Quote of the day, and more

“The only reliable basis for knowledge, the only route from subjectivity to objectivity, is to relentlessly subject a belief to doubt, then to allay the doubt (or confirm it) by gathering evidence that’s independent of one’s commitment to the belief.  To the extent that worldviews, however widely held, fail to test their factual claims using publicly available evidence, and to the extent these claims are incapable of being tested, they fail as contenders for truth.”

– Tom Clark, “Reality and Its Rivals: Putting Epistomology First”

Okay, Mr. Clark is on a roll today, and has posted a further analysis of “ways of knowing” at Meming Naturalism.  His peroration:

What Miller and other supernaturalists such as Francis Collins at Biologos seem to suggest, however, is that religion and religious faith have some additional expertise, knowledge or epistemic competence beyond what science and philosophy have to offer in answering such questions. They believe that there are specifically religious, non-scientific ways of reliably knowing reality that can help answer the questions of why the world is accessible to logic and observation, and of ultimate meaning and purpose. If so, how do these ways of knowing work, such that we can see that they’re trustworthy? Does theology, usually in the business of defending the existence of something beyond nature, have a special philosophical or epistemic competence such that it provides insights into reality not available to naturalistic philosophy? If so, what is this? In a must read essay on naturalism, Barbara Forrest quotes Sidney Hook asking the crucial question:

“Is there a different kind of knowledge that makes … [the supernatural] an accessible object of knowledge in a manner inaccessible by the only reliable method we have so far successfully employed to establish truths about other facts? Are there other than empirical facts, say spiritual or transcendent facts? Show them to us…”

This is a reasonable demand that any cognitively responsible supernaturalist should be able, and feel obligated, to meet. Of course it isn’t as if naturalists claim to have all the answers to the big or even middle-sized questions, but the methods of inquiry we stick with have been proven pretty reliable. If there are any rival methods that establish the existence of something beyond nature that informs such answers, we want to know about them. If there aren’t, then supernaturalists are skating on thin epistemic ice.

I would think that this pretty much settles matters, but I’m sure it won’t really.  After all, the theological mind is infinitely crafty at wriggling out of difficult arguments,  much like the way that creationists circumvent difficult data. Could any of the theology-defenders out there tell me exactly which ways of knowing tell us that Jesus is the son of God? And aren’t those ways precisely the same ways that believers used to “know” that the Earth was 6,000 years old and that all species, including H. sapiens,  were created instantly at that time?  If they’re different, please tell me how.

7 Comments

  1. Don
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    That should read “to allay the doubt,” no?

  2. YouGottaShowMe
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    Jerry, mightn’t you consider giving sources for these qutes as well? That way, we’d be able to actually use them ourselves. :)

    • Don
      Posted June 15, 2009 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      YouGotta–

      The link is in one of yesterday’s posts “Does religion have…” which refers to Tom Clark’s piece where the quotation originally appears.

  3. Don
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Can we have a definition of subjectivity here?

  4. Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Jerry. I think the fundamental issue between naturalists and supernaturalists is about justifying knowledge claims, with the latter supposing there are reliable non-scientific, non-empirical ways of representing reality that establish the existence of something beyond nature. So the challenge to Miller, Collins and other supernaturalists is to specify what those ways are, so we know that they’re trustworthy. Otherwise, why should anyone believe religious claims to knowledge? This is why I suggest we put epistemology first in the debate between science and religion, or more broadly between naturalism and non-naturalism. More on this at Memeing Naturalism.

  5. Oded
    Posted June 15, 2009 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    In my opinion, this comic just sums it up it a single sentence:

    http://www.jesusandmo.net/2008/12/17/edge/

    “Exactly. Science is limited by its refusal to make stuff up.”

  6. RichardW
    Posted June 16, 2009 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Suppose I have a belief and I suspect that it arose from some reliable non-rational way of knowing (e.g. God inserted a true belief directly into my brain). How could I possibly know that this is the case, and that the belief isn’t just the product of my own normal cognitive processes?

    Either I appeal to yet another non-rational way of knowing to tell me about the first one, or I appeal to rational thinking. The first leads to an infinite regress. The second admits the primacy of rational thinking, and puts the burden on the claimant to supply a rational justification.

    It must be admitted that rational thinking also leads to such a regress: we can have no rational justification for the process of rational thinking. But we cannot help using rational thinking. If you reject rational thinking then you’re not in this discussion in the first place. There is no such necessity for other ways of knowing.


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