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Epistemology

Source:  Superbible, by Mike Titus, printed in 1990

Epistemology -- The theory or science that investigates the origins, nature, methods and limits of knowledge.

Truth
-- A verified fact.  The quality of being in accordance with experience, facts, or reality.

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The Indubitable Postulates Method    
[Credit: Davis, p30]

          This is one of two major methods of acquiring knowledge known to man.  The ancients developed this account to explain the knowledge provided by logic, mathematics and geometry.  Accept Euclid's five postulates and you can prove that the angles of a triangle equal two right angles.  But this idea of starting with indubitable postulates and then deriving knowledge of the world from them is, despite its long history, a false view.  It cannot be done.  It never could be done.  Yet, the Christian church adopted this view of knowledge from the Greek philosophers, and has been pushing it for 1500 years.  In convincing us we need knowledge derived from postulates guaranteed to be true, the religionists have sold us a bill of goods.  Knowledge of this sort has never existed.
          And to follow this account and accept some postulates on faith is a hazardous way to seek knowledge, for it carries with it the need for postulates that cannot be questioned, and this in turn leads to limitations on what we can learn.  To accept any belief on faith is to render ourselves incapable of learning from experience that contradicts that belief.  Some information must be rejected rather then processed and thus is lost as a source of further knowledge.  Faith makes intellectual cripples
 
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The Hypothetical Deductive Method     [Credit: Davis, p31]

          Also known as the Hypothetico Deductive Method, this is the other of the two major methods of acquiring knowledge known to man.  Central to this method is the construction of a hypothesis from which deductions can be made that explain the phenomena being considered.  If it explains the phenomena, this hypothesis is tentatively accepted and predictions derived from it are tested.  If the predictions are correct, and if no better hypothesis is available, the hypothesis continues to be tentatively accepted.  But, if a better hypothesis is constructed, or if the hypothesis leads to false predictions, this tentative acceptance is withdrawn and the hypothesis rejected.  This method is a purely skeptical one that seeks truth not by proving hypotheses true, but by eliminating those that are false.  This method was advocated as early as 1638 AD by Galileo.
          While the indubitable postulates method of the ancient Greeks and the hypothetical deductive method both use deduction from general principles, their purpose of doing so are exactly opposite.  The purpose of deduction in the indubitable postulates method is to extend the truth of the postulates to their consequences.  In the hypothetical deductive method the purpose of deduction is to extend the testablity of their consequences to the hypotheses.
          At no point in the deducing and testing process is the hypothesis accepted on faith as something that has to be believed.  We accept hypotheses that have been tested and not proven false, but we know that the hypotheses we accept now may prove to be false in the face of some later test.  For as long as a hypothesis is accepted, acceptance is always tentative.
 
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The Scientific Method

          Just exactly where does the Scientific Method fit into all this?  Well, glory be and hallelujah!  SCIENTIFIC METHOD is simply the most common and popular name for the HYPOTHETICAL DEDUCTIVE METHOD!  Everybody reading this already knew this, or at least suspected it, correct?
          The knowledge derived from the Scientific Method has absolutely no need for faith.  Not faith in the results.  Not faith in the method.
          In contrast, all religions -- and yes, this includes Judeo-Christianity -- use the indubitable postulates method in promoting their brands of knowledge.  They don't come out and call it that, though.  Their terminology includes the word AUTHORITY, as in "based on the authority of divinely inspired Scriptures", etc.
          Therefore, the difference between Scientific Knowledge and Religious Knowledge is not just a matter of degree on some Knowledge Spectrum (or Scale).  The two are completely different approaches of TRUTH SEEKING.
          Verily we say unto thee:  Science and Religion are completely and unequivocally incompatible.  That means ALL religions.  Except, of course, our SUPERRELIGION!
 
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Science and Faith

          In a last ditch effort to salvage a modicum of dignity, a religionist may pose the question:  "If the results of science are always testable, and always tentative, doesn't that mean that the users of the scientific method have FAITH in it?"
          No!  Due to what can be considered as a built-in epistemological feedback loop, the hypothetical deductive system can test itself!  Should it fail, it would lead to its own rejection.
    
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The Universality of the Hypothetical Deductive Method

          The hypothetical deductive method will work regardless of what the world [universe] contains.  It will work in any [universe] that is not totally chaotic.  Of course, in a totally chaotic universe no method would work.  In conclusion, either the hypothetical deductive method, aka Scientific Method, will work, or no method at all will work.
          And, anticipating your, yes, this method will even work in many non-scientific fields including ethics, and even in quasi-sciences such as politics and economics.  For example, if morals are tested by the Scientific Method, society moves in the direction of greater satisfaction for its members, as experiments that prove preferable are retained, and experiments that do no are rejected and forgotten.
 
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Knowledge vs Belief         
[Credit: O'Hair, p16]
         
[Note:  Over the years, Dr Madalyn (Murray) O'Hair, the original founder of AMERICAN ATHEISTS circa 1960, and her son Jon Murray have lectured at hundreds of colleges and universities.  And, they have fielded thousands of audience questions following such lectures, and on their own TV programs.  Selected  Q&A sets follow.]
 

          Q: 
Okay, I understand that you are an Atheist.  Still, I have to ask this to make it clear for myself.  Is it true that you don't believe in God?

          Dr O'Hair:  Atheists do not "believe" in anything.  We do not believe in Geology.  That is a scientific discipline describing the physical features of the planet.  The planet, with its features, and the science which describes those features, exist apart our belief or non-belief of them.  [Editor's Note:  Just believing something doesn't necessarily make it so.]  Atheists do not "believe" in mathematics.  We accept the method, which is all mathematics is, a method.  Atheists do not "believe" in chemistry.  We accept interactions and interrelationships which we see demonstrated.  All of science is objective reality, demonstrable through reason and experiment

          Q: 
But, do you believe in yourself?

          Dr O'Hair:  Oh, come now!  We can demonstrate ourselves.  We are made of so much organic matter.  We have physical dimensions: weight, volume, density.  We know our brains are physical repositories for the experiences of life we have had, along with our genetic inheritances.  We accept that we ARE.

[Note:  It takes a modicum of self-discipline for the average Atheist or scientist to overcome the linguistic inertia of using "I believe" when he really means "I accept", or "I understand that...", or when the hypothesis is really formidable, "I know".]
 
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Knowledge vs the Christian "Holy" Bible    
[Credit: O'Hair, p30]
    
          Q: 
How do you think you got here?

          Dr O'Hair:  We don't know about you, but in the case of Atheists, we were born because our mothers and fathers fornicated.  Again, we admonish you that if you do not know how to put your questions, we shall correct you.  What you meant to ask, but did not know how to ask is the question:  "Whence was life derived?"  That has been answered over and over in laboratories all over the world.  Organic compounds are made of inorganic matter constantly.  Microbiology and Organic Chemistry will have all the answers you need.  Pick up a good textbook on either.

          Q: 
Where did the universe come from then?  Where did all the inorganic matter come from?  God made it.  God created the world.

          Dr O'Hair:  When we Atheists do not know the answer, we say so.  And, neither Atheists nor scientists know if the universe was created, nor how, if it was.  We don't even know what is meant by the word "universe".  That is beyond our knowledge at the present.  However, we shall find the answer.  Remember that once tuberculosis, or appendicitis, or the plagues were thought to be punishment of god for the sins of mankind.  We found that this was rubbish.
          At one time we did not know about molecules, or atoms, or neutrons, or miniscule parts and charges of the same.  We find out through systematic study of the problems with a scientific approach.  We shall find out what the universe is and everything else about it, but that will come from science, specifically from astronomy, from astrophysics, from space exploration...
          No knowledge is going to come from reading a number of short books written by some bare-assed, half-starved, protein-deficient, illiterate Jews wandering around in a desert in a nomadic tribe, hallucinating from the oppressive conditions and climate in which they tried to eke out a meager existence...
          You theists cover your ignorance with one word.  You say "god" did it.  Anything you do not understand, "god" did it.
          The Atheist says, let's tackle the problem here and find out what makes it tick.  Let's see what happened.  Let's see how we can solve the riddle.  The Atheist approach is not only more sophisticated, but more fruitful.
          If we had only you religious people finding answers, we still would not know how to light a match!
 
 

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  Copyright © 2011 Mike Titus.  All rights reserved.  .....  Thursday, 19 March 2015