How To Epistemology

My reasoning will be easier to follow with a basic understanding of my approach to truth and knowledge. Let’s take a look.

Reality is deeply interconnected so all truth is connected. This is most apparent in physics and mathematics but it holds everywhere. To the extent religion is a good guide to living in the world, it holds for religious belief. To the extent metaphysics is relevant for the purpose, it holds for metaphysical belief. If religion contains deeper truths about reality, it will hold for those.

There is such a thing as a free-floating belief: a belief that is not connected to the network of truth. Such a belief would be purely ornamental, not relevant to anything but itself. A true belief can be functionally free-floating if its implications are never examined. My central hypothesis can be expressed like this: Properly understood, belief in God is not free-floating. Our knowledge of him is connected to all other knowledge and that connection can be studied.

Belief in something is distinct from just thinking that you believe it. If we think we believe in semiconductor physics, we can talk about band gaps, perform some ritual experiments and bask in the adulation of our peers. If we actually believe, we can build transistor radios and eventually develop computers.

I take my beliefs seriously. When I learn something new, I reflexively cross-check it against my prior knowledge, draw connections and note discrepancies. The better it fits with the rest of my understanding, the more I believe it. If there are discrepancies there’s a mistake somewhere. Either the new information is false or I need to reexamine my assumptions; major updates can happen if the evidence is compelling enough. That’s why my posts made less sense around the time of my conversion – I was re-evaluating my basic assumptions about reality and my mind was running on pure pattern recognition for a while.

Turns out my secular understanding was fine: the world runs on knowable law up to the limits of my knowledge. The pattern at the boundary is interesting. There are plenty of hooks in the Bible to connect it to the secular reality but they are mostly left dangling – at least in the mainstream. The situation might be better within the churches but I’d expect to see more evidence of that. For now I assume that they, too, have retreated from the empirical. Christianity is meant to be connected with reality but it’s mostly treated as free-floating. We used to take religion more seriously. What happened?

I think the problem started with the scientific revolution. When science contradicted our understanding of Genesis, our collective faith was tested – and we failed the test. After the initial shock and reinterpretation, we should have mounted an urgent effort to test our understanding further. What else did we get wrong? What does the Revelation really mean? Instead, we retreated to unfalsifiability.

That was a mistake.

If we treat our sacred truth like a fairytale, we shouldn’t be surprised if it starts acting like one.

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4 Responses to How To Epistemology

  1. “I think the problem started with the scientific revolution.”

    An additional possibility is that the Reformation opened the floodgates. It was the Sine Qua Non.

    Later, you had Spinoza and others (presumably) who started doing “biblical criticism”. Then, you had Descartes raising problems; this was followed by Hobbes – the first of the new materialists….

    If there is a problem between science and faith and if science has shown faith to be false or unreasonable, one question to ponder is at what point in history did science “win” over faith?

    Which scientific discovery or theory make faith untenable?

    It seems clear that most/all scientists did not just say “hey, my new discovery refutes God”. For example, Newton was a Christian and clearly did not see a problem. What about Darwin? Darwin, as much as possible, tried to stay away from anything controversial; however, Darwin did make a few remarks that could be interpreted as critical. Nevertheless, from the start, you had different people taking different things away from Darwin’s theory. Asa Gray on the one hand, Huxley on the other and Marx on the gripping hand.

    • Contingent, Not Arbitrary says:

      (Not sure what’s up with the posting troubles. If it’s changes on my end between loading the page and posting a comment, reloading might help.)

      The Reformation may well have been a factor. The Catholic Church doesn’t seem to handle anomalies well; I suspect that can be traced back to some early design choices. Beyond resolving the known anomalies, building resilience against future ones seems like an important task.

      As far as I can tell, science and religion can get along perfectly fine. That may be more apparent when one converts from (weak) atheism with a mature epistemology and a well-developed spiritual awareness. A rare combination, I expect.

  2. Thank you for the response. Don’t know what’s happening. Will try to reload as you say.

    Catholic Church IS the oldest human institution right? They have something going for it.

    “Beyond resolving the known anomalies, building resilience against future ones seems like an important task.”

    What do you think about the American Pope TV show? His strategy seems correct no?

    • Contingent, Not Arbitrary says:

      The Catholic Church is impressive in terms of longevity but I’m judging them as keepers of the eternal truth. That may be harsh as far as standards go, but so is life. We will see if they manage to recover and measure up again.

      I’m familiar with neither the show nor papal strategy, but a Christian pope who acts as such would be an improvement.

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