October 12, 2009

Why believe anything? The reasons I'm a skeptic

This is really probably the most important post I could make, and it will involve really just two concepts coherence and evidence. The reason to believe something is reliant on how well something fits in with what else is you know, and also on how strong the evidence there is for that thing being true. There is a sliding scale that goes along with that type of thinking as well. Something that makes sense and is complimentary with what you already know requires only a minimum standard of evidence, while a belief that goes agianst many of the things you know has to meet a much higher standard of evidence. An example of this would be that it would only take one article, from a reliable source, for me to come to believe that chimpanzee's are self aware and has culture, but it would take many many articles and even a scientific consensus to convince me that coral is self aware and has culture. I don't want to get in any Rority and the argument that the truth doesn't really exist, this is just meant to understand how I come to believe in something.
There can be second hand evidence where someone tells you something, and the knowledge of that source can attribute to the strength of the level of belief you can have in something being true. There is also knowledge that is gained from first hand experience where you do something or sense something and create an understanding of what went on. However, those two ways of understanding how something is true, while sometimes helpful, are just as easily wrong.

More dependable truths can be formed on the basis of scientific testing. When people here that all you believe in is 'science' then science is somehow lessened to them and becomes a dirty word; Then 'science' is a religion to you is often claimed. This may be true if all you are talking about is a system of belief, but science is a religion without faith. No one is asking anyone to believe anything that can't in some way be demonstrated. A likely retort would be that you have faith in science being right, but this isn't faith in science itself, but faith in evidence given derived from something repeatable.
While this first part of truth, as a reliance in repeatable demonstration, seems to be pretty simple, it has very dire consequences for a number of things. First is God, there is no test for god, no proof of his/her/it's existence, and no proof of any link between god and any holy book. Scientific evidence of god is nil, which may not be a problem if God was a simple matter like which steak tastes the best, but when something is telling you how to live, what is right, who is wrong, and various other things, the level of the importance of evidence increases. This is really just a bastardization of Hume's view on miracles, which is that great things that defy belief and the ordinary require a higher level of proof.
Another area where the reliance on evidence has cause some tension with other people is when people speculate something like, "Well the Russians could have landed on the moon before the United States", or "The Romans could have had gunpowder before the Chinese."  Bertrand Russell deals exactly with this type line of thinking with a thought experiment about a teapot. It starts by postulating that there could be a teapot between here and Mars floating in space, but it is too small to see through a telescope. Now by saying this, he intentionally created a situation where there is no proof of something, but the problem is that there is also no way to disprove it. No one can be sure if there is or there isn't a teapot between here and Mars. That's fine though, because there weight of the argument should be on the other side, someone has to provide some evidence for the existence of the teapot in space between here and mars before there is any reason to disprove such a thing. So when someone makes any could have suggestion or might have been suggestion with no evidence to provide for that thing being such a way, they are really saying nothing at all, of course something could have been different, but the real topic comes in providing evidence for why that is the case, rather than an appeal to ignorance.
Well this post ran a little longer than expected, so I'll pick up my next  post with a coherence style of truth and probably touch on where real truth is and how useful it actually is.

Thanks for reading,

The Moral Skeptic

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