Posts Tagged ‘ Epistemology ’

Guest post: How inferential science works and why it matters

Apr 26th, 2016 11:25 am | By

Guest post by James Garnett.

How inferential science works, episode one: the null hypothesis.

Ever wonder what things like medical studies are actually showing, and why they are sometimes (often?) disproved?

Inferential studies attempt to demonstrate a correlation between two things, generally speaking. That correlation is stated in a way that can be tested, through what is called a null hypothesis. Think of it as the default assumption. For example, in simple (aka not rigorous) terms: “the amount of cholesterol in the food that a person consumes is correlated to the amount of cholesterol present in their blood”. A statement of that nature can be tested, and disproved.

But null hypotheses cannot be proved. There are simply … Read the rest

The entirely parochial judgment of Stanley Fish

Apr 1st, 2012 11:50 am | By

Stanley Fish is doing his Brendan O’Neill act. There is no view from nowhere, therefore no claim is better founded than any other claim, it’s all just likes and dislikes.

 [D]espite invocations of fairness and equality and giving every voice a chance, classical liberals, like any other ideologues  (and ideologues we all are),  divide the world into “us” and “them.”  It’s just that rather than “us” being Christians and “them” Jews or vice-versa, “us” are those who subscribe to the tenets of materialist scientific inquiry and “them” are those who don’t, those who, in the entirely parochial judgment of liberal rationalists,  subscribe to nonsense and superstition.

“Entirely parochial” is it. So it’s entirely parochial to prefer evidence-based engineering to … Read the rest

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Bifurcated epistemology is doing it wrong

Mar 25th, 2012 3:18 pm | By

PZ is doing another talk tomorrow, at the American Atheists National Convention. Subject: “Scientists! If you aren’t an atheist, you’re doing it wrong!” Regular commenter (here as well as there) julian disagreed.


I’d say if a philosopher’s not an atheist they’re doing it wrong but a scientist can be whatevs so long as they’re sufficiently ignorant of things outside their area of expertise.

I disagreed with that.

How is that not doing it wrong? How is believing something that is dependent on being sufficiently ignorant of things outside their area of expertise not doing it wrong?

I see how it’s technically possible, of course, and how it can be made to “work” in a narrow, vocational sense,

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What Ehrman actually says

Mar 22nd, 2012 8:48 am | By

Richard Carrier takes a look at Bart Ehrman’s article at the Huffington Post on the did-Jesus-exist question. One point Richard makes jumped out at me, because the same thing jumped out at me in Ehrman’s book.

Mistake #2: Ehrman actually says (and I can’t believe it, but these are his exact words):

With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure

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Reducing the influence of religion in the world

Mar 18th, 2012 4:54 pm | By

Victor Stenger’s talk on the panel at Moving Secularism Forward is at the Huffington Post, and I think it’s clear that he doesn’t think religious belief should be “eradicated” by sword and fire, but rather that it should be undermined and diminished over time by better ways of getting at the truth.

Scientists have to help the rest of the secular community to work toward reducing the influence of religion to the point where it has negligible effect on society. I don’t believe this is impossible. Astrology and the reading of sheep entrails are no longer used to decide on courses of events, such as going to war. Why can’t we expect the same for the imagined dialogues with

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Belief as pickpocket

Mar 18th, 2012 11:27 am | By

I’m amicably disagreeing with Ron Lindsay at his CFI blog, where he is amicably disagreeing with Vic Stenger and PZ Myers about something both of them said at the Sunday morning panel in Orlando two weeks ago. (I was on the same panel.)

Both Stenger and Myers made various recommendations about objectives on which secularists should concentrate, but they both agreed on one point: they both asserted we should aim to eliminate or eradicate religious belief…

As I have argued at greater length elsewhere, our primary objective as secularists should be to bring about a secular society, that is, one in which public policy is free of religious influence and discussions and decisions about public policy are based entirely

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What is belief

Feb 28th, 2012 7:19 am | By

A stack of interesting comments on the thread about getting it; about whether or not it took; about the feeling of belief. It’s interesting that they all converge, those by people like me who as far as they can tell never got it, and those by people who did get it at some point but then dropped it or flung it away. They all converge on how elusive and rare it is. Of course this isn’t a random sample, to put it mildly, and people who currently get it would produce very different comments. But the idea that this thing is elusive is interesting all the same.

It’s caused me to think that we mostly (we current non-believers) don’t … Read the rest

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More than one valence

Feb 14th, 2012 11:16 am | By

Something I’m ambivalent about:

On the one hand, there’s the value of being reasonable, and trying to see all sides of a question. There’s the value of not getting things wrong by being too one-sided; by confirmation bias; by seeing everything the way you see everything and so becoming blind to other ways of seeing everything. That’s different from the more political value of giving everybody a fair hearing, and letting people pursue the good in their own way as far as is compatible with the rights of others. The value I mean is epistemic and cognitive.

On the other hand there’s the value of countering a very loud, dominant, hegemonic, majoritarian, conformist brand of conventional wisdom.

Those two things … Read the rest

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Second-guessing subjective experiences

Jan 29th, 2012 12:12 pm | By

Mark Vernon wrote a response to Julian’s Heathen’s Progress series. It’s got to do with the fact that cognition is embodied, which Vernon somehow takes to mean that subjective convictions are trustworthy, or something along those lines.

…the modern sceptic is suspicious of subjective convictions. They fixate on the many ways in which individuals can be self-deluded, and forget that they can also be wonderfully discerning. They miss truths that can only be known by acquaintance, which is to say, by letting them in.

Alternatively, the modern atheist may admit that going to church can be tremendous and saying prayers valuable to cultivate thanks. But they will ensure that these activities remain contained – quarantined, you might say –

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The uses of commitment

Jan 8th, 2012 3:24 pm | By

As I was saying… in free inquiry one doesn’t want taboos, to put it mildly. In political commitments, however, one does (in a sense).

What sense? Maybe the most basic one, the one you learn slowly as a child: that other people have minds too, and they are different from yours, and you can’t treat them just any old how.

Or maybe Google’s is a better version: don’t be evil. Or that of the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. Or the first clause of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace

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BioLogos snares an MIT physicist

Dec 9th, 2011 9:59 am | By

Via Sigmund at WEIT, an MIT physicist offers part 1 of a series on “scientism.” Yes really, an MIT physicist. I know, I know.

He (Ian Hutchinson) gives the gist in the first para.

One of the most visible conflicts in current culture is between  “scientism” and religion. Because religious knowledge differs from scientific knowledge, scientism claims (or at least assumes) that it must therefore be inferior. However, there are many other important beliefs, secular as well as religious, which are justified and rational, but not scientific, and therefore marginalized by scientism. And if that is so, then scientism is a ghastly intellectual mistake.

Notice that he carefully leaves out the “true” in “justified true beliefs” – the standard … Read the rest

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Stiff resistance

Dec 8th, 2011 2:53 pm | By

This is just terribly sad – Jerry Coyne gave a lecture on evolution at a public school and a lot of the students were simply “offended” in their religious beliefs.

I am dispirited. I’ve just returned from a two-hour lecture and Q&A session at the Woodlawn Charter School, a public school run by the University of Chicago on the South Side of the city.  Some of the high-school biology students are reading Why Evolution is True, and I gave a presentation on the evidence for evolution—with a tiny bit about why religion prevents Americans from accepting evolution, for I was asked to mention that topic—followed by an hour of questions.

Some of the questions were good, and some of

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Thinking about thinking about thinking

Nov 23rd, 2011 11:18 am | By

More discussion of facts and belief, of Ward and Coyne, of science and philosophy, of evidence and reasons to believe. Jean Kazez did a post a couple of days ago, which I didn’t see until today, and Russell Blackford did one at Talking Philosophy.

I find Jean’s post very interesting because it talks about the same things I talked about in Ward’s brief Comment is Free piece replying to Julian Baggini. Ward’s piece might seem too slight to bear all this examination, but it’s about the place where some fundamental and important disagreements are born, so it’s worth all the close peering.

One interesting item:

So what’s left is Coyne’s puzzlement that atheist philosophers come to the

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Facts and belief

Nov 18th, 2011 11:50 am | By

Keith Ward wrote a short piece for Comment is Free, a couple of weeks ago, saying something about religion and science and claims and facts. (I put it loosely that way because Ward oscillates between terms a lot, so it’s not easy to specify exactly what he’s claiming. The title of the piece is “Religion answers the factual questions science neglects,” which is an ok summary, but it’s not necessarily written by Ward.) Ward’s piece was in response to Julian Baggini’s piece on whether science and religion are compatible.

Jerry Coyne wrote a piece responding to Ward’s. Jim Houston wrote a piece at Talking Philosophy responding to Coyne’s, with a response directly from Ward.

All straight? … Read the rest

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All of empirical inference

Oct 30th, 2011 5:09 pm | By

There’s another entry for the What to call it problem. It comes from a comment by Richard Wein on Dan’s post replying to Dr Coyne.

Much of the confusion over “science” and “scientism” arises from the tendency of some New Atheists (including Coyne) to stretch the word “science” to mean all of empirical inference. I think this stretching is based on a correct realisation that all of empirical inference lies on a continuum, with no clear lines of demarcation between formal science, philosophy, history, everyday inference, etc.

That’s exactly what I was talking about.

We need a better word for “good, secular thinking” that includes science but is not limited to it. We need a word that encompasses law,

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The not just making it up community

Oct 25th, 2011 2:59 pm | By

That thing about drawing the boundaries in a different place, again.

Julian drew them as:

  1. science
  2. everything else, especially the humanities and looking at a painting

I want to draw them as:

  1. science and all other kinds of inquiry that are constrained by reality
  2. storytelling
  3. the arts, aesthetic experience, appreciation

I think we both put religion in a separate category, and both think it overlaps with the arts, storytelling and the like. I think we both think it’s in conflict with our respective 1s, but I think Julian muddled the issue by not including all other kinds of inquiry that are constrained by reality in his 1.

I think it’s good to emphasize the fact that many kinds of inquiry … Read the rest

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