Philosophy ... is a science, and as such has no articles of faith; accordingly, in it nothing can be assumed as existing except what is either positively given empirically, or demonstrated through indubitable conclusions.
Each religion makes scores of purportedly factual assertions about everything from the creation of the universe to the afterlife. But on what grounds can believers presume to know that these assertions are true? The reasons they give are various, but the ultimate justification for most religious people’s beliefs is a simple one: we believe what we believe because our holy scriptures say so. But how, then, do we know that our holy scriptures are factually accurate? Because the scriptures themselves say so. Theologians specialize in weaving elaborate webs of verbiage to avoid saying anything quite so bluntly, but this gem of circular reasoning really is the epistemological bottom line on which all 'faith' is grounded. In the words of Pope John Paul II: 'By the authority of his absolute transcendence, God who makes himself known is also the source of the credibility of what he reveals.' It goes without saying that this begs the question of whether the texts at issue really were authored or inspired by God, and on what grounds one knows this. 'Faith' is not in fact a rejection of reason, but simply a lazy acceptance of bad reasons. 'Faith' is the pseudo-justification that some people trot out when they want to make claims without the necessary evidence.But of course we never apply these lax standards of evidence to the claims made in the other fellow’s holy scriptures: when it comes to religions other than one’s own, religious people are as rational as everyone else. Only our own religion, whatever it may be, seems to merit some special dispensation from the general standards of evidence.And here, it seems to me, is the crux of the conflict between religion and science. Not the religious rejection of specific scientific theories (be it heliocentrism in the 17th century or evolutionary biology today); over time most religions do find some way to make peace with well-established science. Rather, the scientific worldview and the religious worldview come into conflict over a far more fundamental question: namely, what constitutes evidence.Science relies on publicly reproducible sense experience (that is, experiments and observations) combined with rational reflection on those empirical observations. Religious people acknowledge the validity of that method, but then claim to be in the possession of additional methods for obtaining reliable knowledge of factual matters — methods that go beyond the mere assessment of empirical evidence — such as intuition, revelation, or the reliance on sacred texts. But the trouble is this: What good reason do we have to believe that such methods work, in the sense of steering us systematically (even if not invariably) towards true beliefs rather than towards false ones? At least in the domains where we have been able to test these methods — astronomy, geology and history, for instance — they have not proven terribly reliable. Why should we expect them to work any better when we apply them to problems that are even more difficult, such as the fundamental nature of the universe?Last but not least, these non-empirical methods suffer from an insuperable logical problem: What should we do when different people’s intuitions or revelations conflict? How can we know which of the many purportedly sacred texts — whose assertions frequently contradict one another — are in fact sacred?
Thus, by science I mean, first of all, a worldview giving primacy to reason and observation and a methodology aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of the natural and social world. This methodology is characterized, above all else, by the critical spirit: namely, the commitment to the incessant testing of assertions through observations and/or experiments — the more stringent the tests, the better — and to revising or discarding those theories that fail the test. One corollary of the critical spirit is fallibilism: namely, the understanding that all our empirical knowledge is tentative, incomplete and open to revision in the light of new evidence or cogent new arguments (though, of course, the most well-established aspects of scientific knowledge are unlikely to be discarded entirely).. . . I stress that my use of the term 'science' is not limited to the natural sciences, but includes investigations aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of factual matters relating to any aspect of the world by using rational empirical methods analogous to those employed in the natural sciences. (Please note the limitation to questions of fact. I intentionally exclude from my purview questions of ethics, aesthetics, ultimate purpose, and so forth.) Thus, 'science' (as I use the term) is routinely practiced not only by physicists, chemists and biologists, but also by historians, detectives, plumbers and indeed all human beings in (some aspects of) our daily lives. (Of course, the fact that we all practice science from time to time does not mean that we all practice it equally well, or that we practice it equally well in all areas of our lives.)
Edison was by far the most successful and, probably, the last exponent of the purely empirical method of investigation. Everything he achieved was the result of persistent trials and experiments often performed at random but always attesting extraordinary vigor and resource. Starting from a few known elements, he would make their combinations and permutations, tabulate them and run through the whole list, completing test after test with incredible rapidity until he obtained a clue. His mind was dominated by one idea, to leave no stone unturned, to exhaust every possibility.
God loves atheists. The former ones make the most compelling theists because they're so empirically familiar with how atheists think.
Reasonableness is a matter of degree. Beliefs can be very reasonable (Japan exists), fairly reasonable (quarks exist), not unreasonable (there's intelligent life on other planets) or downright unreasonable (fairies exist).There's a scale of reasonableness, if you like, with very reasonable beliefs near the top and deeply unreasonable ones towards the bottom. Notice a belief can be very high up the scale, yet still be open to some doubt. And even when a belief is low down, we can still acknowledge the remote possibility it might be true.How reasonable is the belief that God exists? Atheists typically think it very unreasonable. Very low on the scale. But most religious people say it is at least not unreasonable (have you ever met a Christian who said 'Hey, belief in God is no more reasonable than belief in fairies, but I believe it anyway!'?) They think their belief is at least halfway up the scale of reasonableness.Now, that their belief is downright unreasonable might, in fact, be established empirically. If it turned out that not only is there no good evidence of an all-powerful, all-good God, there's also overwhelming evidence against (from millions of years of unimaginable and pointless animal suffering, including several mass extinctions - to thousands of children being crushed to death or buried alive in Pakistan earthquake, etc. etc. etc.) then it could be empirically confirmed that there's no God.Would this constitute a 'proof' that there's no God? Depends what you mean by 'proof'. Personally I think these sorts of consideration do establish beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no all-powerful all-good God. So we can, in this sense, prove there's no God.Yet all the people quoted in my last blog say you cannot 'scientifically' prove or disprove God's existence. If they mean prove beyond any doubt they are right. But then hardly anything is provable in that sense, not even the non-existence of fairies.
As many political writers have pointed out, commitment to political equality is not an empirical claim that people are clones.
With increasing distance, our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly. Eventually, we reach the dim boundary—the utmost limits of our telescopes. There, we measure shadows, and we search among ghostly errors of measurement for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. Not until the empirical resources are exhausted, need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.
I am a cuddly atheist... I am against creationism being taught in schools because there is empirical evidence that it is a silly notion... I am passionately concerned about the rise in pseudo-science; in beliefs in alternative medicine; in creationism. The idea that somehow it is based on logic, on rational arguments, but it's not. It doesn't stand up to empirical evidence.In the same way in medicine, alternative medicines like homeopathy or new age therapies – reiki healing – a lot of people buy into it and it grates against my rationalist view of the world. There is no evidence for it. It is deceitful. It is insidious. I feel passionately about living in a society with a rationalist view of the world.I will be vocal on issues where religion impacts on people's lives in a way that I don't agree with – if, for instance, in faith schools some of the teaching of religion suggests the children might have homophobic views or views that are intolerant towards other belief systems...I am totally against, for example, bishops in the House of Lords. Why should someone of a particular religious faith have some preferential treatment over anyone else? This notion that the Church of England is the official religion of the country is utterly outmoded now.
Although this was not a comforting point of view, he did not reject it, because it coincided with one of his basic beliefs: that a man must at all costs keep some part of himself outside and beyond life. If he should ever for an instant cease doubting, accept wholly the truth of what his senses conveyed to him, he would be dislodged from the solid ground to which he clung and swept along with the current, having lost all objective sense, totally involved with existence.
Empirical proof doesn't drive progress. Progress is driven by curiosity, something we all have built into us. Empirical proof is a safety net for those uncomfortable with the unknown.