Neillology Debates: Is Science the Only Way to Know Truth?

Gary (Atheist): Like it or not, western industrialized cultures have adopted the Scientific Method as the gold standard for universally accepted truth claims. This decision was made because the Scientific Method has proven to be the most reliable method for evaluating how our universe operates. Western industrialized nations selected the Scientific Method over and above divine revelation and the proclamations of ancient holy texts for the simple reason that the Scientific Method has proven more reliable than these ancient methods of divining universal truths.

So I am not claiming that the Scientific Method IS the sole source of truth. I cannot prove this. I can only demonstrate the reliability of the Scientific Method compared to all other methods of determining universal truths (crystal balls, tarot cards, prayer, holy texts). I am only claiming that for most modern, educated, people, universal truth claims must be backed up by evidence which can be evaluated by the Scientific Method (except when it comes to their particular religion). All other claims are personal preferences, subjective personal experiences, and wishful thinking (faith).

I suggest that religious people such as yourself adopt the same standard for your religious beliefs which you proclaim/preach to be universal truths applicable to all people.

Taylor (Neillologist): Is the below truth claim just a personal preference, subjective personal experience or wishful thinking? Is it accessible to the scientific method? If so, how? If not, why should we believe it according to your standard?

“I am only claiming that for most modern, educated, people, universal truth claims must be backed up by evidence which can be evaluated by the Scientific Method (except when it comes to their particular religion). All other claims are personal preferences, subjective personal experiences, and wishful thinking (faith).”

This is, I think, a confused epistemology.

Gary (atheist): It is the epistemology of science, medicine, engineering, and every modern industrialized nation on the planet. Bottom line: It works. I do not need to justify it to satisfy your superstition-dominated mind.

Taylor (Neillologist):That’s a “no”, then?

So I ask again – By your standard of credibility for a universal truth claim, why should I believe the statement that all universal truth claims must be scientifically verifiable?

I think there’s a fundamental misunderstanding here. I’m not saying science is not useful in the pursuit of truth – indeed it is.

But the claim that ‘science is the only reliable way to discover truth’ is logically fallacious.

Gary (atheist): That is not what I said. I said, “Science is the most reliable method of determining universal truth claims discovered by human beings to this point in human history.”

Big difference.

I am not urging you to use the Scientific Method (and to abandon crystal balls, tarot cards, prayer, and ancient holy texts) because I have evidence that the Scientific Method is the ONLY reliable method to discover truth, but because I have massive evidence that it is the most reliable method by far.

Taylor (Neillologist): Gary, you’re missing my point…

“the Scientific Method is the ONLY reliable method to discover truth”

This truth itself is not scientific… So how do you know it’s reliable?

Commenter: Taylor,
Though there is an extent to which Gary is not clearly responding to your specific point, there is also a sense in which you appear to have missed his attempt to clarify. When he said “I can only demonstrate the reliability of the Scientific Method compared to all other methods” he was offering a way to use “science” (loosely understood as empirical observation with scrutiny) to validate his claim. To clarify, consider an experiment where we collect thousands of truth claims that originate from a variety of methods of obtaining knowledge, and we then then assess the reliability of those claims. The contention is that claims based on science will prove more reliable.

But your point ultimately shows that even this doesn’t solve the matter because the method of assessing reliability needs to itself be reliable, which puts us into a position of either simply asserting the reliability of our assessment method, or an infinite regress of experiments as described above. This is why I tend to align myself with pragmatism and coherentism, where we assume the reliability of our faculties for learning about reality and then put them to the test to see how that assumption holds up (the coherentism part means we’re looking for the assumption and subsequent review to hang together, rather than just resting on the assumption entirely, as a foundationalist would). That brings us to the place where Gary is starting from, and after putting this pragmatic starting point in place I think it is a valid observation to note that science turns out to be the most reliable methodology for establishing truth claims.

Taylor (Neillologist): Travis, thanks for your input.

I do understand what Gary (and now you) are trying to establish. And, indeed, I agree that science is very useful in helping us discover the nature of reality. But of course science is not diminished by understanding the role of logic and philosophy which are presupposed by science!

Re: Coherentism – this is what I would describe as ‘philosophical consistency’ and you’ll notice that it is one of the “first principles” of this blog.

I think where we may part ways is on pragmatism. Obviously, the approach has significant practical application (as the name implies), but I think many with this view have ultimately said “if it works, then it must be true”. I don’t think this is a fail-safe way to determine what is true.

For instance, we’re pragmatic to assume that we’re not in the Matrix, but it does not follow that “therefore, we are not in the Matrix”. Or if you like, we’re pragmatic to assume that we have free will, but it does not follow that we do have free will. In fact, many biologists conclude that we are actually not free but are determined by our biology and surroundings. I think this too is a self-defeating ideology (how could you know you’re not free if your belief that you’re not free was predetermined?), but this can not be logically deduced from pragmatism.

So it is an effective, but flawed epistemology in my view.

Commenter: Pragmatism allows that truth is provisional. The alternatives are radical skepticism (we can never absolutely prove anything), which may be accurate but isn’t useful, or the unwavering adherence to some unjustified paradigm. If you allow that the paradigm can be updated based on new knowledge and experience, then that’s actually pragmatism. In my opinion, the fact that we can look back and see that our previous truth claim was actually in error is a virtue, not a vice.

Taylor (Neillologist): So is pragmatism only provisionally true?

Commenter: Yep. Judging the truth of pragmatism itself from within the pragmatic framework is circular (How do you know it’s true? Because it works) but I don’t see why that is inferior to any other epistemological bedrock. At least it works 

5 Comments

  1. Taylor,
    Though there is an extent to which Gary is not clearly responding to your specific point, there is also a sense in which you appear to have missed his attempt to clarify. When he said “I can only demonstrate the reliability of the Scientific Method compared to all other methods” he was offering a way to use “science” (loosely understood as empirical observation with scrutiny) to validate his claim. To clarify, consider an experiment where we collect thousands of truth claims that originate from a variety of methods of obtaining knowledge, and we then then assess the reliability of those claims. The contention is that claims based on science will prove more reliable.

    But your point ultimately shows that even this doesn’t solve the matter because the method of assessing reliability needs to itself be reliable, which puts us into a position of either simply asserting the reliability of our assessment method, or an infinite regress of experiments as described above. This is why I tend to align myself with pragmatism and coherentism, where we assume the reliability of our faculties for learning about reality and then put them to the test to see how that assumption holds up (the coherentism part means we’re looking for the assumption and subsequent review to hang together, rather than just resting on the assumption entirely, as a foundationalist would). That brings us to the place where Gary is starting from, and after putting this pragmatic starting point in place I think it is a valid observation to note that science turns out to be the most reliable methodology for establishing truth claims.

    Like

    1. Travis, thanks for your input.

      I do understand what Gary (and now you) are trying to establish. And, indeed, I agree that science is very useful in helping us discover the nature of reality. But of course science is not diminished by understanding the role of logic and philosophy which are presupposed by science!

      Re: Coherentism – this is what I would describe as ‘philosophical consistency’ and you’ll notice that it is one of the “first principles” of this blog.

      I think where we may part ways is on pragmatism. Obviously, the approach has significant practical application (as the name implies), but I think many with this view have ultimately said “if it works, then it must be true”. I don’t think this is a fail-safe way to determine what is true.

      For instance, we’re pragmatic to assume that we’re not in the Matrix, but it does not follow that “therefore, we are not in the Matrix”. Or if you like, we’re pragmatic to assume that we have free will, but it does not follow that we do have free will. In fact, many biologists conclude that we are actually not free but are determined by our biology and surroundings. I think this too is a self-defeating ideology (how could you know you’re not free if your belief that you’re not free was predetermined?), but this can not be logically deduced from pragmatism.

      So it is an effective, but flawed epistemology in my view.

      Like

  2. Pragmatism allows that truth is provisional. The alternatives are radical skepticism (we can never absolutely prove anything), which may be accurate but isn’t useful, or the unwavering adherence to some unjustified paradigm. If you allow that the paradigm can be updated based on new knowledge and experience, then that’s actually pragmatism. In my opinion, the fact that we can look back and see that our previous truth claim was actually in error is a virtue, not a vice.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep. Judging the truth of pragmatism itself from within the pragmatic framework is circular (How do you know it’s true? Because it works) but I don’t see why that is inferior to any other epistemological bedrock. At least it works 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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