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Jan 08 2008

More faux-intellectualism: the appeal to other ways of knowing

In this comments thread, we’ve been visited once again by Rhology, who says:

I don’t agree that God is unprovable or unproven. Not provable by naturalistic means, of course, but there’s no reason to restrict ourselves to solely naturalistic means.

What, exactly, are the “non-naturalistic” means that Rho proposes? How do they work? What are their methodologies? Can one use them to test a falsifiable hypothesis and formulate a theory which has predictive power? Rho seems to imply this, since his statement suggests God’s existence can thereby be (and actually has been) proven. But if you’re looking for a real explanation of how to go about seeking knowledge using “non-naturalistic means,” then Rho will disappoint you.

This is the appeal to other ways of knowing, a common bit of hand-waving employed not just by religionists, but practitioners of all manner of woo. Skeptico has also written about this. And I hate to say it, but it seems to be a view that not only has traction amongst the anti-science clods you’d expect, but among people in the scientific community who should know better, usually in a misguided attempt at offering a sop to the ignorant in the belief that those people would simply be too scared of the threat science poses to their precious belief of choice unless the olive branch of appeasement is offered.

Case in point: the National Academy of Sciences has just released a booklet for the lay reader (you can download the whole thing as a free PDF) spelling out the case for evolution and against ID in a very clear, accessible, and commendable way. But the book makes the concessions to religion that has caused guys like PZ Myers and Larry Moran to roll their eyes. “Science and Religion Offer Different Ways of Understanding the World,” trumpets one chapter heading. But they don’t. Not even remotely. Science offers ways of understanding the world, religion offers supernatural beliefs in place of understanding, which actively impede many people’s ability to achieve understanding. It really is a big blemish in an otherwise scientifically sound book. Then again, if the way in which this “different way of understanding” actually works, and how its conclusions can be determined to be just as epistemologically valid as those of science, were actually explained in detail, then I’d happily sing a different tune. But no, we just get the assertion that a “different,” “non-naturalistic” means of examining truth claims exists, and that it’s better, and that anyone who tries to rebut this is simply “making excuses” for science’s own presumed failings. That’s religion for you. No evidence is ever needed, only that whose existence conveniently resides in some “non-naturalistic” realm only discernible to those who have thrown off materialism’s presumptions.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    NAL

    Rho:[God is] not provable by naturalistic means, of course …If one uses super-naturalistic means, then any supernatural being is provable by super-naturalistic means. The problem arises when this supernatural proof is used as a basis for understanding the non-super-naturalistic world. Religion offers no basis for understanding the naturalistic world.

  2. 2
    the chaplain

    “Ways of knowing” crap is big in colleges of education. Which is really scary, when you think about it.

  3. 3
    Rhology

    I’m referring to metaphysical means, like this.You have jumped to a conclusion in order, it would appear, to paint my worldview in a bad light. Some might think that is b/c you lack confidence in your worldview’s ability to stand on its own. Rightly so…Science cannot make any statement on metaphysical questions. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about this.I even said as much in the exact same comment, only a few lines down: “I am trying to help science understand the size of its britches. It can’t inform metaphysical questions.”Peace,Rhology

  4. 4
    NAL

    Rho:[God is] Not provable by naturalistic means, of courseRho:In short, there is no shortage of empirical indicators or evidences of God’s existence …If you think there is empirical evidence of God’s existence, why resort to metaphysical arguments? A central concept in science and the scientific method is that all evidence must be empirical. So you’re claiming to prove God’s existence using naturalistic means. Make up your mind.

  5. 5
    Rhology

    “X is Provable” is not equivalent to “There is evidence for X.”That’s a fairly basic point, really.

  6. 6
    Martin

    Some might think that is b/c you lack confidence in your worldview’s ability to stand on its own.“Some” think they’ve been kidnapped by UFO’s. “Some” think they’ve had sex with Bigfoot. “Some” are self-deluded clowns. “X is Provable” is not equivalent to “There is evidence for X.”That’s a fairly basic point, really.Maybe to the confused mind of the religionist.So basically you’re saying that theological arguments can “prove” things without having to resort to pesky things like actual evidence. Fine. Allow me to apply your standards then:The unfairly short answer to “How do you know Gus the Invisible Purple Flying Cosmic Bunny exists?” is “The impossibility of the contrary.”Wow! “Proving” stuff is easy when you throw out things like standards and just resort to religious declaration!Science cannot make any statement on metaphysical questions. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about this.Nothing at all, especially as we understand that this is your way of saying, “I can’t provide empirical proof of God’s existence, despite all manner of situations reported in the Bible which would serve as empirical proof with perfect applicability (the whole “road to Damascus” thing, for one), so I will just declare God to be outside the purview of science and pronounce the discussion over with.”We all see very clearly that you’re attempting to compensate for the lack of tangible support you can give your arguments by resorting to rhetoric, Rho. You are, in fact, very easy to understand. Like most religious fundamentalists, you simply don’t understand the difference between knowing something, and pretending to know something.

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