• John Chlebek
    4
    Hello:

    I had the following conversation with an atheist and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts. It went like this:

    Atheist:
    Most epistemologies agree, broadly, that beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation. Faith would be belief in that for which there isn't observation, and thus, beliefs so backed are not reliable.

    Me:
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."

    I don't think this is backed by any observation. Therefore it contradicts itself.

    Atheist:
    I have consistently found beliefs not backed by observation to be not reliable, so there is no contradiction.

    I'm not sure how to reply to this. But I believe on some level he is begging the question. He said that he has observed that non-observable statements are unreliable. I think his reply would work if he said "I have observed that observable statements are reliable." But the other is just an assumption and is not observable, at least not in the scientific sense he is saying.

  • Banno
    11.6k
    Beliefs are considered reliable when they are justified. One form of justification is observation.

    Faith is belief despite the lack of justification. Faith glories in believing even when the facts lead elsewhere.

    I don't think you have a reply. So be it.
  • John Chlebek
    4
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."

    Is this observable or it is it a faith statement?
  • Banno
    11.6k
    It's wrong.

    What observation backs your belief that 2+2=4?

    Or your belief that you have a pain in your foot?
  • John Chlebek
    4
    I get it. Thanks.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    Most epistemologies agree, broadly, that beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation.John Chlebek

    That would be empiricism, broadly speaking.

    What you're getting at is close to the problem that emerged for verificationism. Verificationism was associated with positivism and the Vienna Circle during the mid 20th century. A J Ayer's Language Truth and Logic was a very influential book written on these principles, published 1936. It is a very tightly written and argued book. But the problems with positivism became evident over time, very much along the lines that you suggest - that verificationism is not itself an empirically verifiable principle. (Mind you putting it in these highly condensed and bald terms doesn't do justice to the scope of the debates about the subject).

    However, from another angle, there were other developments in 20th c philosophy that also undermined verificationism, notably from philosophy of science. Kuhn's book on Scientific Revolutions showed how many scientists were embedded in theoretical paradigms which were not themselves articulated but determined the kinds experiments they would consider. Michael Polanyi made similar points about the role of 'tacit knowledge' in the scientific process, which, being tacit, could not be precisely articulated.

    I believe on some level he is begging the question.John Chlebek

    I agree. The problem is that culturally, we're highly inclined to empiricism. If you make any statement that can't be validated scientifically, then it's inclined to be viewed with suspicion.
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    following up on that the Wikipedia entry on Polanyi has some very good amunition for this argument

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Polanyi
  • Tom Storm
    714


    I think Banno nails it. Some atheists will argue that methodological naturalism is the most reliable tool we have for gaining knowledge about the world. But science should not make proclamations about truth and is simply the best we have based on the available evidence. Capital T truth being out of human range and perhaps not even possible.
  • Tom Storm
    714
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."

    Is this observable or it is it a faith statement?
    John Chlebek

    Faith is the excuse you give for believing something without a good reason. When the Christian/Islamic apologist says (and I have had this many times) - "But we all have faith - you have faith that your plane will take off and get you to Honolulu". The answer might be: This is not faith. This is a reasonable expectation based on good evidence that planes, which we can demonstrate exist, fly safely every day. There are pilots with qualifications. There is technology that works and maintenance crew that ensure it does. This does not mean that we have 100% certainty that there won't be a mishap, but there are no certainties in life - except those 'certainties' held by fundamentalists.
  • TheMadFool
    9.1k
    Me:
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."

    I don't think this is backed by any observation. Therefore it contradicts itself.
    John Chlebek

    It is supported by observation. That's why the atheist is making this claim. To avoid more confusion, by "observation", the atheist is actually referring to, as @Banno said, justification. In the end though it doesn't matter because God statements are empirical statements and thus observation is key.

    That said, we live in two worlds: 1. the physical world of tables, chairs, rocks, and rivers and 2. the mental world of ideas. The trend has been, beginning from when our ancestors had their first thoughts, to bring these two worlds into alignment. The obvious reason for that being the high risk of injury and even fatalities if they don't - imagine if in the mental world, you believed that lions were cute and cuddly cats; you would end up as lunch, dead.

    However, that doesn't, in any way, diminish or eliminate neither the distinction between these two worlds nor the legitimacy of each. What I'm getting at is, god's an idea, a mental object and is as real as other ideas like numbers, the laws of nature, and so on. That god doesn't seem to be part of the physical world should bother us as much as an object in the physical world that we have never encountered and therefore isn't part of the mental world e.g. a novel object in some distant galaxy. Not at all!
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    Then there are those whose only strongly held, non-falsifiable hypothesis is that God is not. They will acknowledge that scientific hypotheses are falsifiable, always subject to revision or rejection, but will cling to this particular conviction with adamantine firmness.
  • Tom Storm
    714
    adamantine firmnessWayfarer

    Seems to be the way of the belief business whatever side you are on. :joke:
  • javi2541997
    595
    I have consistently found beliefs not backed by observation to be not reliable, so there is no contradiction.John Chlebek

    I guess your friend or mate was right in this sentence. I would sound quite empiricist but literally how can you have such beliefs when yo don’t even have a back to explain it. There are persons, atheists or whatever, that is not sufficient for them just say “I believe in it because I have faith” when it could sound even empty of content.
    I guess difficult context as religion is upon the individual of each person who is free to think if it is a sufficient backed belief or not.

    This quote of Wayfarer is interesting and I like it :100:

    That would be empiricism, broadly speaking.

    What you're getting at is close to the problem that emerged for verificationism. Verificationism was associated with positivism and the Vienna Circle during the mid 20th century. A J Ayer's Language Truth and Logic was a very influential book written on these principles, published 1936. It is a very tightly written and argued book. But the problems with positivism became evident over time, very much along the lines that you suggest - that verificationism is not itself an empirically verifiable principle. (Mind you putting it in these highly condensed and bald terms doesn't do justice to the scope of the debates about the subject).
    Wayfarer
  • StreetlightX
    6.7k
    @Wayfarer's reply does not address your friend's response. Your friend specified that his belief in the efficacy of observation comes from observing the efficacy of observation. This does not put him in the same position as the verificationists, for whom the principle of verification is not subject to verification. Your friend's point was quite literally the opposite of that: that it is on the basis of verification that he believes in the efficacy of verification.

    To the degree that your friend's response is a certain kind of empiricism, it is empiricism 'all the way down', as it were. What is sometimes called fallibilism. This kind of thing is arguably open to a certain kind of attack from induction (Hume), but this doesn't have much or anything to do with the verificationists Wayfarer is talking about.
  • TheMadFool
    9.1k
    I want to run something by you if you don't mind. It's got to do with an obvious fact viz. that there are two worlds - the physical and the mental - that define and constitute the human experience. It goes without saying that people are, in a sense, "biased" in favor of the physical world. What I mean is if ever there's an inconsistency between these two worlds, the usual course of action is to reject and dismiss the mental world instead of the physical world. For instance, consider unicorns - that they don't instantiate physically devalues them. Mental objects that don't manifest physically are dismissed and belittled as imaginary which, you're aware, has negative connotations. The ultimate goal seems to be to align the mental world with the physical. In other words, the physical world is given priority over the mental world. The reason for this is quite clear - if we fail to do that, we could plunge into a world of suffering and even end up snug in bodybags, something we definitely wish to avoid. To illustrate, if in our mental world, poisonous snakes are considered harmless, the physical world will revolt against this with fatal consequences.

    However, apart from concerns for our own safety and welfare, there really is no other reason why the physical should, in all cases, trump the mental, why physical objects should be privileged as real and affectionately embraced and purely mental objects e.g. unicorns, fairies, leprechuans, god, etc. should be looked down upon as unreal, imaginary, and rejected outright.

    What I'm getting at is the special status granted to the physical world and the way we treat the mental world with much contempt. There really is no good reason - apart from saving one's own skin - for doing that. One other factor that's apposite is that we spend most of our life in the physical world rather than in the mental world and thus, reason would advise us to give more attention to the former than the latter. Were it that the situation were reversed - we spending more time in the mental world than in the physical - I'm sure our views on what is real and what is not, with emphasis on god, would be radically different, in fact it would be exactly the opposite and god - a mental object - would be as real as a stone is in the physical world.
  • javi2541997
    595
    What is sometimes called fallibilismStreetlightX

    Interesting. I want to read and check more about it. Thanks for sharing the link :cheer:
  • 180 Proof
    3.1k
    Atheist epistemology?
    :point:

    My most memorable conversation recently with a theist IIRC turned on 'uncontested epistemological' points and went something like this:

    (Atheos) Are there deities you do not believe exist?

    (Theos) Yes, all but one.

    (A) Why?

    (T) For a host of reasons but mostly because (1) they are incompatible with my God and (2) there is no evidence that any other deities exist.

    (A) I see. But even if other deities are compatible with your chosen deity, there is no more evidence that your deity exists than there is that any other deity exists.

    (T) The evidence is felt, like love, and not "seen" ...

    (A) No doubt, but that sort of "evidence" is not publicly accessible, or corroborable. The belief that your deity exists lacks corroborable evidence just as the existence claims of all other deities do. "Feeling love" for your spouse, for example, may be palpable and even exclusive, but that in no way entails that all the other spouses for which you don't "feel love" do not exist. A true belief that something exists is evident in excess, and independent, of (our) feelings; actual facts of the matter must corroborate the belief (claim) that it exists for that belief (claim) to warrant assent.

    (T) But God, my God, is not limited to the empirical observation required for corroboration. He exists beyond the observable world, beyond space and time; He transcends existence while simultaneously He is immanent to existence in human feelings of love, compassion & hope "which passeth all understanding" ...

    (A) Yeah, I remember my bible-study too. Well said, Theos. Now here's the problem with that homily: "beyond space and time" simply means that something is measurable neither spatially nor temporally, that is, it's zero-dimensional, like a point, purely abstract and lacking any causal relationships whatsoever: non-existent, except as an idea or cipher.

    But can a point be "felt" – loving or loved?

    Can a point be worshipped?

    Can any point be differentiated from any other point?

    More directly: after all, friend, a deity that's "beyond space and time" exists indistinguishably from a deity that does not exist.

    (T) I understand you, Atheos. But try to understand that my heart feels that which exists beyond all understanding.

    (A) In other words, to paraphrase Macbeth, 'like noise without a signal, signifying ...'

    (T) Amen.

    (To be continued? :smirk:)

    Welcome to TPF!
  • Wayfarer
    11.8k
    It's got to do with an obvious fact viz. that there are two worlds - the physical and the mental - that define and constitute the human experience.TheMadFool

    That's not 'an obvious fact'. There really is no such thing as matter, per se or mind per se. They're abstractions from what, in reality, is a unity, which has mental and physical attributes. It is Cartesian dualism, which is more comparable with an economic model than a scientific hypothesis.

    But, in any case, this 'division of the world' into the physical and mental domains which you naturally assume, is a consequence of that widespread Cartesian view. After all, Descartes is taught at University as 'the first modern philosopher', and Cartesian algebraic geometery is fundemental to modern science. So Descartes thinking is hugely influential, it's kind of baked in. Which is why it appears as an an 'obvious fact' when really it's a model.

    What I'm getting at is the special status granted to the physical world and the way we treat the mental world with much contempt. There really is no good reason - apart from saving one's own skin - for doing that.TheMadFool

    There's a clear historical reason for it. It would take a long time to spell it out. A couple of points - one of the, if not the, major figure in advent of modern scientific method is Galileo, of course. Central to his methodology was the discovery of many of the basic concepts of modern physics including mass, velocity and others (replacing the archaic medieval physics). Along with this was his mathematical methology which concentrated on just those attributes of bodies which could be represented mathematically. (You can see where Descartes' algebraic geometery fits into this). And part of this methodology was also to nominate a division between 'primary' qualities - mass, and so on - and 'secondary', which were 'in the mind' of the observing subject. The astonishing achivements of science since the 17th c all rest on this conceptual revolution.
  • TheMadFool
    9.1k
    They're abstractions from what, in reality, is a unity, which has mental and physical attributesWayfarer

    That's what I meant.
  • Zophie
    176
    But I believe on some level he is begging the question.John Chlebek

    Everything does this eventually. Science just tends to be more predictable.
  • Manuel
    315

    I'm not religious and I think "faith" often implies, in many, but not necessarily all cases, belief in the absence of evidence. Having said that, what your atheist interlocuter is saying, does amount to much at all.

    Most epistemologies agree, broadly, that beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation.John Chlebek

    This is an extreme view. First of all, which beliefs is that person talking about? People believe thousands of things, it is practically impossible to have even a small fraction of these beliefs backed by observation in any sense of the word. Where's the observation that confirms the belief that there isn't a supreme power guiding action? There is no such observation. But this example is trivial. I believe that rock is better than jazz, that blue is prettier than pink, that beaches are better than mountains, how could observations possibly justify these beliefs?

    But then they could say that I'm not speaking about "beliefs", but am speaking instead of preferences. Fine, but then he's going to have to divide beliefs into rational and irrational beliefs. I believe that treating people kindly is better than treating them with contempt. Surely this must be a rational belief. How can observation possibly confirm or deny this belief absent some further stipulation, such as "it must be confirmed by evidence." But evidence in these cases do not amount for much, it doesn't illuminate our intuitions and dispositions.

    Then we can speak of irrational beliefs. Consider say a poor woman, for example, who lost her good baby boy because of some crazy drug war laws. She believes that after this life, she will be able to reunite herself with her son. I don't think this is the case. But it would be cruel, to say the least, to tell that person that this won't happen. In either case, this belief is not irrational, as it allows for some measure of comfort absent abysmal life conditions.

    There are irrational beliefs, to be clear. Denying evidence for vaccine effectiveness, believing the world is flat or that machines will take over the world, etc. But in most cases, it's far from clear.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.1k
    Beliefs are considered reliable when they are justified. One form of justification is observation.

    Faith is belief despite the lack of justification. Faith glories in believing even when the facts lead elsewhere.
    Banno

    What observation backs your belief that 2+2=4?

    Or your belief that you have a pain in your foot?
    Banno

    Then you have no justification, or reason, to believe that 2+2=4? Or that you have a pain in your foot? So, you're saying you have faith that 2+2=4 an that you have pains in your feet?

    Just like the lack of a loving, omniscient God is justified by the observation of all the violence, hate and unintelligent design in the world, 2+2=4 is verified through observation. The very fact that you think, which is observable, is evidence that you exist. I think, therefore I am.
  • Tom Storm
    714
    Then you have no justification, or reason, to believe that 2+2=4? Or that you have a pain in your foot? So, you're saying you have faith that 2+2=4 an that you have pains in your feet?Harry Hindu

    He is saying this kind of knowledge is not derived empirically. The justification is otherwise derived. Remember the OP is about empiricism (observation) not justifications arrived at via rationalism or personal experience.
  • Harry Hindu
    4.1k
    How do you know anything except by some sort of observation? How do you know that you know anything? What reasons do you have to believe anything? How do you know that you're being rational as opposed to being irrational? The evidence you provide to answer these questions will all be observable.
  • Ying
    281
    Hello:

    I had the following conversation with an atheist and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts. It went like this:

    Atheist:
    Most epistemologies agree, broadly, that beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation. Faith would be belief in that for which there isn't observation, and thus, beliefs so backed are not reliable.

    Me:
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."

    I don't think this is backed by any observation. Therefore it contradicts itself.

    Atheist:
    I have consistently found beliefs not backed by observation to be not reliable, so there is no contradiction.

    I'm not sure how to reply to this. But I believe on some level he is begging the question. He said that he has observed that non-observable statements are unreliable. I think his reply would work if he said "I have observed that observable statements are reliable." But the other is just an assumption and is not observable, at least not in the scientific sense he is saying.
    John Chlebek

    There always are 3 ways to argue, those being defense, attack and counter. Some examples:

    Defense: You take the counter point of the interlocutor. His claim that: "I have consistently found beliefs not backed by observation to be not reliable" can be countered by bringing up multiple theories in theoretical physics which got confirmed at a later point, like the existence of black holes.

    Attack: You bring up the problem of induction; the problem of induction is a big issue for folks who rely too heavily on empiricism. Either you don't account for all specifics, which makes the induction vulnerable to black swan instances or you attempt to do, which is impossible because of the amount.

    Counter: You attack the claim itself, in this case that he personally "found beliefs not backed by observation to be not reliable". You can nail him on providing anecdotal evidence because of the wording.
  • tim wood
    6.5k
    Then there are those whose only strongly held, non-falsifiable hypothesis is that God is not. They will acknowledge that scientific hypotheses are falsifiable, always subject to revision or rejection, but will cling to this particular conviction with adamantine firmness.Wayfarer

    And the entire discussion rendered nonsense, even if, though rarely, entertaining nonsense, until some common understandings are first established. Any claim of reasonableness for any hypothesis needing grounding on the hypothesis's being about something appropriately determinative. No ground, no standing. Care to try to reclaim sense by laying out what is appropriately determined here?
  • counterpunch
    1k


    I think Banno nails it. Some atheists will argue that methodological naturalism is the most reliable tool we have for gaining knowledge about the world. But science should not make proclamations about truth and is simply the best we have based on the available evidence. Capital T truth being out of human range and perhaps not even possible.Tom Storm

    If you can show that A causes B, and can apply that principle to create technologies that use A to cause B at the press of a button, reliably and consistently, anytime you want, in what way is it not True (with a capital T) that A causes B?
  • Antilogic
    6
    You could respond, "I have consistently found my faith to be reliable."
  • 3017amen
    2.7k
    Me:
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."

    I don't think this is backed by any observation. Therefore it contradicts itself.
    John Chlebek

    You are correct. There are many things in life (phenomenology; consciousness itself, the Will, human sentience, just to name a few things) that are unobservable (and contradicting) yet are true to exist.

    Using logic, you may want to ask him to parse the concept of being "unreliable" (?). Or, said another way, what is considered an unreliable truth. I'm afraid he would stumble dearly... .
  • unenlightened
    5.6k
    You could suggest that faith is not a kind of belief and so not subject to justification in the first place.

    Rather it is a commitment. The God of love is not reliable and does not prevail; He gets crucified. Faith is to believe in commit to what does not exist, and try to realise it in one's life.

    People say they believe in truth, and justice and so on, but they do not literally believe that the world is just or that the truth always prevails. They commit themselves to promoting these things as best they can.
  • baker
    1k
    Atheist:
    Most epistemologies agree, broadly, that beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation.

    Faith would be belief in that for which there isn't observation, and thus, beliefs so backed are not reliable.
    John Chlebek
    Indeed, but they can still be relevant, because often in life, it's about what is at stake, not what the stakes are.

    For example, believing it's worth to apply for a job even though there are a thousand other applicants. Or believing that it's worth to take a course of medical treatment even if the chances are slim.

    Me:
    "beliefs can only be considered reliable when they are backed, (somehow), by observation."
    You can observe that it makes a difference in a person's life whether they are committed to some particular standard or idea, as opposed to whether they are not.
    It's justified, reliable to believe that commitment makes a difference.


    I'm not sure how to reply to this. But I believe on some level he is begging the question. He said that he has observed that non-observable statements are unreliable. I think his reply would work if he said "I have observed that observable statements are reliable." But the other is just an assumption and is not observable, at least not in the scientific sense he is saying.
    More context is needed here, the specific theistic statements he commented on.
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