Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Really good thread on epistemology: science and miracles

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I hate to seem lazy, but I am. Still I've tried summarizing whole threads on message boards before it's a ghastly process. So here is a really good thread from my message board: a discussion between several of us but basically me vs Quntum Troll (QT is called "You wish" on carm).

His argument is that individual personal experince of miracles is not scientific and so we can't trust. My argument is there are aspects of reality and forms of truth that are not scientific but still true.

I put this put because it's an excellent discussion and it would be very complex to try and summarize it all here. and it's too long to cut and paste.

Click here


this is a sample and it's also for those who did not get through the whole thread. Tiny Thinker is a professional academic who teaches anthropology at a university. He has a strong science background and was known on the net as a member of the "original gang of four" three atheists and a catholic who went around destorying creationist's arguments. His site is "peaceful Turmoil" and used to have a pro evolution website.

Some things to keep in mind for this thread...
1. There is no such thing as objective knowledge. The video helps explain why by citing some of the same things I and others have mentioned in the past, but leaving out the culturally mediated aspects of the brain's perceptual filters.
2. Facts are socially constructed - what should we measure? In what way? For what reason? Based on what paradigm?
3. Science is an epistemological filter based on assumptions which cannot be proven.
4. Science self-limits its usefulness to a restricted subset of phenomena, suggesting other lenses are needed to have a more complete and accurate view of the world.
5. The use of science is not guided by some impartial, objective agenda. Knowledge originates by anecdote, intuition, and other sources that would make many who wish to consider themselves pure Positivists cringe. This often means that nuance and variation are ground down in the interest of standardization and the cases which still won't fit are relegated to the status of statistical outliers. These are not apolitical moves made by disinterested parties seeking only objective truth - that is simply the proper marketing and propaganda tagline - the story we tell each other to mutually reinforce our credibility. This doesn't mean I or my fellow academics are frauds or liars, but it does mean we are human and we bring those human flaws and agendas into everything we do, including research.
6. Many skeptics are cynics who generalize with a broad brush who set standards that exclude serious consideration of certain phenomena. As a distant example, in some circles if you don't have a correlation were p is at least .95 or .90, then the results are not considered to be significant. As a stats teacher of mine once said, that is just too arbitrary. A p-value of .86 may be telling your something really important if you are willing to pay attention. In the same way, some cynics use such arbitrary lines in the epistemological sand to ignore a whole range of things.
7. In addition, many of these cynics masquerading as skeptics go further and believe that if they can suggest a possible, even though unproven or even unlikely, naturalistic scenario to explain a phenomena then they suggest they have disproven/no longer need to be concerned with that phenomena. Note that this involves naturalism on their terms, which is often very restrictive (see point #6 above).
8. Anecdotes en mass should have the potential to amount to something if we take QT's interpretation correctly, but instead the large numbers are often used as a liability by the accusation on the part of the cynics of the logical fallacy argumentum ad populum. "After all", the accusation goes, "most people once believed the Earth was flat!" Clearly it isn't the large numbers that is a problem, because 1,000 lab studies replicating a result would be considered far more definitive than 10 such lab studies. This brings up one of Metacrock's objections - one set of large numbers is proof and another set is dismissed. One set of experiences is treated with respect and another set is treated with scorn.
9. Given points #3-5, such dismissiveness should be viewed with skepticism! As KR points out, not all truth can be revealed by one lens of knowing (reinforced by point #4).
10. Your bases are belong to me. I pwn you all.

18 comments:

A Hermit said...

That Quantum Troll is one clever Swede, isn't he? ;-)

This of course goes with the previous "co-determinate" post and my objections there; at times you seem to want us to give your experiences/anecdotes more weight than our own. I don't think I'm being exceptionally skeptical or rigid in my thinking by giving my own experiences more weight in making decisions about what I should believe than I give to yours...neither of us is wrong to do that for ourselves, but if we want to establish objectively (or as objectively as possible) the truth of a statement like "God exists" we need more than anecdotes.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

I'll just jump in and comment there.

J.L. Hinman said...

That Quantum Troll is one clever Swede, isn't he? ;-)


Yea,he's brilliant. He's also a real nice guy. I like him.

This of course goes with the previous "co-determinate" post and my objections there; at times you seem to want us to give your experiences/anecdotes more weight than our own.


I guess that's the part of the problem of message boards; it causes polarization. I have to fend off attacks from so many i can't be thoughtful and self effacing as I naturally am. I get polarized into seeming to just declare my outlook superior, in reality I know better.

but the real I'm making is not that this is all proved or that anecdotes are better but just that there are aspects of truth that are not scientific.



I don't think I'm being exceptionally skeptical or rigid in my thinking by giving my own experiences more weight in making decisions about what I should believe than I give to yours...


but there's a difference in asserting the important of a positive experince and trying to assert some kind of proof form the lack of an experince.



neither of us is wrong to do that for ourselves, but if we want to establish objectively (or as objectively as possible) the truth of a statement like "God exists" we need more than anecdotes.

I don't want to establish objectivity. Read the thing again.

A Hermit said...

"but the real I'm making is not that this is all proved or that anecdotes are better but just that there are aspects of truth that are not scientific."

No argument here; one of my favourite articles in Paul Kurtz's "Affirmations of Humanism" is the one that says "We are informed by the arts no less than by the sciences...."

"but there's a difference in asserting the important of a positive experince and trying to assert some kind of proof form the lack of an experince."

I'm not asserting anything from the "lack of of an experience." I'm saying I have had a different kind of experience, or a different understanding of the experience. My atheism is the positive product of what I understand as a profound experience of Nature.

"I don't want to establish objectivity. Read the thing again."

But don't you sometimes use this sort of argument to try and establish the reality of God performing miracles?

J.L. Hinman said...

"but the real I'm making is not that this is all proved or that anecdotes are better but just that there are aspects of truth that are not scientific."

No argument here; one of my favourite articles in Paul Kurtz's "Affirmations of Humanism" is the one that says "We are informed by the arts no less than by the sciences...."


good! I'm glad you like the arts. How do you feel about foreign art films? I now wathcing Japanese director Inagaki.

"but there's a difference in asserting the important of a positive experince and trying to assert some kind of proof form the lack of an experince."

I'm not asserting anything from the "lack of of an experience." I'm saying I have had a different kind of experience, or a different understanding of the experience. My atheism is the positive product of what I understand as a profound experience of Nature.

but you don't have an experince of no god. you lack an experince of God, you have expedience the lack of a god.

your idea that to experince nature somehow overturns belief in god is just wrong. there's particular reason why God and nature are opposed. How do you know they are not the same. How do you know it's nature and not God you sense?


"I don't want to establish objectivity. Read the thing again."

But don't you sometimes use this sort of argument to try and establish the reality of God performing miracles?

the best empirical scientific evidence can do is to show that there is a phenomenon we can't expalin. that doesn't expalin it, that just tells us we can't rule out miracles. There's epistemological gap. Thjat has to be filled by reason and faith.

I used to expalin it like this, there's a leap of faith, my arguments are just a way to build a better diving board so we can make a really nice leap.

A Hermit said...

"How do you feel about foreign art films?"

When my wife and I started dating in University we used go to the arthouse cinemas (they were cheaper than the commercial outfits, for one thing.) I think I fell in love over coffee after watching "Fanny and Alexander"...

"your idea that to experince nature somehow overturns belief in god is just wrong. there's particular reason why God and nature are opposed. How do you know they are not the same. How do you know it's nature and not God you sense?"

How do you know it's God and not Nature? All you are doing here is imposing your interpretation of YOUR experience on mine. I wouldn't expect MY experience to overturn YOUR belief in God, but it overturned mine...

"the best empirical scientific evidence can do is to show that there is a phenomenon we can't expalin."

Exactly. And what you call a "leap of faith" just looks unwarranted and frankly a little irresponsible to me. Telling someone, for example, that real miracles happen at Lourdes, when the data shows that people who visit Lourdes are actually less likely to experience a spontaneous remission than the general population, strikes me as a bit cruel if it encourages someone who is unwell to undertake an arduous and expensive journey which is more likely to make them sicker than to heal them.

If something is unexplained isn't the proper response to it to say "we don't know?" Leaping to a conclusion might very well lind us to what's really happening.

And why deny the mystery?

J.L. Hinman said...

"How do you feel about foreign art films?"

When my wife and I started dating in University we used go to the arthouse cinemas (they were cheaper than the commercial outfits, for one thing.) I think I fell in love over coffee after watching "Fanny and Alexander"...

cool. I love Bergman. He's my favorite. I did a blog thing on his death an don Virgin Spring. does that have n or two?

"your idea that to experince nature somehow overturns belief in god is just wrong. there's particular reason why God and nature are opposed. How do you know they are not the same. How do you know it's nature and not God you sense?"

How do you know it's God and not Nature?

very simple. becasue there's no distinction at that point. If you derive a sense of the numinous or mystical experince from nature then nature functions either as God or as a conduit to God in that experince.

God is God is God is God. If nature is God than nature is God.



All you are doing here is imposing your interpretation of YOUR experience on mine. I wouldn't expect MY experience to overturn YOUR belief in God, but it overturned mine...

No I think you do expect that. anyway I'm not imposing it exactly. i'm just saying any form of aseity is aseyity

"the best empirical scientific evidence can do is to show that there is a phenomenon we can't expalin."

Exactly. And what you call a "leap of faith" just looks unwarranted and frankly a little irresponsible to me.


why unwarranted? I think you are mistaking warrant for absolute proof. Warrant doesn't mean proof.




Telling someone, for example, that real miracles happen at Lourdes, when the data shows that people who visit Lourdes are actually less likely to experience a spontaneous remission than the general population, strikes me as a bit cruel if it encourages someone who is unwell to undertake an arduous and expensive journey which is more likely to make them sicker than to heal them.

people who visit Lourdes are not the one's clmaing the miracles. you don't even know enough about it to read about the process. No on ever said just going to Lourdes gives you a miracle.

If you read my miracle pages you see I say up front that miracles are rare, that it requires a certain relationship to a set of parameters that we don't understand (you have to be "in the zone" so to speak). but how foolish to cut off all hope and say "there are no miracles, it can't happen, god can't do anything.

that would be more cruel and more silly than anything. I've experienced miracles a lot I know they happen.

people can carried away and make foolish pronouncements about them. But you have to be wise and careful.


If something is unexplained isn't the proper response to it to say "we don't know?" Leaping to a conclusion might very well lind us to what's really happening.

And why deny the mystery?

A Hermit said...

"God is God is God is God. If nature is God than nature is God."

Nature is nature is nature. Calling it God attaches too much baggage to it, for me. Nature is the same for Christians, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. God, on the other hand, has different meaning for each.

"why unwarranted? I think you are mistaking warrant for absolute proof. Warrant doesn't mean proof."

No, I understand the distinction; but I think I have just as much warrant for my atheism as you have for your theism.

"If you read my miracle pages you see I say up front that miracles are rare, that it requires a certain relationship to a set of parameters that we don't understand (you have to be "in the zone" so to speak). but how foolish to cut off all hope and say "there are no miracles, it can't happen, god can't do anything."

Yes, such unexplained events are rare, no we don't understand them and I don't deny that unexpected and unexplainable events can occur from time to time. But I'm more comfortable accepting that they are unexplainable and not understood than assigning a cause like "God" to them.

J.L. Hinman said...

"God is God is God is God. If nature is God than nature is God."

Nature is nature is nature. Calling it God attaches too much baggage to it, for me. Nature is the same for Christians, Muslims, Hindus and atheists. God, on the other hand, has different meaning for each.


Nope! "God" (the term) is a transcendental signifier. If "nature" functions as a transcendental signifier in someone's ontology then it deserves more than just the basic baggage of the mundane.

"why unwarranted? I think you are mistaking warrant for absolute proof. Warrant doesn't mean proof."

No, I understand the distinction; but I think I have just as much warrant for my atheism as you have for your theism.


But that is irrelevant. Your atheism may be warranted in relation to your situation, no way does that impinge upon my understanding. you are trying to just bully your way in to rub out belief by reductionism.

"If you read my miracle pages you see I say up front that miracles are rare, that it requires a certain relationship to a set of parameters that we don't understand (you have to be "in the zone" so to speak). but how foolish to cut off all hope and say "there are no miracles, it can't happen, god can't do anything."

Yes, such unexplained events are rare, no we don't understand them and I don't deny that unexpected and unexplainable events can occur from time to time.


they are rare in the terms of cases that are well documented. they aren't that rare. There are like 2 millions of miracles overall at Lourdes, 4000 remarkable cases. so out of huge amount on a small portion actually have the docs to even consider it. But that shows things like that appear to happen a lot.


But I'm more comfortable accepting that they are unexplainable and not understood than assigning a cause like "God" to them.

why?

why do I get the feeling it's all going to come down to an emotive relationship you have with christian structures such as the church rather than logic?

please don't take that as an insult. I think that's true of everyone on both sides, that experinces and emotions really decide belief.

A Hermit said...

"But that is irrelevant. Your atheism may be warranted in relation to your situation, no way does that impinge upon my understanding. you are trying to just bully your way in to rub out belief by reductionism."

I'm not trying to rub out anyone's belief, Joe; I'm defending my belief. You're the one who's always telling me that I have no logical basis for my morality, no legitimate understanding of the transcendent experience, that society must have a belief in God to prosper etc. etc.

I am as justified in my atheism as you are in you faith. That's all I'm saying.

"why do I get the feeling it's all going to come down to an emotive relationship you have with christian structures such as the church rather than logic?"

Perhaps because you prefer to substitute your own experience for what I'm saying...;-)

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

First, I'm loving the discussion here and at the forum as well. Here's a few more thoughts, which you will find ingenious because atheism is the one true non faith. :-P

"If you derive a sense of the numinous or mystical experience from nature then nature functions either as God or as a conduit to God in that experience."

If that is the case then God is in nearly everything. I derive a sense of the numinous or mystical from much more than just nature. Movies, books, music, especially music.

"I've experienced miracles a lot I know they happen."

Do miracles require faith? The reason I ask is because I know of non-believers, including lil' ol' me, who have experienced inexplicable positive experiences that believers would claim are miracles. Puritan Lad over at CADRE Comments said this: "I don't believe that there is such a thing as random chance."

I can't remember the verse, but it was something about it raining on the wicked and the just or something. I remember the book Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? I think a good follow up would be Why Do Good Things Happen To Bad People?

I know your concept of God, Joe, is vastly different from about 98% of all the believers I ever met, and certainly different than the Christians. Your concept seems much more fluid, as was mine. I never wanted to put God in a box, in fact it would seem impossible to do so, and have him remain as great and profound as he must be if he exists.

A lot of the knee-jerk Christians I have known would have called you a new ager. Hell, in my early days of listening to Hank Hannagraph, I probably would have too. As my faith morphed over the years I grew out of that, thankfully.

Kristen said...

A Hermit said:

...when the data shows that people who visit Lourdes are actually less likely to experience a spontaneous remission than the general population

Isn't that "data" taken only from the incidents that are actually accepted as miracles by the committee? It doesn't take into account all the other cases where people get well, that because of some problem with documentation are not accepted by the committee. Actually, a lot more people get better at Lourdes than the "data" shows.

J.L. Hinman said...

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

First, I'm loving the discussion here and at the forum as well.

yea it's pretty good. Heremit is a good dialogue partner.


Here's a few more thoughts, which you will find ingenious because atheism is the one true non faith. :-P

ahaha lol you know I think youk are right about that much!

"If you derive a sense of the numinous or mystical experience from nature then nature functions either as God or as a conduit to God in that experience."

If that is the case then God is in nearly everything. I derive a sense of the numinous or mystical from much more than just nature. Movies, books, music, especially music.


You may be mistaking "good vibes" for the sense of the numinous. I doubt that you actually get a sense of the holy form movies, unless they are great art films. even then...you would have to be scored on the M scale to see.

but sure, ok that's on the table as a viable option. God is everything--that's a valid option to consider.


"I've experienced miracles a lot I know they happen."

Do miracles require faith? The reason I ask is because I know of non-believers, including lil' ol' me, who have experienced inexplicable positive experiences that believers would claim are miracles. Puritan Lad over at CADRE Comments said this: "I don't believe that there is such a thing as random chance."

I can't comment on that comment because I haven't been following that discussion. But I think miracles are contextual. You can have an inexplicable experince through which the results produce positive outcomes in your life and that doesn't make it a "miracle." as I use that phrase the context is religious, it draws you to God.

go back to the framework now:

religons consist of these three concepts:

(1) identification of human problematic

(2) identificatino of ultimate transformative experince to resolve the problematic (that probalby should include a sense of the holy)

(3) a form of mediation to connect the two.


I can't remember the verse, but it was something about it raining on the wicked and the just or something. I remember the book Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? I think a good follow up would be Why Do Good Things Happen To Bad People?

God does things in all our lives, so he can help people who following him. So we have to bracket that for the discussion because I don't we can control for it.

I know your concept of God, Joe, is vastly different from about 98% of all the believers I ever met, and certainly different than the Christians.

It's supported by Christian theologians, including the Orthodox father Theodosius? aka Timothy Ware--and taught in Christian seminaries around the world.



Your concept seems much more fluid, as was mine. I never wanted to put God in a box, in fact it would seem impossible to do so, and have him remain as great and profound as he must be if he exists.

but you forget I think you are still a Christian

A lot of the knee-jerk Christians I have known would have called you a new ager. Hell, in my early days of listening to Hank Hannagraph, I probably would have too. As my faith morphed over the years I grew out of that, thankfully.


who are you thankful too?

I deny the appellation "New ager." I'm sure a lot of fundies would say that. But so what? I'm not a fundie. The difference in my and new agers is they don't have any controls. They don't have any specs fro their theories. it's all just good vibes and wavey gravy. I have a complex plethora of controls.

J.L. Hinman said...

A Hermit said:

...when the data shows that people who visit Lourdes are actually less likely to experience a spontaneous remission than the general population

Isn't that "data" taken only from the incidents that are actually accepted as miracles by the committee? It doesn't take into account all the other cases where people get well, that because of some problem with documentation are not accepted by the committee. Actually, a lot more people get better at Lourdes than the "data" shows.

8:16 PM


great answer Kristen. that's sort of what I was getting at but you said much better.

J.L. Hinman said...

"But that is irrelevant. Your atheism may be warranted in relation to your situation, no way does that impinge upon my understanding. you are trying to just bully your way in to rub out belief by reductionism."

I'm not trying to rub out anyone's belief, Joe; I'm defending my belief.

I thought yours was a lack of belief only?

You're the one who's always telling me that I have no logical basis for my morality, no legitimate understanding of the transcendent experience, that society must have a belief in God to prosper etc. etc.


Yea, I can be a real ass at times. As you well know ;-)

I never meant to put it all that way. It's not that I think you have no logical basis for your morality. I don't know what you calim as such, we have to discuss it. Which might not be a bad idea.

I wish you would come on the boards. But in general I do say atheism can't ground its ethical axioms. That doesn't mean that I think you personally are unethical.


I am as justified in my atheism as you are in you faith. That's all I'm saying.


Yes,I did not mean to imply otherwise. For me the evidence falls on the side of belief in its vast preponderance. But that doesn't mean that I'm oblivious to the fact that good smart rational people such as yourself see it differently.

"why do I get the feeling it's all going to come down to an emotive relationship you have with christian structures such as the church rather than logic?"

Perhaps because you prefer to substitute your own experience for what I'm saying...;-)

perump pum! (rimshot) good answer man.

A Hermit said...

"Isn't that "data" taken only from the incidents that are actually accepted as miracles by the committee? It doesn't take into account all the other cases where people get well, that because of some problem with documentation are not accepted by the committee. Actually, a lot more people get better at Lourdes than the "data" shows."

I'm addressing Metacrock's claims about Lourdes, which have relied, as far as I can see, on what he claims are the empirical cases; ie those recognized by the committee as miracles. I don't think you can point to the supposedly rigourous work of the committee as evidence that real miracles have occurred and then turn around and say their rejection of those other cases doesn't matter...

"I wish you would come on the boards."

Past experiences being what they are I think not. We've had a pleasant exchange here, and I've more or less had my say for now. I think I'd like to leave things on a positive note...

J.L. Hinman said...

I'm addressing Metacrock's claims about Lourdes, which have relied, as far as I can see, on what he claims are the empirical cases; ie those recognized by the committee as miracles. I don't think you can point to the supposedly rigourous work of the committee as evidence that real miracles have occurred and then turn around and say their rejection of those other cases doesn't matter...


sure you can, becasue their rejection was not based upon explaining them but upon technicalities of documentation.

for example if the xrays show instant healing but the doctor doesn't have the xray anymore (('m just making up an example to illustrate the kind of thing I'm talking about). The doctor can say "it really happened" but the actual proof is not there anymore.

J.L. Hinman said...

"I wish you would come on the boards."

Past experiences being what they are I think not. We've had a pleasant exchange here, and I've more or less had my say for now. I think I'd like to leave things on a positive note...

yea that's a good strategy, quite while you are behind.

I'm kidding! I'm just kidding!