Friday, June 03, 2005

The Logic of the Lamp Post

I was planing on using an analogy for my argument about phenomenology. It ws the logic of the lampe post. That's the idea that you drop your car keys in the dark, where do you start looking? Under the light. But if you dind't drop them under light, why would you look there? Because that's the only place you could find them. That would have fit the situtaion thusly: my approach to God arguemnts is to calim the idea Schleiermacher's "co-determinate." That is, a "trace" or "finger print" or some aspect that goes alonog with God, but is not but which will be indicative of God. We can't prove God in an emprically verifiable way, so we do the next best thing, we "prove" the co-determinate.Of course, the 64, Million dollar question (yea,it's suppossed to be 64,000,but inflation...) how do we know what the co-determinate is? But let's brackett that for now, I'm still working on what's wrong with the analogy.

So the idea is we prove what we can, we look under the lamp post. The problem is, the lamp post is also what empiricism is doing. The empiricists,the scientific reductionists, (ie skeptics) are looking at what they can see and nothing more. The conclude on the basis of a limited and narrow range of data that there can't be anything else out there in the dark but that which they see in this mall patch of light. I was in a qunadry. Should I re-shape the analogy? Should I find a new analogy, does this mean that there is no real difference in the phenomenological approach and the empirical scietnific (sketpical) approach? Before I go any further let me qualify that I use the term "scientific" opporationally. I am not saying that all scientific thinking is skeptical and anti-religious. I am just using that phrase here for the purposes of describing the oppossition in terms they like to see themselves.

Let's ask ourselves what is the basic difference in what the empiricists (inductive scientific thinkers) are doing and what the phenomenologist is doing? The empiricists are restricting what they look for to that which can be statitstically recorded. That's how indictive reasoning works, they have to be able to make statistical averages, and they figure the probabileis give them enough weight that they don't to prove 1x1 corrolations, they can rest upon the stronger statistical corollations. But the problem is that a lot of things far between the cracks.

On average men are taller and physically stronger than women. There are women who are taller tha me, women who are stronger than me. There are women who can beat the you know what out of me. If we made a statisitical law that "men are taller and strong than women" man women would fall between the cracks, there would be many distinctions. Well this get's scientific materilsts in trouble they try to apply their method to rulling out miracles. They have to place 'the miracle' in the category of "that which does not happen" because they have ruled out all the enstances of them, becasue they dont' happen. So thehy are actually arguing in a circle. The Loudes miracles are notable exceptions which fall bellow the materilsts radar. The phenomenoloigist is not doing this. The idea of phemonmenology is that we allow the sense data to detemrine the categoires. In other words, we say "I am meeting a woman who taller and stronger than I am, I wont make a law like statement based upon statistical averages about the realitve size and strength of genders."

So I guess one way I could alter my analogy would be to say that the empiricist has a pre concived notion of what the key must look like. You describe it to him, but he has his fixed idea, so even if he sees it he wont pick it up because he's determined it has to fit a certain shape. Moreover, the phenomenologist says "the key could be in the dark, in fact the key probably is in the dark. If nothing else we will just rule out the key being in the light." But the empirist says "no, our understanding of the ligted areas tells everything we need to know about the dark areas. So if there is no key in the lighted area, there no key in the dark area.

Of course I've made my materilst unnecessarily stupid because most of them are going to compleicate things by being much smarter than that. But that's a simplistic examle of what I mean (any resemblance between my hypotethical empiricist and actual posters on the CARM board is purely a matter of opinion). So while meothodologies choose fields in which a co-detemrniate can be found, one has a preconcieved set of assumptions about what that something is, and about what the territory we cannot investigate is like, and the other does not.

Now how do we know the co-detemrinate? Schleiermacher saw it as the feeling of utter dpendence, because the object or correlary of having such a feeling was the thing that evokes the feeling. Just feelings of sublimity imply that one enoucnters the sublime, feelings of love imply that there is a beloved, so feelings of utter dependence imply that there is a universal necessity upon which the live world and worlds are supremely utterly dependent. We can also include mystical experince and life transformation because these are part and parcell of what is meant by the idea of religion and the divine. As far back as we can dig for artifacts we seem to find some form of mystical experince at the heart of all organized religion. So we can conclude that God, religion, and life transformation always go hand in hand. The studies themselves tell us that life transformation always accompanies dramatic experiences which are understood as and which evoke a strong sense of the Holy. Is this really phenomenological? We can screw up our phenomenological credentials by responsding to it in a non phenomenological way. But it is the product of the phenomenological method, because it derives from obserfation of the phenomena and allowing the phenomena to tell us what categories to group the data into.

4 comments:

James West said...
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James West said...

Using the lamp-post analogy, empiricism casts a light increasingly bright; you greatly understimate its ability to study rare phenomenon. For instance, near-death experience is something that happens only to a few people (those who are near death and recover), and even then relatively rarely (on the order of 10-20% of those in this category). However, by combination of careful interview over the past century of those who had these experiences, combined with careful neurologic work, there’s a pretty solid explanation which is, at this point, laboratory testable, to explain it ( the effect apparently results from a particular combination of adenalin, endorphins, and proximity of brain structures). My point here is not about near-death experiences; it is that this also might be considered a difficult subject for empricisim, which has been overcome by a lot of hard work and careful experimental design.

Moreover, I think this essay also overestimates the importance of miracles, for instance, in the impact of Christianity. The vast majority of Christians have not personally experienced miracles (if they had, they would be a great deal easier to study). However, Christianity has nonetheless been a powerful force in their lives. Even in the life of Christ himself, miracles pretty much amount to party tricks; even the ressurection pretty much just underscored a point he made by more conventional means while he was alive. The impact of Christianity is made through entirely normal means, in the lives of a billion people on a daily basis. This is certainly amenable to empirical investigation.

Finally, I think that argument along these lines is precisely what drives intelligent young people away from Christ. Just about all of them discover, about the time they’re twelve or thirteen, that Genesis can not be literally correct. Genesis, and the entirety of the old testament, actually, is completely dispensable to a proper Christian, in my opinion. However, to most American Christians it is apparently the –only- important bit. There is no denying that Christianity in modern America is a force for ignorance. Since the raw data shows that genesis can not be correct, Christians would like to prevent people from seeing the raw data. Inevitably, this backfires, and most folks with anything going on intellectually falls away from the church, over what is essentially a trivial issue.

Thus, a rejection of empiricism is (a) not useful in answering real-world questions, (b) not theologically useful and, (c) results in pushing away many of the people one would most like to retain.

J.L. Hinman said...

Using the lamp-post analogy, empiricism casts a light increasingly bright; you greatly understimate its ability to study rare phenomenon. For instance, near-death experience is something that happens only to a few people (those who are near death and recover), and even then relatively rarely (on the order of 10-20% of those in this category). However, by combination of careful interview over the past century of those who had these experiences, combined with careful neurologic work, there’s a pretty solid explanation which is, at this point, laboratory testable, to explain it ( the effect apparently results from a particular combination of adenalin, endorphins, and proximity of brain structures). My point here is not about near-death experiences; it is that this also might be considered a difficult subject for empricisim, which has been overcome by a lot of hard work and careful experimental design.


>>>>but that explaination is nothing more than reaffirming what I would have said--and did say--as an atheist. It's not even pedicting, it's just a predictable ideological slogan. Just because some study calims to have a finding doesn't mean empriicist has triumphed and actually proven something. That' a good case of what empricism cannot possibly prove, because there's nothing about statistical corellations that indcate if the people are experiencing their memories or not.



Moreover, I think this essay also overestimates the importance of miracles, for instance, in the impact of Christianity. The vast majority of Christians have not personally experienced miracles (if they had, they would be a great deal easier to study).


>>>I think that's a hasty conclusion. Have you ever tried to document miracles stories? It's a lot harder than you think, but not impossible. If you have organiztion and it's well set up to do it's relatively easy. That's why the Lourdes stuff is so good. but for a lone indiviudal to document a miracle properly it's almost impossible.





However, Christianity has nonetheless been a powerful force in their lives. Even in the life of Christ himself, miracles pretty much amount to party tricks; even the ressurection pretty much just underscored a point he made by more conventional means while he was alive. The impact of Christianity is made through entirely normal means, in the lives of a billion people on a daily basis. This is certainly amenable to empirical investigation.


>>>>but what's affecting their lives on a daily basis is "Peak expeirnce" the actual experince of the divine, not "miracles" per se, but not just ordinary consciousness either. Be that as it may, I don't see how this observation bolsters your point, because that's no empiricism.



Finally, I think that argument along these lines is precisely what drives intelligent young people away from Christ. Just about all of them discover, about the time they’re twelve or thirteen, that Genesis can not be literally correct. Genesis, and the entirety of the old testament, actually, is completely dispensable to a proper Christian, in my opinion.


>>>except that there would be no cultural or historical context for Jesus or his mission as "Messiah" without it. But for me that's the funciton of the OT, ti's cutlural background for Jesus.




However, to most American Christians it is apparently the –only- important bit.


>>>I find that hard to believe.


There is no denying that Christianity in modern America is a force for ignorance.

>>>sadly ture, except for my blog! Well there's alos Doxa ;-)





Since the raw data shows that genesis can not be correct, Christians would like to prevent people from seeing the raw data.



>>>what "raw data" are you taliing about?


Inevitably, this backfires, and most folks with anything going on intellectually falls away from the church, over what is essentially a trivial issue.



>>>agreed

Thus, a rejection of empiricism is (a) not useful in answering real-world questions, (b) not theologically useful and, (c) results in pushing away many of the people one would most like to retain.



>>>I think you are working under some grave misapprehensions here. Phenomenology is not a postion whereby one seeks to ban empirical knowledge. ironically some of my major arguments for religious truth are based heavily upon empirical (indutive--statistical) knowledge of religious experiences. ie empirical studies.

rather phenomenological attitude, at any rate, is a philosopical understanding and approach to understanding sense data, it's not a replacement for scientific thinking.

Moreover there's nothing in a phenomenological approach that would bolster the fundies or a litteral approach to scripture or inerrency either.

2:22 AM

Joe Hinman said...

what a stupid stuffed shirt that guy was.He';s so important he has white lab coat and his scientific googas to tell him there's no god