Two Epistemologies
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12-02-2015, 03:00 PM
Two Epistemologies
A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.
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12-02-2015, 04:07 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
(12-02-2015 03:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.

A VERY well thought out post here. I applaud this. Some thoughts?

1. Being intimate with the concepts of confirmatory bias, rose-colored worldviews and paradigms, the desire to keep the inerrant Bible inerrant, etc. is a good gut check that I need to be cautious either way. Knowing those tendencies are half the battle. My church has recently been plumbing the depths of non-presuppositional apologetics for just the reasons you've cited.

2. I would say I don't start now from the inerrant Bible or "I'm right" but "I know Jesus and He is kind and good." He states His desire is to bring many people toward sanctification and good works. Theology has to be rooted in the momentum of helping one's fellow men.

3. I great up with literate and scientific-minded people. They had their superstitions as well, but from a young age I was taught to pursue a Hegel-like synthesis of opposing ideas to form new ones, and the hypothesis method. My most common stance, therefore, when I hear an old saw or an atheist canard could be "the old apologetic drivel"--sure--but what I normally do is assume everything I'm being told is true and 100% correct but then follow the line of reasoning further in a gedanken manner. In other words, if some atheist says X, rather than shouting the Bible says Y, I assume X is true and explore that rabbit hole for a while. It only happens to be a matter of god-excellence that often, the rabbit hole is plugged by Bible verses somewhere!

I'm told atheists on forums like TTA are bitter and angry. If you are not, your posts to me will be respectful, insightful and thoughtful. Prove me wrong by your adherence to decent behavior.
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12-02-2015, 04:14 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
(12-02-2015 04:07 PM)The Q Continuum Wrote:  
(12-02-2015 03:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.

A VERY well thought out post here. I applaud this. Some thoughts?

1. Being intimate with the concepts of confirmatory bias, rose-colored worldviews and paradigms, the desire to keep the inerrant Bible inerrant, etc. is a good gut check that I need to be cautious either way. Knowing those tendencies are half the battle. My church has recently been plumbing the depths of non-presuppositional apologetics for just the reasons you've cited.

2. I would say I don't start now from the inerrant Bible or "I'm right" but "I know Jesus and He is kind and good." He states His desire is to bring many people toward sanctification and good works. Theology has to be rooted in the momentum of helping one's fellow men.

3. I great up with literate and scientific-minded people. They had their superstitions as well, but from a young age I was taught to pursue a Hegel-like synthesis of opposing ideas to form new ones, and the hypothesis method. My most common stance, therefore, when I hear an old saw or an atheist canard could be "the old apologetic drivel"--sure--but what I normally do is assume everything I'm being told is true and 100% correct but then follow the line of reasoning further in a gedanken manner. In other words, if some atheist says X, rather than shouting the Bible says Y, I assume X is true and explore that rabbit hole for a while. It only happens to be a matter of god-excellence that often, the rabbit hole is plugged by Bible verses somewhere!

I'm going to save others the time (hopefully) since I've already wasted mine, and translate this for everyone:

"I'm not like other Christians I swear! I check the facts and yippy skippy it all leads to Jesus! "
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12-02-2015, 05:09 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
Well said. In a sense, it reminds me of inductive vs. deductive reasoning. Both are valid and very useful, but deductive reasoning only works if one is willing to reject a hypothesis in light of evidence (or a lack thereof). Otherwise, it's presupposition. Inductive reasoning, I think, is more likely to produce solid conclusions because it eliminates the issue of bias.

By the way, Q, I'm curious about the "non-presuppositional apologetics" you mentioned. What does that entail?
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12-02-2015, 05:38 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
(12-02-2015 03:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.

Nicely said. i agree completely. You articulated what i have discovered reading and debating with religious folks. You just put it into words better than i ever can. I hope you don't mind if i adapt your composition to use for future discussions with theists i know. I feel it would help make more headway into the discussion. At least with the more logical theists.


If you don't want a sarcastic answer, don't ask stupid questions. Drinking Beverage
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12-02-2015, 05:44 PM (This post was last modified: 12-02-2015 05:56 PM by Reltzik.)
RE: Two Epistemologies
(12-02-2015 04:07 PM)The Q Continuum Wrote:  
(12-02-2015 03:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.

A VERY well thought out post here. I applaud this. Some thoughts?

1. Being intimate with the concepts of confirmatory bias, rose-colored worldviews and paradigms, the desire to keep the inerrant Bible inerrant, etc. is a good gut check that I need to be cautious either way. Knowing those tendencies are half the battle. My church has recently been plumbing the depths of non-presuppositional apologetics for just the reasons you've cited.

2. I would say I don't start now from the inerrant Bible or "I'm right" but "I know Jesus and He is kind and good." He states His desire is to bring many people toward sanctification and good works. Theology has to be rooted in the momentum of helping one's fellow men.

3. I great up with literate and scientific-minded people. They had their superstitions as well, but from a young age I was taught to pursue a Hegel-like synthesis of opposing ideas to form new ones, and the hypothesis method. My most common stance, therefore, when I hear an old saw or an atheist canard could be "the old apologetic drivel"--sure--but what I normally do is assume everything I'm being told is true and 100% correct but then follow the line of reasoning further in a gedanken manner. In other words, if some atheist says X, rather than shouting the Bible says Y, I assume X is true and explore that rabbit hole for a while. It only happens to be a matter of god-excellence that often, the rabbit hole is plugged by Bible verses somewhere!

... I'd honestly question how a Bible verse could plug a rabbit hole if the accuracy of the Bible verses weren't already established, and how this is distinct from confirmation bias. But that's not the main question that reading your reply provoked.

You identified your starting point as being "I know Jesus and He is kind and good." To me, this immediately flags your approach as being something constructive, because in a self-corrective approach, the starting point DOESN'T MATTER. With self-correction, you'll trend towards truth no matter where you start from. The starting point only matters if you intend to construct something upon it in an axiomatic manner.

So, let's examine your starting point using a self-corrective methodology. We seek to apply some tests to it, such that if it is false in fact we will come to believe that it is false, but such that we will not come to believe it is false UNLESS it is false in fact. This will correct your starting point if, and only if, it needs correcting.

To help put this in easier terms, I will propose an alternative explanation of your experiences. I put this forward not in the spirit of outright saying it's right and you're wrong, but in the spirit of setting up a competition between two possibilities.

Alternative: Regardless of whether Jesus existed as a historical figure, what you have done is unconsciously and unwittingly set up a mental simulation of Jesus based on the character presented in the Bible and your church traditions, similar to an imaginary friend. This is unconnected to any historical (or even spiritual) figure of Jesus, save third-hand or worse if the writings and traditions you based this simulation upon are connected to such a figure. What you identify as Jesus is no more real than any of your other imaginings are real, and his kindness and goodness are no more fact than that of any other imaginary friend. Any messages or guidance you might receive from this simulation are really yourself postulating what Jesus would say, and anything you say to this Jesus is really just you talking to yourself.

Again, I put this possibility out here not to assert that this is true, but to give us fodder to delve into how a self-correcting epistemology works. Let us call your starting point, "I know Jesus and He is kind and good," Proposition A, and let's call my alternative Proposition B, and let us further imagine that you believe A is true and I believe that B is true.

These propositions are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true. But how can we tell the difference? How can we distinguish whether we are in a universe in which A is true, or in which B is true? If A is true, what test or observation can we make to show that B is false? If B is true, what test or observation can we make to show that A is false? If both are false (also a possibility), how can we demonstrate that they are both false? In the event that one, the other, or both of us is/are in error on these points, what mechanism could we reach for to identify that error? What can you propose that would demonstrate you to be wrong (if you were wrong), or even just imply it with such strength that you discard or just walk back your starting point? Similarly, what can I propose that would demonstrate me to be wrong (if I am wrong), or strongly imply it to the point where I'd walk back from my proposition? How can we look at either of these propositions, and distinguish between truth and self-perpetuating error?

In the case of Proposition B, there are several ways in which this might be demonstrated or strongly implied to be false. As one example, if multiple people were to talk to what they see as Jesus, and be able to pass messages between each other through Jesus as an intermediary in an externally verifiable manner, that would at the very least suggest that there's something more going on than a bunch of people with imaginary friends. B would be hard to maintain in the face of this phenomenon, if it happened, and a kind, loving, helpful Jesus who wanted people to believe in him and was capable of offering believers guidance would, one would think, be capable of this. If Jesus didn't come through in the messaging department, then B would not be disproven... but then, B would not be proven, either. It would simply have survived this round of critique and examination.

What about Proposition A? In what ways might A be shown false, or strongly implied to be false to the point where you'd question it? Focus on the existence of Jesus as more than just a historical man (rather than his kindness and goodness, which kinda depend on his existence). How would you tell if you were in error? What potential evidence would dissuade you from this proposition? What would you expect to be one way if he did not exist, but another way if he did? Or is there no distinction to be drawn between the two scenarios outside of the claim, no difference that we can see? If so, how can we expected to correctly discern between the two possibilities, if there is no means of discernment?
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12-02-2015, 05:46 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
(12-02-2015 05:38 PM)ivaneus Wrote:  
(12-02-2015 03:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.

Nicely said. i agree completely. You articulated what i have discovered reading and debating with religious folks. You just put it into words better than i ever can. I hope you don't mind if i adapt your composition to use for future discussions with theists i know. I feel it would help make more headway into the discussion. At least with the more logical theists.

Adapt away!
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13-02-2015, 12:56 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
I love this analysis Retzik. This is a really great observation. I would add that in science, we do use also use a constructive approach as a way to generate new hypotheses. For example, if lowering the LUMO of the diene through Lewis acid coordination of the carbonyl oxygen speeds up the Diels-Alder reaction, then formation of an iminium ion (which is isoelectronic with the Lewis acid coordinated carbonyl oxygen) should likewise speed up a Diels-Alder reaction. This is a case of building off a fact to generate a new hypothesis. The thing is that scientists realize the potential error of the constructive approach, which is why we ultimately test the hypothesis.
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13-02-2015, 01:23 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
(12-02-2015 03:00 PM)Reltzik Wrote:  A chain of thought sparked from true scotman's recent thread.

This is something I've been pondering myself: a fundamental disconnect in epistemology, between how theists (especially apologists) and atheists approach questions of truth. There are two types of epistemology at work here. The first, which can be ascribed (with some justification) to theists, is a constructive theology akin to pure, formal logic. Begin with some inescapable axioms (eg, the axioms of Kalam, or an inerrant scripture) and build things up from there. The rub is, how do you prove the axioms? Its main competitor is self-correcting epistemology akin to the scientific method -- begin with the pool of theories, hypotheses, etc that we already have, scrutinize them for flaws, test them against reality, eliminate the false ones, generate new ones, and iterate. This one doesn't suffer from the problem of where to start; we always have things we believe, or suspect, or at least wish to consider. I have seen theist apologists use self-correction to a small degree to eliminate alternatives which they don't like, and I have seen non-theists use construction to a small degree to extrapolate and project implications of their conclusions, but at the underlying core the theistic process operates on constructive epistemology, and the scientific world view operates on self-correcting epistemology.

In mathematics, we have the concept of stable and unstable equilibrium in models where a particle's (or person's) movement is dependent upon its location, and vice versa. An equilibrium point is a location where the particle does not move. It will stay there forever. But we also have the possibility of perturbations, things that throw off that location by a small amount. Maybe these are vibrations, or minor measuring errors indicating that the particle was slightly off from where we thought it was. This is where the distinction between stable and unstable equilibrium becomes important. With a stable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from that equilibrium point will move towards it, trending to equilibrium. The error introduced by the perturbation is dampened and made irrelevant. With an unstable equilibrium, a particle slightly off from the equilibrium point moves away from it. The error introduced by perturbation is magnified and all hopes of returning to equilibrium are lost. Think of a marble balanced atop a globe and another at the bottom of a bowl. The one in the bowl has a stable equilibrium, and it will take a deliberate effort to get it out. The one on the globe has an unstable equilibrium, and the slightest vibration or breath of air will cause it to roll off.

Using this as a metaphor for these two epistemologies, a self-correcting epistemology establishes reality as a stable equilibrium. If we are off from reality, if we are initially in error or enter into error due to perturbation, then a self-correcting epistemology will correct that error over time. A constructive epistemology, however, sets reality up as an unstable equilibrium or even no equilibrium at all. A tiny error in the underlying axioms will be magnified and creep into the entire world view constructed from them. And even if there were (somehow, miraculously) no error at all in the initial conditions, a tiny perturbation (eg, a translation error or a scribe's addition) will also be magnified. This is an epistemology that grows errors, rather than culling them.

From this we can conclude three things.

First, that given a decent amount of time to work, a self-correcting epistemology will tend towards being correct, and a constructive epistemology will tend towards being erroneous. The self-correcting epistemology will likely never achieve perfect correctness, and it is remotely possible that a constructive epistemology might be right by sheer dumb luck, but of the two the self-correcting epistemology is far more likely to be far more accurate, and will become more accurate as time goes on.

Second, if we are interested in discovering truth and avoiding falsehood, we should favor self-correcting epistemology over constructive epistemology.

Third, anyone of reasonable (much less divine and inerrant) intelligence would know that, and if seeking to perpetuate a great truth down through the ages, would reject a method based on constructive epistemology (eg, unquestioned revelation) and would embrace either a self-correcting epistemology, or something better.

I think you have a very flawed understanding of axioms. An axiom is a concept that is formed directly from percepts. It is not inferred. Axioms are first level primaries. As such they can not be defined in terms of antecedent concepts. They can only be defined ostensively, by pointing to their referents. An axiom must be broad enough to be implicit in all future concepts. The true test of an axiom is whether or not an opponent would have to accept and use the concept in order to deny it. A perfect example of an axiomatic concept is "existence". Another is "consciousness" . An axiom does not need to be proved. It is implicit in any proof. For instance to prove anything one would need to exist and be conscious. Any proof would presuppose something to prove, a consciousness to prove it to. So an axiom is outside the need of being proved. They are incontestably true. "God" or "the Kalam" or "inerrant scripture" are not axioms. Any worldview not premised on an axiomatic starting point is in jeopardy. That is a major flaw in the Theist worldview that far from starting with axioms it contradicts all of the axioms.

Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. - Ayn Rand.

Don't sacrifice for me, live for yourself! - Me

The only alternative to Objectivism is some form of Subjectivism. - Dawson Bethrick
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13-02-2015, 01:52 PM
RE: Two Epistemologies
Theists do have an axiomatic starting point but they do not identify it explicitly. Since they don't name it explicitly they are totally unaware that they begin their entire worldview with a contradiction. They begin with the axioms "consciousness" and "existence" but they make a fundamental hierarchical error. They place consciousness as the primary and existence as secondary. That means that first comes consciousness and then existence is the product of a consciousness. The right order is existence first and then consciousness as a product of existence. To place consciousness first commits the fallacy of the stolen concept. It amounts to affirming consciousness without existence. Their starting point is self contradictory. Their starting point is literally a consciousness, in the beginning, with no objects to be conscious of. Theists try to get around this problem by saying that in the beginning God was conscious of its own consciousness. But this too is fallacious. It commits the fallacy of pure self reference. A consciousness which references only its own referencing. Just like the statement "this statement is true" refers only to its own referring. It says nothing and a consciousness conscious only of itself is nothing. As far as I can see, and correct me if I'm wrong, there is no way out of this conundrum for the theist.

This has profound implications for their epistemology. It means that their worldview is inherently subjective. No wonder they hold faith as superior to reason. Reason rests on the objective view. That is existence first and then consciousness as the faculty with perceives it not the faculty which creates it. No wonder they have difficulty separating the imaginary from the real.

Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. - Ayn Rand.

Don't sacrifice for me, live for yourself! - Me

The only alternative to Objectivism is some form of Subjectivism. - Dawson Bethrick
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