Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Faith is the Opposite of Evidence

Seriously, would you trust someone who uttered these words with anything else he might be saying about life, the universe and everything? Especially if you knew that he isn't just some unknown challenged-'thinker', but someone who has had extensive experience—and, dare I say this, earned a lot of money from it—of convincing people in talks, symposiums, interviews and books, that 1+1=3.

Before you say "Huh? WTF?", here's what's wrong with that statement: it's a classic example of someone committing what's known as a 'category mistake'. That's because 'faith' is a property, or manner of operation, of the human mind; while 'evidence' describes a wide range of processes or objects that are used by the human mind, but not of the psyche itself, to establish the truth or falsehood of some proposition or set of propositions about...well, whatever.

Category mistakes are common and usually forgiveable. But a statement like the one in the title of this blog, by someone like this guy... Well, just let me say that I would have been terminally embarrassed if someone had caught me out with a doozie like that. Statements preceding the one above included the assertion that (I paraphrase, but accurately) "knowledge cannot be gained through faith but only through evidence". There's so much wrong with that statement alone that it would warrant a 1000+ word rebuttal. Suffice to say here that a) the speaker obviously has no concept of what, if anything, is 'knowledge'; b) is even less aware that it is not evidence but our faith in our interpretation of the significance of said evidence and the validity of the paradigms we're using to perform the interpretation that leads to anything that might qualify as 'knowledge'; and c) utterly fails to comprehend the scope of the 'knowledge' he's talking about.

Such philosophical naïveté is forgiveable and indeed to be expected in John Doe, but not in one of the paragons of todays thinker-dom and one whom the ABC currently—in a tediously recurring sound-bite replay of a well-known interviewer's introduction—touts as "...the world's best-known natural scientist."

And, yes, we are of course talking about that founding member of the Brights Movement, paladin of atheism and reason—yeah, whatever—Richard Dawkins.

BTW, the Brights Movement's goals are the following:
  1. Promote public understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic worldview, which is free of supernatural and mystical elements.
  2. Gain public recognition that persons who hold such a worldview can bring principled actions to bear on matters of civic importance.
  3. Educate society toward accepting the full and equitable civic participation of all such people.
In other words—once you read between the cautious phrasing of their goals, which sound like something the Church of Scientology could have come up with in their public statements about their purpose and goals—it consists of a bunch of intellectual elitists, who think they know everything, but are dumb enough not to realize that they are just another religion, with all the humbug paraphernalia that go with it. Trying to educate the stupid religious masses into understanding that they are right—without a clue as to what they think they're 'right' about—and know better than the stupid plebs. Well, I am the first to admit that I agree the plebs is indeed not very bright—and I'm being polite—but at least they, by and large, dont' live under the delusion that they are. At least the plebs go in for religion en masse and they know and admit it. The Dims—my cheap shot at a pun on the Brights—don't even know that they're pretty dim, despite all their cleverness.

And if you have any doubt about their religious inclinations, just consider their faith's logo:

They should have been more careful choosing their designer, because that looks for all the world like a variation on the theme of "The sun shines out of my ass."

In another BTW—and just to preempt any plaints or accusations that I, too, have no notion of what that thing we term 'knowledge' can actually be said to 'be'—here's my two cents.

I view science much the same way as I do religion, and everything else we can say to 'think' or 'know', which is as a collection of narratives; in the case of science about the 'natural world'. Part of that narrative is that there's nothing but the 'natural' world covered by scientific narrative. Note how that sounds almost biblical. "You shall have no other God besides me", and all that kind of stuff. The narrative's validity is supported only be the faith of those who subscribe to it, as well as what's often called a 'body of knowledge', which is just a phrase to describe the collection of 'evidence' available to support the predictive capability of the scientific narrative. Saying that we 'know' means that we can use the logic of the scientific narrative and its language to make accurate predictions about what's going to happen in the natural world. This body of knowledge or evidence becomes a part of the narrative itself, and its continued descriptive and predictive success is what we call 'proof'. It's not actually anything 'real', of course, and it has no existence in itself, but is just a collection of narrative snippets.

But just what exactly is covered by 'natural world' is another component of the scientific narrative, as well as most others concerned with answering existential questions. Those who subscribe to it have confined themselves to addressing certain phenomena, which are declared to be 'real, and everything else therefore cannot be real, according to the narrative. If there is any 'evidence' that cannot be successfully incorporated into the narrative, it will be converted into evidence for something that can. This is accomplished through yet other narratives, which qualify as 'explanations' and sometimes 'debunking'.

I, too, subscribe to a significant portion of the scientific narrative, but I also know its limitations. That may be because I tell stories...consciously so; while the overwhelming majority of people, who also tell stories all the time because that's the essence of 'thought', have no idea that that's what they are doing. It's a somewhat odd kind of existence when you look at the world that way, because you start seeing all these interwoven narratives of all the people around you, close or distant; and it's like looking at this swirl of loops of energy in endless motion—and they all have in common that neither is completely 'right', not even in their most basic and primitive assumptions about their lives, their selves and the other selves they share the world with. And the 'science' narrative, by virtue of its self-imposed limitations—which, by the way, are also a part of its strength and a major reason for its success—has excluded much that is essential to what you might call a 'complete' understanding of what 'is'. Personally, I think that it would actually gain strength if it only extended itself far enough to allow itself to admit that this is so.

Not that I'm holding my breath. Indeed, it may not be possible to extend the narrative much beyond its current limits, while at the same time retaining its predictive potency. And so, the Richard Dawkinses of the world will continue to befuddle one subest of the plebs, while the rest muddles along in another version of religiosity.

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