Archive for ‘Epistemology’

December 22, 2011

Inferential Reasoning in Foundationalism and Coherentism

by Max Andrews

Logically prior to inferential reasoning is intuition.  These intuitions may be basic beliefs. The belief that this glass of water in front of me will quench my thirst if I drink it is not inferred back from previous experiences coupled with an application of a synthetic a priori principle of induction.  Though this example is not how we form our beliefs psychologically or historically, it can be formed via instances of past experience and induction in the logical sense.  However, when it does come to inferential reasoning R.A. Fumerton provides two definitions for what it means to say that one has inferential justification.[1]

D1 S has an inferentially justified belief in P on the basis of E. = Df.

(1) S believes P.

(2) S justifiably believes both E and the proposition that E confirms P.

(3) S believes P because he believes both E and the proposition that E confirms P.

(4) There is no proposition X such that S is justified in believing X and that E&X does not confirm P.

D2 S has an inferentially justified belief in P on the basis of E. = Df.

(1) S believes P.

(2) E confirms P.

(3) The fact that E causes S to believe P.

(4) There is no proposition X such that S is justified in believing X and that E&X does not confirm P.

Given the explications of such definitions, both D1 and D2, there seems to be good grounds for believing that P must be inferentially justified.  It is most certainly that case that D2 is more amenable to having scientific knowledge in the sense that both (2) and (3) are confirmatory.  D2-(3) is certainly difficult to substantiate without begging the question.  Having E cause S to believe P is difficult to distance from some form of transitive relation.  Inferential justification may also be expressed probabilistically or determined probabilistically.[2]

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November 22, 2011

Ethics of Belief

by Max Andrews

W.K. Clifford summarized his deontic model of rationality when he stated, “it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.  If a man, holding a belief which he was taught in childhood or persuaded of afterwards, keeps down and pushes away any doubts which arise about it in his mind… the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”[1] I will need to clarify a few of the nuances to Clifford’s epistemic ethic.  I would part ways with Clifford in his sea-worthy ship story with regards to his alternate ending (see below).  The ship owner is not responsible or equally guilty for the shipwreck even though it never happened.  Such counterfactuals are absurd to consider as having deontic statuses since they do not pertain to reality.  I would merely suggest that someone’s wrongfulness for believing upon sufficient evidence is congruent and the wrongfulness is not congruent to the consequent of actions taken based on that belief.  William James’ position states that it is permissible to believe upon insufficient evidence and, perhaps, even obligatory for us to believe on insufficient evidence.  I disagree with James (see my argument for justification for the contrast).

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October 13, 2011

Is Heisenberg a Defeater for an Evidentialist Epistemology?

by Max Andrews

(For further context on my epistemology see Einstein’s Impact on the Epistemic Method.  I would consider myself a moderate evidentialist.)

Scientific theology takes Einstein’s knowing and being and his understanding of reality as a whole and applies this method of theology in Christian theology.  If the world is indeed the creation of God, then there is an ontological ground for a theological engagement with the natural sciences.  It is not an arbitrary engagement, which regresses back to Newtonian engagement, but it is a natural dialogue, grounded in the fundamental belief that the God about whom Christian theology speaks is the same God who created the world that the natural sciences investigate.[1]

A major problem that presses my theory of knowledge is the Heisenberg Principle.  This principle states that an observer changes the current state of affairs being observed.  For instance, if I am measuring the velocity of a particle I cannot know the position of the particle and vise versa.  This is called uncertainty.  How this comes into the epistemic process is whether or not this principle is epistemic or ontic.  This uncertainty creates an epistemic limit.

If this principle is epistemic then what relationship does the nature of reality have on our epistemic faculty?  Heisenberg himself believed that this uncertainty was not merely epistemic but it was ontic. Back to the example of velocity and position, if Heisenberg’s ontic uncertainty is true then if an object that is not in an eigenstate[2] of position then the object does not have a position.  Position then becomes a potential property.  When the observer measures the position it is then actualized.[3]

If this principle is ontic then this may potentially be a defeater for my position.  By way of realism, there is a certain element of reality that truly is uncertain.  Causation is even worse than what Hume told us.  That is still not to say that causation does not occur, it must, but this ontic uncertainty may affect more than just the quantum world.  If all of reality is composed of particles then there is a certain extent to which properties of particle can be extrapolated to a set aggregate of particles.  It’s easy to see how this can affect evidence and meeting sufficiency for belief.  I do not believe that ontic uncertainty makes reality unknowable since, intuitively, there are some propositions that we do know to be true such as the reality and existence of the external world.  So, even if it were the case that there is an element to ontic uncertainty it would not affect my epistemic theory in a capacity that would render it void and untenable.  There may be minor nuances to my theory that would render this theory questionable but given epistemic charity or probability one may still be justified in believing any proposition that is onticly uncertain as true as long as it meets the criteria for sufficiency.


            [1] Both the natural sciences and Christian theology are to engage with the nature of reality—not deciding this in advance, but exploring and establishing it through a process of discovery and encounter.  Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God: An Introduction to Scientific Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004),  21-22.

            [2] An eigenstate is a state corresponding to a fixed value of a physical variable.

            [3] Jonathan Allday, Quantum Reality:  Theory and Philosophy (Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2009), 250-251.

September 7, 2011

The Eagle Has Landed – or Has It? Obvious Hoaxes Part One

by Max Andrews

This is a guest blog post by Greg West.  Greg is an apologist and founder of The Poached Egg, a Christian worldview and apologetics journal where theology, science, philosophy, history, and pop culture collide.

__________

On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 was the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon. Hours later, Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the lunar surface. Or did he? You see, I personally don’t believe that man has ever been to, or let alone walked on the moon, because there is no proof and very little evidence in support of it.

As a matter of fact, there is every reason to believe that the whole thing was a hoax, and that Neil Armstrong probably never even actually existed (I know you’re thinking, “Uh, Greg, Neil Armstrong is still alive”, but I’ll get back to that later). The cold war was in full swing back in 1969 and we were in a race with the Soviet Union to see who could get to the moon first, and it was starting to look like the Soviets were going to win.

This is why the President, congress, NASA, and the news media got together and decided to fake the whole thing. After all, our national pride was at stake! I realize that many of you think you saw the whole thing on TV and that millions of other people did too; it even made Walter Cronkite cry while he was doing live coverage of the alleged moon landing. What you saw on TV was actually taking place at a secret soundstage made to look like the surface of the moon, and special effects were used to make it look like the astronauts were semi-weightless. This was all done because the perpetrators of the conspiracy knew that we were not going to beat the Soviets to the moon, so they wanted you to believe that we did to save face.

Also, did it ever occur to you that maybe you just believe that we’ve actually been to the moon because you were brought up in the U.S. where you have been culturally indoctrinated and raised to accept the moon landing on faith? If you were to visit the remote tribal people of the Amazon Jungle, point at the moon and tell them that men have walked on it, they would probably look at you like you were nuts. They might also consider having you for dinner.

Some of you young people may have heard your parents or grandparents talk about how they saw the moon landing on TV and go on and on about how awesome and inspiring it was; but have you ever seen this so-called “actual” footage? It is so grainy and scratchy that it’s really hard to tell what you’re supposed to be seeing, and it is hardly convincing.

When speaking with these alleged eyewitnesses, they will tell you what a moving moment it was and how it changed their lives, but you know as well as I do that this kind of experience is 100% percent subjective and not empirically provable by science. Everyone just wanted to believe so much that a man could walk on the moon, that they bought the lie hook line and sinker, and have convinced themselves that they actually witnessed a man walking on the moon.

As I mentioned before, Neil Armstrong probably never even actually existed. He was a person that the conspirators “made up” to help people feel good, sort of like Captain Tuttle in that one episode of M*A*S*H*. I know that there is a living person who believes that he is the-first-man-on-the-moon Neil Armstrong, but this person was actually born in a laboratory, raised in a bubble, and was brainwashed and hypnotized to believe that he actually walked on the moon. An alternate theory, which has some credible evidence, but not as much as the former theory, is that the real Neal Armstrong was paid a large sum of money by the government to keep quiet, went into the witness relocation program, and eventually ran off to Istanbul where he married a belly dancer named Maggie.

One final piece of evidence that proves the moon landing was a hoax is that the cable television show Myth Busters did an episode were they supposedly busted the “myth” that the moon landing was a hoax. I saw that episode and they really didn’t prove anything, not to mention the fact that they were paid a lot of money by the government, and were given access by NASA to super-secret technology to help them pull it off.

In Obvious Hoaxes Part Two we’ll examine why some people are so gullible as to believe that the Bible is actually true.

Greg’s Note: The above article is satire at best or pure sarcasm at worst. It might be a little of both, but I can’t prove it either way.

July 25, 2011

Existential Absurdity

by Max Andrews

Absurdity is an understanding or a concept in which the individual is superfluous.  This superfluity of being is due to having no allotted place in any necessary scheme of things. Some people invent teleologies in an attempt to lend things a place in overarching schemes but it is an illusion.[1]  According to Albert Camus, man has a longing for reason.  In this world people have understood that there is “irrationality” to reality thus a “despair of true knowledge.”  There still remains a longing for reason despite the recognition of absurdity.  From this, absurdity is born.[2] Camus recognized that man needs to understand this despair and come to terms with it.  His teleology was simply to live life together with others and love one another.

Absurdity is the denial of teleology.  It is a result of alienation.  If there is a connection or intimacy within the self, a lack of angst, it is difficult for absurdity to follow.  The same is true for an alienation between others and God.  Teleology is the only savior to absurdity.  The problem at hand is identifying what can provide such teleology, and if that provision is made, does it actually work?  Is it a binding teleology?

Every man lives his life as if he really matters.  The every day circumstances he finds himself in gives himself an epistemic awareness that what he does in those circumstances has meaning.  The situations he is presented with allows him to set goals.  In setting goals he produces an incentive to that purposeful goal, he lives and functions knowing that the means and the ends are just as important.  Man will live as though he genuinely values certain attributes like justice, love, and brotherhood.  Absurdity ought to be understood in a dichotomous concept:  subjective and objective absurdity.

Subjective absurdity is when something appears to be absurd or pointless when it is in some way irrational or incongruous.  The basic cases of absurdity are activities and attitudes, and that the absurdity of a life is built up out of the absurdity of the various activities and attitudes of the individual whose life it is.[3]  This is often an epistemic problem rather than a metaphysical problem.  The epistemic problem is how one obtains the knowledge of the teleology and how one responds in accordance to that knowledge obtained.  A metaphysical problem with absurdism will manifest itself as an objective absurdity.

In a state of life-affirming becoming (will be discussed later) those things, which are acted out, as a result of man’s alienation, are absurdly trivial activities.  Even as an aggregate of activities the agent cannot reduce the disproportion of their means.  They are inherently burdensome activities with no vindicating purpose.  They are absurdly futile activities when it would be plainly evident to an [outside] observer that they are hopelessly inefficacious.[4]

Objective absurdity would apply to the metanarrative of the individual.  This would be applicable to the overall orchestration of every state of affairs.  Not only does this encompass subjective absurdity but it obtains in every state of affairs regardless of whether or not it is epistemically warranted.

When one attempts to construct his own teleology to relieve himself of this alienation from others he tends to do so by relying on others.  He will attempt to create a goal or value from other people’s goals or values.  The attempt to follow suit with this teleology is not necessarily bad since there can be good that follows from this.  This reach for teleology usually looks like good actions or deeds.  This would include giving one’s time or resources to another person, volunteering, providing for a family, and succeeding in a career.

Since man is free, according to Sartre, it depends on what he makes of himself.  The existence of any objective values, if there were any, would have to be chosen by the individual to adhere to.  Sartre would see no way to get around this.  A man of action is a man who participates in the world and this participation is contingent upon the individual’s decision

Is there any serious warrant to the secularist’s teleological construct?  Can a world without God still provide meaning, value, and purpose?  Kai Nielsen claims that questions of value cannot be constituted by their being commanded or ordained by God.  Certain [teleological] values would remain just as intact in a godless world as in a world with God.[5]

The question is, must teleology ontologically depend of God?  If objective teleology can obtain in a possible world in which God does not exist it would have to be true that a sense of meaning, value, and purpose, according to Nielsen, is a necessary truth (it is necessary that teleology is intuitively sensed).  These two necessary truths (God exists and teleology obtains) can obtain independent of each other in as long as they are both necessary.  The same would be true if God were contingent since teleology is still necessary; thus, relinquishing a foundation for teleology because of its independent necessary existence.  For the proposition, “If God does not exist, then teleology obtains” (~Eg ⊃ Ot) the consequent is necessarily true, by supposition, which, according to the standard semantic of counterfactuals, has the same effect as a necessarily false antecedent, namely, that the conditional is trivially true.[6]  However, consider the proposition “If an Anselmian God does not exist, then teleological facts obtain” (~Ea ⊃ Ot).  If the use of standard semantics apply, and the consequent is necessarily true, then to render ~Ea as true would be highly problematic.  The Anselmian notion of God bases all reality in his existence.  To affirm ~Ea, or simply but, to affirm the nonexistence of all reality, and to consequently affirm that teleological facts obtain would be metaphysically incoherent or even a contradiction.  Metaphysically and logically, the only things that cannot obtain are contradictions.  Thus, ~Ea ⊃ Ot is nontrivially false.  For the secularist to suggest Ot obtains would be equivocation (of any other necessary truth) and misunderstanding the metaphysical and ontological connection between an Anselmian God and necessary truths (like that of teleological truths). A world in which ~Ea ⊃ Ot is true would be a nonsensical world.  Thus, Nielsen’s attempt to suggest that values (teleology) can obtain in a world in which [an Anselmian] God does not exist is incoherent.

The one who attempts to be the architect of his own teleology is merely adhering to an illusion of meaning, value, and purpose in his life.  For this agent, he ultimately cares about his career, family, friends, and others because it enables him to have a certain quality of life, which thereby ensures that he can spend quality time with these people (or at least he seems to ultimately care).  It seems that this response to alienation from others is only instrumentally valued by the agent to derive some type of meaning.[7]

This agent may believe that he is valuing brotherhood with his friends, charity in giving of his time and goods, and love with his family, but he cannot construct the meaning behind these concepts nor can he apply meaning to an aggregate of other alienated persons.  He may think that he has incentive or motivation to act on these values, but its meaning, value, and purpose is self-referential.  When he attempts to apply meaning, value, and purpose to anything he applies only as he has arbitrarily defined it as being.  It would not matter whether the aggregate of alienated persons thought the same or whether he was the only individual who thought of meaning, value and purpose as such, it would still be arbitrary.

Man seeks a concrete underpinning of the most fundamental values that make up life.  If these values are indeed just arbitrary, and hence not really valuable at all, then one’s life is rendered devoid of the meaning that is ascribed to it in virtue of it exhibiting such [apparently genuine] values.[8]  If this is the case it follows that no value exists and absurdity renders true.

I would also like to recommend Clifford Williams’ new book Existential Reasons for Belief in God.  I’m currently reading through this work and Williams approaches continental philosophy with an analytic approach in attempting to balance reason with emotional/existential need in faith.  Please listen to Brian Auten (Apologetics315) interview Williams on the book.

 


            [1] As understood and advocated by Jean Paul Sartre, Nausea, trans. Robert Baldick (New York:  Penguin, 1986), 184.

            [2] Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. Justin O’Brien (New York:  Penguin, 1986), 22.

            [3] See Joel Feinberg, Freedom and Fulfillment:  Philosophical Essays (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1992), 299-315.

            [4] Ibid., 304-305.

            [5] Kai Nielsen, “On the Choice Between Secular Morality and Religious Morality.” University of Toronto Quarterly 53: 128.

            [6] For more on the use of nonstandard semantics see David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls, Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2011).

            [7] Contra. Duncan Pritchard, “Absurdity, Angst, and the Meaning of Life,” Monist 93 (January 2010):  8.

            [8] Ibid.,  7.

June 28, 2011

Einstein’s Impact on the Epistemic Method

by Max Andrews

Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457) developed the interrogative (interrogatio) rather than the problematic (quaestio) form of inquiry.  Valla’s mode of inquiry was one in which questions yield results that are entirely new, giving rise to knowledge that cannot be derived by an inferential process from what was already known.  This method was similar to the works of Stoic lawyers and educators like Cicero and Quintilian; that is, questioning witnesses, investigating documents and states of affairs without any prior conception of what the truth might be.  Valla transitioned from not only using this method for historical knowledge but also applied it as “logic for scientific discovery.”[1]

Valla’s logic for scientific discovery was the art of finding out things rather than merely the art of drawing distinctions and connecting them together.  He called for an active inquiry (activa inquisitio).  John Calvin (1509-1564) applied this method to the interpretation of Scripture and thus became the father of modern biblical exegesis and interpretation.[2]  Francis Bacon (1561-1626) applied it to the interpretation of the books of nature, as well as to the books of God, and became the father of modern empirical science.[3]

This methodology created a split between subject and object, knowing and being, and gave rise to phenomenalism.  Newton claimed that he invented no hypotheses but deduced them from observations produced rationalistic positivism, which engulfed contemporary European science.  This split’s gulf was widened by David Hume’s (1711-1776) criticism of causality, depriving science of any valid foundation in necessary connections obtaining between actual events and of leaving it with nothing more reliable than habits of mind rooted in association.[4]  Hume weighed heavy in Immanuel Kant’s (1724-1804) philosophical development.  Given the Newtonian understanding of space and time, Kant transferred absolute space and time from the divine sensorium to the mind of man (the transfer of the inertial system), thus intellect does not draw its laws out of nature but imposes its laws upon nature.  According to Kant one cannot know the Ding an Sich (thing itself) by pure reason; one is therefore limited to the sensual and shaping mental categories of the mind.  That which comes through sensation the intuitions are shaped by the mind’s a priori categories.  It is in this sense that Kant played an essential part in the development of the idea that man is himself the creator of the scientific world.

Throughout Einstein’s work, the mechanistic universe proved unsatisfactory.  This was made evident after the discovery of the electromagnetic field and the failure of Newtonian physics to account for it in mechanistic concepts.  Then came the discovery of four-dimensional geometry and with it the realization that the geometrical structures of Newtonian physics could not be detached from changes in space and time with which field theory operated.  Einstein stepped back into stride with Newton and his cognitive instrument of free invention.  It was free in the sense that conclusions were not reached under logical control from fixed premises, and it was invented under the pressure of the nature of the universe upon the intuitive apprehension of it.  Einstein used Newton and Maxwell’s partial differential equations in field theory to develop a mode of rationality called mathematical invariance.  Mathematical invariance established a genuine ontology in which the subject grips with objective structures and intrinsic intelligibility of the universe.[5]

Einstein’s categories are not some form of Kantian a priori but conceptions that are freely invented and are to be judged by their usefulness, their ability to advance the intelligibility of the world, which is dependent of the observer.  As he sees it, the difference between his own thinking and Kant’s is on just this point:  Einstein understands the categories as free inventions rather than as unalterable (conditioned by the nature of the understanding).  Einstein asserts that the real in physics is to be taken as a type of program, to which one is not forced to cling a priori.[6]

Principles of method are closely related to empirical observations.  As Einstein put it, “the scientist has to worm these general principles out of nature by perceiving in comprehensive complexes of empirical facts certain general features which permit of precise formulation.”[7]  These principles, not “isolated general laws abstracted from experience” or “separate results from empirical research,” provide the basis of deductive reasoning.[8]

There is a long tradition within Christian theology of drawing on intellectual resources outside the Christian tradition as a means of developing a theological vision.  This approach is often referred to by the Latin phrase ancilla theologiae (a ‘handmaid of theology’).  The evolution of thought and method from Newton to Einstein vitalized scientific theology.  Scientific theology argues that the working methods and assumptions of the natural sciences represent the best—or the natural—dialogue partner for Christian theology.[9]

Here too logico-deductive argumentation from static concepts and mechanistic systems are rejected.  There is another reorientation of man’s knowledge leaving epistemic and cosmological dualism behind in operations that have to do with the unity of form and being.  Scientific theology is concerned with the discovery of appropriate modes of rationality or cognitive instruments with which to enter into the heart of religious experience, and therefore with the development of axiomatic concepts with which to allow interior principles to be disclosed, and in that light to understand the rational structure of the whole field of God’s interaction with man and the world.[10]

Scientific theology takes Einstein’s knowing and being and his understanding of reality as a whole and applies this method of theology in Christian theology.  If the world is indeed the creation of God, then there is an ontological ground for a theological engagement with the natural sciences.  It is not an arbitrary engagement, which regresses back to Newtonian engagement, but it is a natural dialogue, grounded in the fundamental belief that the God about whom Christian theology speaks is the same God who created the world that the natural sciences investigate.[11]


            [1] Thomas F. Torrance, “Einstein and Scientific Theology,” Religious Studies 8 no. 3 (1972):  236-237.

             [2] Valla served in conjunction with Andrea Alciati (1492-1550) as Calvin’s primary influence for his biblical interpretation.

            [3] Torrance, 237.

            [4] Ibid., 240.

            [5] Ibid., 241-242.

            [6] Donna Teevan, “Albert Einstein and Bernard Lonergan on Empirical Method,” Zygon 37 no. 4 (2002): 875-876.

            [7] Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Trans. and rev. Sonja Bargmann (New York: Three Rivers, 1982), 221.

            [8] Teevan, 877.

            [9] Alister E. McGrath, The Science of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 18-19.  There are five distinct classes of things—time, space, matter, energy, and the things relating to conscious life—form with their combinations the known universe.  The fifth class must, like the previous, be permanent in quantity, variable in form, and cannot be destroyed.  This may be simply labeled as “spirit.”  In natural science dialogues, this element is often referred to as “God,” though it does not necessarily carry the theological meanings with it.  This, perhaps, is the sense in which Einstein meant the term “God.”  T. Proctor Hall, “Scientific Theology,” Monist 23 (1913): 95.

            [10] Torrance, 244.

            [11] Both the natural sciences and Christian theology are to engage with the nature of reality—not deciding this in advance, but exploring and establishing it through a process of discovery and encounter.  McGrath, The Science of God, 21-22.