Class Warfare Blog

June 8, 2018

Other Ways of Knowing

In the on-going conflict between science and religion that either doesn’t exist (because the two are compatible) or shouldn’t exist (because the two are incompatible), science types, like me, are accused of scientism, the thrusting of science into areas of human discourse where it doesn’t belong and, more specifically, stepping on religion’s toes. How dare, the critics say, science tell us anything about morality or aesthetics or … religion?

There are, they say, “other ways of knowing” than science. With regard to religion, specifically. they mention: faith, dogma, scripture, personal experience, and revelation.

So, let’s look at this.

First, what we call science is what originally was called “natural philosophy,” which was a branch of philosophy, just like ethics, politics, epistemology, logic, metaphysics, and aesthetics. When the scientific method was devised to make studying the natural world more effective, many of the categories of nature (chemistry—the study of the transformations of substances, biology—the study of living organisms, etc.) came to be called sciences. But the employ of the scientific method did not really remove those studies from philosophy. The scientific method can be employed in all kinds of studies that no one would call “sciences.” For example, history, or economics, or sociology, auto repair, or well, you name it. The scientific method is a way to generate new knowledge and can be employed in a vast number of places, even ethics.

So, to say that science is overstepping its bounds is foolishness. If it can be employed successfully it will because it is the only method so far that has demonstrated the ablity to create new knowledge.

Now, on the flip side we have the “other ways of knowing.” In turn:

Faith What is faith but an expression of belief. Both faith and belief are expressions of “knowing” things that are not generally accepted as being true by having evidence. So, where did this “faith” or “belief” come from? Who explained what it is that is to be an object of faith? Can that person be trusted? Are you sure they are not mistaken? How would you tell? This is not a way of knowing, it is a claim of knowing something that is not in evidence. Faith is not a way of knowing so much as it is a claim of knowing. It is an answer to the question “How do you know that?” “What do you know?”

Dogma The dictionary definition of dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” Basically if a religion says you must believe something because it is true, but they do not attempt to prove the truth involved, that is dogma. Every church, and there are tens of thousands of them, has their own dogma. How can you tell which of them is indeed correct? Could none of them have been mistaken? How will you resolve contradictions between the various dogmas? In science there is no dogma, nor are there “authorities.” If you don’t accept something scientifically, you are free to examine all of the evidence and test it for yourself. The information/evidence is made public, along with the data and procedures used to acquire the data.

Scripture Scripture is just things written down. Most religions have some sort of scriptures. Most religions disagree with regard to the content of what was written down, so how does one tell whether their scriptures are real or true? Jewish scholars have now admitted that the first five books of their “book” are a fictional back story for their people. This is a form of wisdom literature as fairy tales used to be, that is precautionary tales as to what will happen to you “if …” simply told as if they had already happened as an implication that they could happen “again.”

It has been pointed out repeatedly that all of the books of the Bible have unknown authors who have unknown backgrounds. We not only don’t know who wrote those books, we don’t know why those books were written either. Without those “facts,” we therefore cannot tell whether the books were divinely inspired. Ask yourself, what are the signs in a writing that the writing was inspired by a god? If such signs exist, they could be highjacked by a gifted fiction writer to ends that we cannot necessarily perceive.

It is probably an act of desperation that many evangelical religion’s statements of faith indicate that their scriptures were true and correct in their original versions. (This is a dogma, by the way.) No one alive today has seen such an original document. The texts we have today were mostly created from translations of fragments of copies (of copies of copies …) that were centuries older than the dates they were claimed to be written. That most such fragments differ from one another proves that the copies have errors in them. So, how do we know what the errors are?

Personal Experience There are people who claim they have a personal relationship with a god, that they can feel “his presence.” I have talked with few people who make this claim but I would like to hear how they can tell what they claim they can tell from their feelings. I am willing to grant them their feelings, but not their interpretation. For example, many people can claim the feeling of “a powerful presence.” How is that interpreted as being male or female or is that just assumed? How can the feeling of “power” be interpreted? How do we know we are in the presence of, say, a powerful human? I suspect we read the clues of dress ($4000 suit, military uniform, etc.) and behavior (expecting orders to underlings to be obeyed instantly, etc.) or we know the identity of such a person ahead of time. So, if one is a believer ahead of time and feels a powerful presence when meditating or “praying,” the identification is assumed rather than established. No one seems to report a “feeling of power” associated with the words, “Hi, Bill, this is Yahweh.”

Revelation Revelations are second hand compared with personal experience. These come from people who claim “God told me … something or other.” The supposed apostle who helped create “Christianity the Religion” and who claimed he was an expert on Jesus, never met the man; he got all of his information through a great many revelations, or so he said. How can we tell whether these people are not deluded or liars? (Said apostle defended claims he was a liar in scripture!) There are many people who crave attention who make outlandish claims as to their education levels, job histories, friendships, and life experiences. Some of these charlatans are seeking political office or jobs and are often enough caught out in their lies that we all have heard stories to this effect. How can you tell who is and who is not telling the truth?

Also, in the entire history of revelation in your particular religion, has any objective knowledge been reported? Has a method to avoid the plague been told or how washing your hands leads to less disease or that there is a medicine in citrus fruit what will help prevent scurvy? Is this really a “way of knowing?” Do even the major prophets tell us anything we did not already know?

Back to Science Is there any form of increased knowledge that involves anything other than scientific enquiry? How about the other branches of philosophy? (My ethics teacher said that in 4000 years of ethical philosophy, we have not yet been able to define the phrase “is good.”) How about theology? How about apologetics?

In many of these religious and quasi-religious approaches the same people who tell us that “we cannot know the mind of god,” tell us exactly what their god was thinking and going when <fill in the blank here>. Clearly they are making that shit up.

The term “scientism,” is simply a pejorative. The people who write about it cannot even define it. It is an attempt to discredit science before it is applied to ideas they hold dear. Science is, indeed, a way of looking at things, but it won’t go away because of flabby arguments centered on the deliberate misuse of words like “faith.” Scientists do not have “faith” that the sun will show up in the morning sky, we have confidence that it will based upon thousands and thousands (millions really) of observations, in other words evidence. Religious faith is believing something based upon little or no evidence, scientific expectations are based upon pragmatic evidence, which is why science works and faith does not as “a way of knowing.”

So, the next time you hear or read the term “scientism,” or hear or read that someone “doesn’t have enough faith to believe in evolution,” you know you are in the presence of a purveyor of the Big Lie, someone who believes that there are mystical ways of “knowing” that we must acknowledge, even though they cannot show even the slightest reason for us to so believe.

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31 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on Nan's Notebook and commented:
    Steve has written what I consider an EXCELLENT post related to “scientism” — a word that is often flung around on some Christian blogs.

    So now you know …

    Liked by 3 people

    Comment by Nan — June 8, 2018 @ 2:59 pm | Reply

  2. Excellent post
    Just think if we had Sunday meetings that taught this sane logical approach to life and focused on the appreciation of our planet and it’s well being and treating others kindly and giving a helping hand when needed as opposed to the fire and brimstone, judgement and arrogance of religion.

    Liked by 5 people

    Comment by maryplumbago — June 8, 2018 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

    • My absolutely favorite statement from a televangelist is “God spoke to me last night, and he said…” which is the ultimate arrogance. If a friend of yours said that god had spoken to him, you’d back up a pace or two, wouldn’t you.

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by judyt54 — June 9, 2018 @ 6:12 am | Reply

  3. Nicely laid out, Steve.

    Science is a method employed by just about everyone, nearly everywhere, almost all the time except where a lack of evidence makes one too uncomfortable when holding fast to some belief and granting it a high level of confidence. The problem is clearly granting too high a confidence to this type of belief and not the method dependent on evidence that allows us to create knowledge about reality and everything it contains, a knowledge that is then used to practical purposes to create applications, therapies, and technologies that seem work for everyone everywhere all the time. So when the term ‘scientism’ is raised in defense of protecting an evidence-lacking belief from legitimate criticism and a l.,ow level of confidence in it, it’s tough to argue that, say, cell phone technology is an equivalent faith-based belief. So we know this line of faith-based defense that tries (and fails) to create a false equivalency between the confidence held for faith claims without evidence and for knowledge claims that work when applied is unquestionably specious.

    Liked by 6 people

    Comment by tildeb — June 8, 2018 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

  4. Great piece. Scientism could be a word to describe how we learn not to put your finger in a light socket.

    Liked by 5 people

    Comment by nationofnope — June 8, 2018 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  5. Our good friend, Pastor Mel Wild, likes to use the word “scientism” as a slur. It’s always baffled me as he seems to be proclaiming that it is bad to make the world intelligible. As I said to him once (or someone on his blog):

    Oh go ahead, use the word as a slur if you *think* it is some sort of smear.

    Just for future reference, if you’re trying to use a particular word as a smear—designed to bully and hurt another person—then you should probably first make sure that word is not actually viewed positively by the person you’re trying to bully and hurt.

    Liked by 4 people

    Comment by john zande — June 8, 2018 @ 6:02 pm | Reply

    • That’s because it is a slur, was intended as a slur, and is always used as a slur. Maybe we should respond by using the term “religionism/religionist?”

      On Fri, Jun 8, 2018 at 6:02 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Liked by 3 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 8:19 am | Reply

      • But I don’t take it as a slur.

        Liked by 2 people

        Comment by john zande — June 9, 2018 @ 8:51 am | Reply

        • Ah, stout fellow, a “sticks and stones may break my bones …” lad! Good on you, mate!

          On Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 8:51 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

          >

          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 8:57 am | Reply

      • We should be using the term “the big lie” in place of religion and Christianity.

        Liked by 1 person

        Comment by sklyjd — June 9, 2018 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

  6. “There are, they say, “other ways of knowing” than science. With regard to religion, specifically. they mention: faith, dogma, scripture, personal experience, and revelation.”

    Except for ‘scripture’, science also utilizes these other ways of knowing.

    Like

    Comment by John Branyan — June 8, 2018 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

    • Nope. Personal experience accounts for nothing and if a scientist wrote a paper reporting on new knowledge they claim to have gotten from revelation, they would be laughed off of the planet. None of these things are used by scientists, you are misinformed.

      Liked by 3 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 8, 2018 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

      • A scientist writing a paper would be revealing his experiences. Our senses and reasoning abilities are personal experiences. Scientists have faith in these abilities to reveal truth.
        I am not misinformed.

        Like

        Comment by John Branyan — June 8, 2018 @ 9:38 pm | Reply

        • You are indeed misinformed BrainYawn. You do not understand (and likely never will) the stark difference between the definition of “faith” and the scientific meaning of “to be determined.” It’s as simple as that. Period. End of discussion.

          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Professor Taboo — June 8, 2018 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

          • Thanks, Professor. Should I take your statement as dogma, revelation or scripture?

            Like

            Comment by John Branyan — June 9, 2018 @ 8:09 am | Reply

          • @ Prof.
            Oh, he understands perfectly. He simply takes this perverse delight in continually demonstrating just how much a colossal arse-hat he is, as if thee are really any normal people who doubt this fact any more.
            His drivel is not even clever enough to be called disingenuous.

            It really does beggar belief.

            Liked by 3 people

            Comment by Arkenaten — June 9, 2018 @ 8:56 am | Reply

        • You *are *misinformed. Our personal experiences are so labeled because we are the only ones who can feel them. Science is not based upon such experiences, unless they can be shared. For example, we used to measure temperature by touch, but when we developed thermometers, we stopped using touch to measure temperature because of the difficulty sharing the information learned that way. Scientists do not have *faith *in this method, what we have is *confidence based upon experience*. Science is not perfect, it cannot “prove” anything but it is pragmatic and its results can be depended upon with a high degree of confidence.

          Yes, I am a scientist. (I’m rational and I’m proud, huh! … Thank you James Brown for that riff.)

          On Fri, Jun 8, 2018 at 9:38 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

          >

          Liked by 1 person

          Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 8:25 am | Reply

          • “Our personal experiences are so labeled because we are the only ones who can feel them.”
            I’m using the term ‘personal experience’ in a broader sense than just ‘feelings’. Conducting a scientific experiment is a personal experience that, to use your term, can be “shared”.

            “Scientists do not have *faith *in this method, what we have is *confidence based upon experience*.”
            Okay. But for the record, typing “faith” is more efficient than “confidence based upon experience”. I know you define “faith” as “belief without evidence” but that’s not how most people use the word.

            Like

            Comment by John Branyan — June 9, 2018 @ 8:46 am | Reply

            • Yes, you *are *mixing religious faith, by definition “belief in things unseen” with the use of the word faith in common speech. This is disingenuous or mistaken. I am not mixing the two uses of the word faith, you are.

              On Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 8:46 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

              >

              Liked by 1 person

              Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 8:50 am | Reply

              • “Belief in things unseen” is not the same as “belief in things without evidence”. As a scientist, you believe in many things that are unseen. Right?

                Like

                Comment by John Branyan — June 9, 2018 @ 9:40 am | Reply

                • You apparently thrive on a particular kind of attention as do I but of a different kind.

                  At this point is see no point in continuing so “I acknowledge that you have a different opinion.” There, I am done. (I suspect you are not.)

                  On Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 9:40 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

                  >

                  Liked by 1 person

                  Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 9:48 am | Reply

  7. Steve,

    An outstanding blog-post and contrast of incompatible methodologies. Once more scientific domains continue to be more expanded, more understood, like psychology and neurology (coupled with genetics), there will be a marked further decline in the supernatural or “faith.” The word will be completely redefined by 2100. HAH, maybe even entered into the DSM-5 as one of the specific Delusional Personality Disorders under Mild or Negative Schizophrenia. MUCH of the “revelations” from a/their God are categorized as degrees of hallucinations, especially when dealing with the “supernatural” can and currently do fall into vague categories of psych disorders. One popular or trendy designation is “denial” with forms of delusion. What religious or theistic fundamentalists don’t realize (denial) is that they are toying with, playing with, claiming to interact with invisible, supernatural, unproveable entities! That most definitely approaches psych DSM-5 diagnoses, if not at least symptoms.

    Science, rationality, continuing updated cumulative methodology, and qualified expert peer-review (the wider & larger the better!)… will always win out over “faith” in goal-post-moving supernatural.

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by Professor Taboo — June 8, 2018 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

  8. Well said, I have been accused by Mel and other purveyors of “the Big Lie” of being a of the scientism ideology. I love that phrase “the Big Lie” and that should be a catch phrase used by atheists more often to explain all religions.

    The facts of life supported from what is indisputable scientific evidence and the backing of top scientists and many years of progress is a prime target the theists often attack with nothing but pathetic childish arrogance. They try to degrade the truth through creating an opposing ideology such as the one we all know well, the good old “religion of atheism” to somehow suggest we are just as nutty as they are, and sometimes they use what are genuine words such as “Darwinism” or “evolutionist “ and it is often about “evolving from monkeys” all claimed in a contemptive fashion, believing they are portraying evolution as an impossibility or even a cult following Darwin or Dawkins who they claim are idolised as high priests.

    The blatant contempt many theists show towards science and scientists who are of the highest IQ group on our planet is very sad. The untold billions of dollars and time spent on research and technology to then have a pack of faith spouting fanatics come along dismissing science as lies while waving their bibles in our faces quoting an ancient 3000-year-old text written by sandal clad goat herders as scientific truth while blogging this rubbish on their high-tech computers and smart phones is the most hypocritical act ever conceived.

    Liked by 3 people

    Comment by sklyjd — June 8, 2018 @ 11:23 pm | Reply

  9. Nicely done, Steve. Thank you for this.

    Like

    Comment by judyt54 — June 9, 2018 @ 6:14 am | Reply

  10. Those that throw the word scientism about as a pejorative do so solely because they have no evidence to support any of their faith based claims.
    Thus it is far easier to fling this crap that be even marginalia honest.

    If there is such a thing as a ”genuine” Christian people like Branyan are enough to make them wonder if stoning could be reintroduced, but only for abject stupidity, the kind he demonstrates.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Arkenaten — June 9, 2018 @ 9:01 am | Reply

  11. Belief is one of those slippery-eel type words that can encompass a great many things, from Santa to speculation (“I believe I smell apple pie baking”) to a definite maybe (“I believe that table is pine, but I may be wrong”) which gets you out of a possible embarrassing situation. Belief in Sky Gods is a bit more tricky. As long as everyone else in your circle believes the same way, you can sort of build a wall around it. Point to the other folks and say, “See? They believe too. It MUST be so.”

    It’s hard to believe in a deity by yourself: witness poor Om, in “Small Gods”. Without believers, gods wither.

    The one truth about the “meaning of life” is the one no one likes to think about because it “lowers” us to the level of mere animals. We, and every other creature on this earth, have one purpose, when you pare it right down to basics: procreation. Our entire life history involves getting ready for it, accomplishing it, and eventually dying. What we do with the bits in between is up to us. But the main business of all of us is babies, to keep the species moving forward. It has nothing to do with religion, or belief, or prayers. =)

    Liked by 2 people

    Comment by judyt54 — June 9, 2018 @ 11:14 am | Reply

  12. science types, like me, are accused of scientism, the thrusting of science into areas of human discourse where it doesn’t belong and, more specifically, stepping on religion’s toes. How dare, the critics say, science tell us anything about morality or aesthetics or … religion?

    There are, they say, “other ways of knowing” than science.

    Well, the problem with the statement is that there are “other ways of knowing.” Or the way I would tweak that statement is that there are different methods that must be applied to different fields because they’re different types of knowledge. I realize the thrust of your post is about religion versus science, but in so far as history, literary studies, etc. are different fields from traditional sciences, they have their own reasonable and valid methods of making sense of the “data.” I think you’re correct that science can tell us things about morality and aesthetics and history, but the point is the scientific method can’t always address easily everything those fields attempt to study.

    In other words, I do think there are some differences in the scientific method versus the historical method. There are differences in using the scientific method to understand the natural world and using close-reading of a literary text to understand the meaning of a poem and how its constituent parts produce that meaning. Yet there are definitely aspects of those fields that can be studied using the scientific method.

    Like

    Comment by consoledreader — June 9, 2018 @ 12:39 pm | Reply

    • The basic tools of scientific thinking apply to almost all endeavors, in part at least. Think about all of the biblical archaeologists rushing to the “holy land” in the early 1900s to prove the truth of the Bible. This is the antithesis of science: assuming something is true and then go looking for proof. I have no idea how far scientific approaches can get in areas like art or music that strive to make emotional impacts, but I do know that they way to find out is simply to try. The limitations are mostly in whether anyone is interested enough to take a look-see. Fencing off topics as “Do Not Look Here” makes no sense to me whatsoever.

      Liked by 2 people

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

      • I’m not quite saying one shouldn’t apply the scientific method to other non-tradtional fields. I think there is a lot of value in doing so, in fact.

        For example, there is a sub-area in literary studies that applies the scientific method to studies of artistic fields (literature, film, etc.). Typically what these studies do is study the affects literature has on people or a particular technique has on participants. Examples might be: how reading fiction versus nonfiction affects empathy or even how readers perceive literary quality between genres. Link

        However, I don’t see any of this as a replacement for tradtional close-reading methods. It’s a good supplement.

        Like

        Comment by consoledreader — June 9, 2018 @ 1:07 pm | Reply

        • I agree. You can see how some of this has played out in the higher criticism in the Bible. Simply identifying all of the terms used in which fragments of the manuscripts on hand has lead to better analyses of the meanings involved. Word frequencies and phrase usages all help us interpret writings better. But in studying James Joyce, there is no problem of identifying the author or his time periods or really anything, so a scholarly close reading of his works is the best place to start in understanding his work.

          This is merely rational.

          Oh, and I didn’t get from what you wrote that you were against applying science where it might bear fruit at all. If I implied that I was mistaken.

          On Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 1:07 PM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

          >

          Like

          Comment by Steve Ruis — June 9, 2018 @ 1:15 pm | Reply


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