User Name:

Password:

FAQ Donate Join

Atheist Community of Austin
Knowledge Or Certainty ?

To proceed successfully with thought, dialog, and debate, let's declare that our decisions are made after examining the available evidence. Let's further declare that our decisions are never made with absolute certainty. Very, very likely is reasonable, but it doesn't make good sense to assert that something is absolutely certain.

One plus one equals two. - - - At first sight, this seems to be absolutely true. But I have read science fiction stories that suggest that our reality is manipulated by creatures or by machinery that generate a false reality. The old "Mission Impossible" TV series and the James Garner movie "Thirty Six Hours" depict an artificial and deceitful environment designed to dupe and to manipulate the unwary. People in real life often practice to deceive. Hallucinogenic drugs and mental illness can create bizarre distortions of the truth. So let's just say that we will proceed as if one plus one equals two until we see some good reason to doubt it.

So here we have reason number one to reject absolute certainty: The fallibility of the human mind and the fallibility of human perceptions.

Here is reason number two: What is the standard or proof of certainty? Where is the borderline between very, very likely and absolutely certain? Can decisions and beliefs cross that borderline and become absolutely certain, or cross in the other direction, and cease to be absolutely certain?

The "borderline" argument shows that holding beliefs to be absolutely certain creates confusion, paradox, and uncertainty. When is evidence sufficient for absolute certainty? The solution is simple: do not allow absolute certainty to come into your worldview.

Please let me know if you have anything to add to these thoughts.

There is no place for "absolute certainty" in the empirical world view. The scientific method does not assert absolute truth statements. The scientific method removes falsehoods until a clear picture is made and a workable theory can be constructed. Any assertion of an indisputable truth is outside of the realm of empiricism and skepticism.

Non-absolute certainty is acceptable. This is just a measure of reliability of information based on evidence. For example, it is certain that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning.

This is the same old argument we have listened to forever. I know what you were told because I've been reading all of the junk and complaints you've posted.

You have been told that the scientific method does not start with a theory and then go looking for the evidence, and even when you don't find any evidence that the theory is true you just believe it ayway.

I know that you were told that theories do change and you were give an example, like Newton's gravity was replaced by Einstein's theory of realativity.

Chuck Johnson said, "One plus one equals two. - - - At first sight, this seems to be absolutely true. But I have read science fiction stories that suggest that our reality is manipulated by creatures or by machinery that generate a false reality."

What you fail to understand is science fiction doesn't need to prove anything but science does. Where's the proof.

What you really want is for everyone to say that a theory does not require evidence to be possible. We should just accept things on faith and call it science like you and the clods you are talking to on the message board are doing. That's all you can do in order to put your trash out there without incountering all of that unwanted contradictory informatgion getting in your way.

Chuck Johnson said, "Hallucinogenic drugs and mental illness can create bizarre distortions of the truth."

Why should anyone assume something is going on that you have no evidence of?

How about asking yourself how a creator created everything and didn't leave any evidence of anything being created except a book that got everything wrong scientifically. You can't face the fact that your beliefs are foolish and are believed without using logic or reason.

"Absolute certainty" is just a feeling, an emotion. People see event A connected to event B 1000 times and they "feel" that there is a certain connection between 2 events. Another source of "absolute certainty" can be a very emotional and persuading speech by a pastor or a presidential candidate. We can use reason or experience to check if our feelings are justified or useful, but the feelings themselves do not necessarily come from reason or experience.

In some cases, "absolute certainty" is justified. E.g., absolute certainty in the value of human life. All values are subjective, so this claim cannot be verified by experience or reason, but it seems like a good "absolute certainty".

Certainty has a few definitions. The one commonly reffered to by "Absolute Certainty" is the philosophical definition of an indisputable infallable truth. The common definition is the one we use to measure confidence in an assertion. "Absolute Certainty" has almost no place in an empirical world view, while the common usage of "certainty" is completely acceptable.

Brian, I doubt that a statement "human life has value" is an empirical statement. Values are subjective. No people - no values. So, it's not an objective truth and not an empirical statement. Do you think it is acceptable to be absolutely certain in statements like this?

Another example - the famous "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..." etc. You may replace "created" with "born" and skip the reference to the Creator down below as an archaism. The point is the belief that humans have "certain unalienable Rights".

Values are indeed subjective. But the study of values can be objective. "Human life is valuable" lacks context and is probably not a very good empirical statement. "Humans value life" on the other hand is a statement that I think could be made empirically.

The distinction I was attempting to make was about the difference between the 2 different definitions of "certainty." There is the every day use which is acceptable for use as a measurement of confidence in a statement. The 2nd is the philosophical definition which is too absolute to use in an empirical context.

Wow! Thanks for your help, Brian. I have been saying these same things to AG.

I would like for him to understand the views that are scientific, empirical, and skeptical.

I would also like for him to see the value and the power of such views.

AG has a sentimental attachment to Jesus, God, and the Bible. He also has a sentimental attachment to logical contradiction and to paradox.

His eyes react to light, the dials detect it. He hears, but cannot answer to your call !

Chuck, I understand the value of skepticism, empiricism, critical thinking, etc. Everything has its proper place and value. In science, the idea of god is not useful at all and believing anything without data is unacceptable - I get it.

However, life is not science and using scientific method in every area of our life would be strange. Some decisions must be made in the face of uncertainty, and some decisions are inherently subjective. Moral values, for example, are made primarily based on emotional attachments.

I'm not saying that God or Bible are the standard or the source of morality. As I said, Bible raises as many questions as it answers, and debating existence of God goes nowhere. All I say is that we believe in certain moral values without much empirical evidence. This seems to be a factual statement to me.

You make it sound as if I love contradictions. Not that I love them, I see them everywhere. They are fundamental to our world. They drive change, constantly transforming into each other. Unless we take certain things on faith, without proof (e.g. "reality is real" or "our experience reflects reality"), our reasoning will inevitably reduce to circularity or infinite regress.

Anyway, if you don't see my point, perhaps, we are talking about different things and need to go down to discussing word definitions which just indicates a fundamental lack of mutual understanding.

AG Said: "You make it sound as if I love contradictions. Not that I love them, I see them everywhere. They are fundamental to our world. They drive change, constantly transforming into each other."

As a Christian, you love God and Jesus. You define God as a force that makes things happen. You also say that God is a force that drives us towards the good.

You love the ideas of God, Jesus, and Contradictions.

Go ahead, admit it, or my words on these message boards will slap you silly.

But then, you are already silly.

----------------- Chuck.

Chuck, you seem to be trying to convince me of something.

"I would like for him to understand the views that are scientific, empirical, and skeptical." OK. I understand scientific, empirical, and skeptical views. Test me if you wish. I can give you a perfectly scientific explanation for anything you wish if it exists. I see the value and power of science. My point is that religious faith is as powerful in terms of emotional motivation of human behavior. Purging it from our life is not only unwise, it's quite impossible. Many people seem to miss this point.

If you want me to abandon religious faith, then I need to ask you, why. And how is this effort different from religious proselytizing? I don't think, I'm delusional about God or Jesus. As I said, I can admit that they, most likely, exist in my head only as concepts or ideas. I am not going to prove them to be facts or physical reality or convince anyone in their existence.

AG Said: Chuck, you seem to be trying to convince me of something.

AG, One thing that I am saying to you is:

All that is now And all that is gone And all that's to come And everything under the Sun Is in tune.

But the Sun is eclipsed by the Moon.

All we know is just another brick in the wall... :-)

Brian, "humans value life" is, indeed, a factual statement. It describes "what is" and can be proven by polls. "Human life is valuable", on the other hand, describes "what ought". It is a belief statement. I agree that it lacks context. It's not very useful to decide who goes on a life boat, for example.

So, we can study the current values in a given society. Such study done in Afghanistan, for example, may tell us that there is no value in education or voting rights for women or, perhaps, that homosexuality is detestable for most of the population. It's pretty clear that accepting poll data as values isn't good.

Aren't you certain that women should have right to vote and go to school, or that it is wrong to persecute or harass people based on sexual orientation? If my opinion is based on the opinion of others or opinion of majority, I can be rightfully accused of moral relativism. Those certainties are not empirical, and if we rely on polls to determine if these values are "true", society will not make progress.

I mean to say that in addition to empirical certainty and philosophical certainty, there seems to be a certainty that comes from moral convictions that is not based on fact or current situation in society. It comes from our emotional feelings. I think, such certainties are acceptable. But the trick is how to tell a "good" moral certainty from a "bad" moral certainty. It seems to me that nobody is guaranteed from making mistakes on this judgment. The Bible seems to raise more questions on this issue than it gives answers. Science seems to offer no opinion at all.

"But the trick is how to tell a "good" moral certainty from a "bad" moral certainty. It seems to me that nobody is guaranteed from making mistakes on this judgment. The Bible seems to raise more questions on this issue than it gives answers. Science seems to offer no opinion at all."

I disagree.

I don't think science is responsible for judging whether a particular act is moral or not. Also if the way to tell is to use our emotions to me that's a bit scary. I'd rather it be a logical thing. For example I choose not to steal from you. Not because it's a good moral act per se just simply because I don't want you to steal from me.

"Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." -- David Hume.

Re: "I don't think science is responsible for judging whether a particular act is moral or not." -- I don't think, science can determine what is moral either.

Re: "I'd rather it be a logical thing. For example I choose not to steal from you. Not because it's a good moral act per se just simply because I don't want you to steal from me." -- What if you have a gun, have bodyguards, and live in a secure house, so it's highly unlikely I will steal anything from you? Is it OK then to steal from me?

Logic cannot decide on moral issues. I made this example before. There is a classical question regarding logical moral choices: "A trolley approaches a switch. If the trolley goes to one branch of the road, it's going to kill 5 people, if to the other, it's going to kill 1 person. Would you flip the switch to kill 1 person instead of 5?" Most people say yes, based on relative damage. This is not a moral choice. This is a math problem.

Imagine that the one person is a child or a pregnant woman, and the 5 people are known convicted murderers. What does the math tell now? Imagine, the child is your daughter. What would be your choice? Is it based on math or emotions?

Would you say that in any situation, it's better if one person dies instead of 5? So, is it OK to kill 5 robbers who want to kill one person (you)?

Would it benefit society to take all terminally ill people off life support and kill everyone older than 65? Would it be moral?

Re: " Also if the way to tell is to use our emotions to me that's a bit scary." -- scary or not, that's the way it is. And should be, if you ask me or David Hume. We need to understand and control our emotions - anger, disgust, fear, love, etc. Science can help us understand emotions, but to control emotions, we need practice - meditation, prayer or whatever. That's what religion is for, it seems to me. I agree that this process seems to go wrong quite often.

Follow us on:

twitter facebook meetup

ustream.tv