Skeptic’s Circle-The Solstice Edition

Here is a wonderful carnival of blogs about science and skepticism. My favorite? Why Skepticism? The juiciest part reads like this:

Skepticism is a method primarily defined by its goal. This goal is to discern reality. Skepticism (in the theoretical pure form) is the best method of determining what is real and what isn’t real. However, we don’t know a priori what the best method of determining reality is. Some might even argue that the best method of discerning reality is an aspect of reality itself, and so we’d need to use it in order to best determine it. While this might seem like a Catch 22, we can actually turn this around and use it as a test for a method: The best method to determine reality must, when used to determine what the best method is, result in itself.

Now that we have some actual test to see what might work, let’s see how it applies to various methods of gaining knowledge about reality:

Intuition – The problem with using intuition to guess at reality is that it’s highly dependant on the person using it. This extends to intuiting the best method for determining reality. While one person might intuit that their intuition is infallible, another might intuit that divine revelation is better, and a third that the scientific method is better. In the end, this fails the test of revealing itself as the best method.

Acceptance – (Essentially, this method is to accept any proposition about reality as true until evidence contradicting it has been found (weaker forms will accept only any plausible explanation, any likely explanation, or any probable explanation).) Using this to determine the best method only results in every proposed method being considered the best. Obviously, this won’t work.

Denial – (The opposite of acceptance, this method will never accept anything to be true.) Applying it to this question will then result in denying that it’s the best, so this one flies right out the window.

Divine Revelation – (Accept the word of deities on reality.) If we apply this to our question, we run into a problem that the deities might not actually say anything on this subject. For people who claim they have, some say that deities have claimed this method as best, while others have given other answers (such as the scientific method) as best.

Reverse Science – (When given a proposition, attempt to find evidence that it is true. When sufficient evidence has been found, accept that it is true. If sufficient evidence can’t be found, declare it false.) This method is the first one that will actually result in itself, mostly due to a huge bias towards confirming propositions inherent in it. If we take the proposition that “Reverse Science is the best method for determining reality,” it’s simple to find many cases where people operating under this principle have ended up with the correct answer and to contrast it with cases where other methods have resulted in wrong answers. There is one little problem in that if you start with a proposition such as “Divine Revelation is the best method for determining reality,” you’ll end up declaring that as true, so we’ll have trouble arguing that this method is truly the best.

Pyrrhonism – (Also what Truzzi calls “Zeteticism.”) This method is characterized as constant inquiry while never accepting anything as true or false. The problem when it comes to our current question is that it then gives us nothing to go on – we have no idea whether it’s the best method or not. However, this alone doesn’t rule out that it could be (though I’ll talk about other problems with it later).

The Scientific Method – (When given a proposition, design an experiment that will return specified results if the proposition is false. If these results are obtained, declare it false. If not, design further experiments to test other ways it might be false. If not of these reveal it to be false, tentatively accept it to be true. Add in replication of experiments for added reliability.)

And I’ve saved the best for last. Here we have a method that seems to have shown great promise in determining reality. However, can we know for sure that it actually has done so, and hasn’t just led us off onto the wrong tangent somewhere? We can’t know for sure, but we can use our test here to see if it might be viable….

The rest is worth reading. Also check out the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy within his article, which I think could easily be applied to those who “interpret” the bible. It helps to know that Skepticism and Agnosticism are not necessarily the same thing. While scientifically I have a tendency to doubt everything, I am a philosophical agnostic. All we have to do is look around to see that believing in gods or god has made little difference in the world. Science, on the other hand, has made a huge difference. As Thomas Henry Huxley put it:

“When I reached intellectual maturity and began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist; a materialist or an idealist; Christian or a freethinker; I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer; until, at last, I came to the conclusion that I had neither art nor part with any of these denominations, except the last. The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure they had attained a certain “gnosis,”–had, more or less successfully, solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble.”

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2 thoughts on “Skeptic’s Circle-The Solstice Edition

  1. The quickest why to become a skeptic, or agnostic, or even an atheist: Study the Bible.
    That is what did it to me.

    If the Bible is God’s word:
    It should be correct on cosmology, it isn’t.
    It should be correct about creation, it isn’t.
    It should be correct about basic science, it isn’t.
    It should be correct about history, it isn’t. (Flood, Exodus, etc)
    It should be morally correct and respect basic human rights, it isn’t and doesn’t.
    It should be free of errors, it isn’t.
    It should be free of contradictions within its own writings, it isn’t.
    If it contains prophecies, they should always come true, they didn’t.
    If it claims to have fulfilled a prophecy, there should actually be a prophecy to fulfill, there isn’t.

    If this were really the word of God the almighty creator of the universe and all animal, human and vegtable in it, who supposedly knows all, sees all and created all, he surely would have delivered something as important as his holy word to us in a clear, decisive, divine manner, instead of piecemeal over 3000 years of debates, councils, declarations, condemnations, translations and full of this many problems.

  2. Noogatiger,
    Well, this is true. I believe the author of the above agrees, but is going through the motions of bringing up each point, nonetheless. He more or less trashes the “accept the word of deities” view in his article.

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