you fill in the blank, since you are insisting on causation.

    Other causes have been proposed, the creator is just one of them and not the necessary one.

  9. me wrote
    at 12:05 pm - 5th July 2008 Permalink

    “Count the teeth?” and, btw, I am using modern logic, too. I’m not against it, when used as a tool. I’ll deal with that more in another post.

    I find it interesting that when materialists cannot deal with the logic, they change the subject. Logic is a thought process; counting teeth doesn’t change anything. They still had to originate somewhere.

    Obviously, this argument only goes to the “first cause.” Evaluating the probabilities for God as opposed to spaghetti or aliens is the next step. Or, perhaps it’s the first step, if you’re not stuck in modernism.

    I think you’ll find my next post somewhat enlightening, or at least interesting.

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