Re: [asa] Empiricism, Faith and Science

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Date: Sun Sep 17 2006 - 21:41:49 EDT

> W.D.: The main reason why science shuns this "other" is because we have no
> way to set up controlled experiments to examine it.

> D.O.: But the same is true for much of science itself. Historical science,
> as the recent discussion here highlighted, can make predictions about
> anticipated observations that should follow from the model deduced from historical
> facts, but it often can't be subject to controlled experiments. We can't
> re-run the early universe or biological evolution in any meaningful way against
> a control. That doesn't make cosmology or evolutionary science
> non-empirical.

You may have a point to some extent. I am writing down what
I sense is my job as a scientist and a physicist, but whether
this is "fair" to addressing religious truths may be another

My take on it is that, if I want to demonstrate that a religious
assertion is true, the burden of proof is solely on me. It is
very high bar, aggressive, and adversarial environment. Even sound
arguments with sound facts and sound experimental evidence can be
scoffed at. So how can one expect to argue persuasively with
religious views where there are often questionable facts, and
little or no experimental data to support them.

With history or evolution, you can always ask, are the claims
consistent with things that are possible, is the corroborating
evidence from independent sources, are there any artifacts that
we can point to? So practically, history yields less friction.
Evolution has a fair amount of corroborating evidence to help
support it. Cosmology is sometimes a bit difficult for me to
decide whether the line is being crossed, but, the arguments
are posed in the realm of plausibility.

There may be some double standard in this, as I have observed
disparaging words and people questioning a person's integrity
on skeptic lists when a scientist dares to confess that he/she
believes in God.

> W.D.: So "empirical" in the sense of "experimental" knowledge of religious
> truths is basically ruled out
> D.O.: I agree, if "empirical" only means "controlled experiments."
> W.D.: we have no means whereby to achieve interaction with it, except
> possibly at a very personal level and at a time of God's own unknown choosing.
> D.O.: But here I disagree. This is the big epistemic issue as I see it. I
> think stating it this way capitulates to the positivist / empiricist's
> epistemology.

Why thank you. Were I to have posted this to a skeptic list,
I expect I would have been mob beaten, berated and called less
than charitable things. If I'm seen as positivist and empiricist,
I'm hardly any of the things they would likely call me. :-)

> D.O.: We can achieve and observe interaction with "it" through God's
> working in history. Exhibit A is the cross and the resurrection. Our faith is
> warranted not only by incommensurable personal experiences, but historical
> observations and by rational presuppositions about God and our capability to
> understand that God has acted. I agree that personal experiences provide the
> assurance of faith and constitute part of the warrant for belief, but I can't
> agree that the sphere of "faith" is grounded in incommensurable personal
> experiences alone.

As a fellow Christian, I strongly agree. The problem is that people
outside the faith may refuse to believe the testimony, and some
would feel free to insist that I show a resurrection before they
will believe it. To us, that is arrogant and sinful even to
demand such a demonstration, and even Gideon was at least
respectful and humble before God in making his request. It
also strikes me as a double standard that anyone should out and
out insist that that the apostles were lying, but that's the world
for you, I guess. You'd wonder why they don't think their friends
are lying also, and they would resent having to appear in a court
where they were presumed guilty before proven innocent, but again,
that is the world.

> W.D.: So, if you ask me for proof, I would have to be silent,
> D.O.: I agree and disagree. I agree there is no "proof" of faith claims.
> But I agree with that because I think the notion of "proof" is not well
> defined. There's no "proof" of most claims, including most claims of science, if
> "proof" means certainty beyond any possible question. In contrast, I think
> there can be good "warrant" for faith claims, such that it can be rational to
> make them and to use them as anchors for one's worldview.

I think this is a very interesting point. Even the argument
that there is lack of extra-biblical sources does not completely
rule this out (unless one is predisposed to quickly rid the
point, of course). It is quite a common strategy for powerful
people to ignore someone they do not agree with. Sometimes this
is because it is well deserved, sometimes it is because it is
not. Even the issue of voluminous records cannot firmly address
this point. People were not dumb back then (any more than they
are now), and I'm sure the natural reaction by "reputable"
authors to a resurrection claim was "that's absurd", back then
as it is now. So demands for extrabiblical sources and opposing
views does not really answer this central issue.

It is possible we have
developed a culture that does not explore all forms of proof
adequately. Being a religious man who believes in God and is
a Christian, I see that "empirical" has serious limitations to
answering all my questions. It seems empirical answers the easy
questions, but for the truly hard questions that really matter,
we cannot really pose these questions in a way that science can
explore them for the most part.

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Received on Sun Sep 17 21:42:38 2006

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