Re: [asa] The empirical basis of knowledge

From: David Opderbeck <>
Date: Mon Mar 19 2007 - 13:23:43 EDT

*I claimed that empirical data
is all we have upon which to know things.*

Following up on Merv's point: prove it. Show me the empirical data that
supports the claim that empirical data is all we have upon which to know
things. And then show me the empirical data that supports that empirical
data. And so on.

Here is where you will get to:

1. All the empirical data I can gather is based ultimately on my senses.

2. I cannot know for certain that my senses are giving me accurate
information. I could be dreaming, or I could be deceived, or I could lack
complete information, and so on.

  2.a. In fact, I have lots of empirical data that tells me that human
sense perception is often misleading. I had a vivid dream, and realized it
was a dream only when I awoke; I put on blue socks in the dark, only to
realize when I got to work they were brown; I thought my roommate's sister
sophomore year in college was interested in dating me, and she was just
being nice; my six-year-old son, in the middle of the night, thought he was
in the bathroom, when in fact he was peeing in my daughter's bedroom
wastebasket (really!); countless controlled experiments in the psychology
literature demonstrate that human sense perception is easily tricked.

3. Given 2 and 2a., I cannot empirically prove that my sense data are
accurate. Therefore, any attempt to make empirical data the foundation of
any knowledge claim is self-defeating.

4. Given 3, I have two alternatives, if I wish to retain a foundationalist

      4a. I can try to find some sense perception that is so fundamental
that it cannot be tricked. This leads to Descartes' famous *cogito*.
However, Cartesian solipsism is widely regarded as a failure, both because
it often leads to the metaphysical view that only minds exist, but also
because, even in weaker methodological forms, it also is self-defeating. I
can know I exist only because I perceive it to be so; thus, methodological
solipsism also depends on sense perception that cannot empirically be
demonstrated to be indubitably true. (For example, the solipsist may only
be being created instantaneously from moment to moment, and only think he is
engaged in any sustained thought / existence; or the solipsist may be only
an emergent property of or part of some other whole, and not truly a
thinking individual).

    4b. As an alternative to Cartesian solipsism, I can simply assert that,
if there is no evident reason to doubt the general veracity of my sense
perceptions, I can take them as properly basic. This, as I understand it,
is the more common approach for contemporary foundationalists.

5. Given 4, I cannot assert that the ultimate foundation of knowledge is
empirical data. At best, the ultimate foundation of knowledge is an
unprovable *assumption *about the reliablity of my sense perception.

6. Given 5, there are still some good reasons to accept this sort of modest
foundationalism from a Christian perspective. If we believe God created us
in his image and desires that we exercise stewardship over creation,
fullfill the cultural mandate, and have a personal relationship with him, it
is reasonable to believe that he created us with sense equipment that is
adequate for those purposes.

7. Proposition 6, however, is not based on any empirical data; it is a
faith claim. Thus, even Christians who adopt a foundationalist epistemology
must ultimately accept some non-empirical propositions as properly basic.

Conclusion: from a logical perspective and particularly from a Christian
perspective, empirical data cannot in itself constitute a proper foundation
for knowlege.

(I also note that I'm skeptical even of modest foundationalism, but that's
another matter).

On 3/19/07, Merv <> wrote:
> Glenn Morton wrote:
> > I will challenge people
> > over the next 24 hours to name one thing which they KNOW to be true
> which
> > does not have an empirical basis. Example.
> >
> >
> > So, floor is open to challenges of this kind. I claimed that empirical
> data
> > is all we have upon which to know things. Now is your chance to
> disprove
> > that statement. And if you cant, then this will demonstrate the need for
> > Biblical empirical verification.
> >
> > glenn
> >
> Okay, Glenn How about this one: "The only real knowledge we can have
> must come from empirical evidence." Actually, while I may be inclined
> to agree in some ways with that statement, I am not the one who made
> it. You did. So your claim to know this is an answer to your own
> challenge. There is no empirical evidence you can present to address
> this since it is the necessity empirical evidence itself that is in
> question --- UNLESS you insist that a lack of a non-philosophical
> counter example counts as a kind of "empirical" evidence. But if you
> are standing on a mere failure of your opponents to produce a
> counter-example, that seems weak at best. And yet you seem to be
> claiming quite strongly to know this. What is your empirical basis
> for this knowledge claim?
> And I am still interested in your own take, not only on floating
> axe-heads but the sun standing still in the sky & such things. Those
> are straight-forward claims in Scripture the latter of which is
> physically fantastical -- and would seem to have no empirical basis
> except for our faith in the Scriptural testimony by itself. Since I
> have only had time to read a small fraction of your lengthy posts, I
> apologize if you've already thoroughly hashed this elsewhere.
> I am not just being rhetorical in all this -- I really want to know.
> Either I need to be desperately praying -- "God, I believe; help thou
> my unbelief", or I need to pray: "God, thank you for the human faculty
> of reason -- help me to use it to your glory." (or most likely I need
> to pray both prayers.)
> --Merv
> To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Mon Mar 19 13:24:00 2007

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Mon Mar 19 2007 - 13:24:00 EDT