September 30, 2022

Philisophical empiricism vs metaphysical solipsism

In my previous post, as in the one before that, I criticized faith, as I always do.  Someone always tries to rebut me, either by trying to say that faith isn’t really what it has always been consistently proven to be, or by projecting their greatest fault onto me by pretending that scientists are just as bad as believers; as if science is were a matter of faith too.  I call it a game of equivocation and projection. It’s an attempt to paint the illusion that science and religion are somehow comparable, even when everyone involved knows they are not. The game is usually played by a creationist pretending to be objective while projecting all of their own logical fallacies onto the science-minded, who of course do not share any of those flaws. Typically that game has the creationist telling some or all of the following lies:

* that evolution is a religion.
* that science relies on faith just like religion does.
* that science is biased just like religion is.
* that there is no evidence for evolution/big bang/abiogenesis, etc.
* that there is evidence for creation/the flood/God/etc.
* that religion is reasonable just like science is.
* that religion can be confirmed empirically and experimentally too.
* that creationism is scientific.

That’s what I usually get.  I should add that presuppositionalists like to accuse me of presuppositions too.  They’re shocked when I object, when I say that the specific things they accuse me of were all examined and considered rather than presupposed.  The worst of it is when I explain to some apologist how we know that the flood story, the tower of Babel, the Exodus, or the garden of Eden never really happened as described in their favorite folklore. We know those old tales are false because we can show that they are.  Likewise I can show how evolution is an inescapable fact of population genetics, fossils, and phylogeny.  The typical response to all of that is that we can’t really know if anything is true or false because we can’t really know anything, because we can’t even be sure if we even exist.

My impression of this sophistry is that their position is so weak that the only defense they have is to question reality itself, because the only way they can be right is if reality is wrong.  If we know anything at all, we know how faith is misleading.  So of course defenders of the faith insist that we can’t know anything at all. That’s the most annoying aspect of philosophy, and it’s the only application of it that I ever see.  Consequently, I have developed a near complete lack of interest in the subject.  So if I ever I talk about philosophy, I usually don’t make it any further than what is immediately relevant to my own empirical skepticism:

This time however, a self-described skeptic came to defense of faith, using the same arguments as apologists, trying to project his own presuppostions onto me.  Spencer Hawkins posted the following message to me on facebook:

When you say that believers hold unsupported convictions and you don’t, that is simply not true.

I told him that when I say that, it simply is true, and is even demonstrably correct, as I will show in the post; both because all my own convictions are certainly supported, or I wouldn’t hold them, and that by comparison, faith is an unsupported conviction even by the admission of believers.  I thought even philosophers agreed with me on this point, that there is a notion of what is real and true, and that faith doesn’t have that where apistevists do.

This example illustrates my point about gnosticism, asserting one’s beliefs as if they were the same thing as knowledge.  Knowledge is typically defined as justified belief, meaning that it can tested and demonstrated with measurable accuracy.  Religious beliefs obviously aren’t that way.  If you cannot demonstrate your accuracy to any degree at all by any means whatsoever, then it is a fact that you cannot actually know what you think you know.  Obviously this should be treated in accordance to Sagan’s comment on the scale of mundane to extraordinary claims.  This is why I say “if you can’t show it, you don’t know it”.  Hawkins says that I don’t understand what that means.  I asked Mr Hawkins how he came to this conclusion, but he just asserted another unwarranted assumption:

“You become a sitting duck for apologists by arguing as a logical positivist. When they attack you for it, they’re actually correct.”

What? As if there is anything inherently wrong with being identified by others as a logical positivist.  If that is applicable, it certainly isn’t a position that is vulnerable to apologists, I can tell you that with considerable experience!  Quite the opposite in fact, it’s about the most defensible position there is against religious dogmatism.  That’s probably why despite having these arguments continuously for decades, I have never been attacked for that by anyone; not until now.  I’ve never even been accused of that before.

Just for the sake of this conversation, I had to look up what logical positivism even is.  Now that I have, I’m think OK with that label, because it seems to fit for the most part, although I still consider myself more of a rationalist.  Despite Mr Hawkins’ insinuation, none of the references I checked gave any hint that logical positivism, or the associated empiricism or verificationism are in any way out-dated or discredited, nor that it “died” as he says it did.  In fact each source I saw implied quite the opposite specifically in the application of science.  Among the tenets of logical positivism/empiricism/verificationism are that knowledge must be justified, which I obviously agree with.  It also holds that there are some other aspects within philosophy which are essentially meaningless, particularly in metaphysics, and Mr Hawkins is now demonstrating that for me.

Hawkins (and like-minded apologists) say that I’m making philosophical assumptions which they also think I’m ignoring, among them that:

– induction is reliable
– a physical world exists
– other minds exist
– that your memory is reliable
– that your senses are reliable
– the concept of truth

None of these is an unsupported conviction!  I admit, I am convinced of these things.  I’ll even admit that I assume all of them at least to some degree.  I have to, because collectively the only option is literally insanity; but that assumption is certainly warranted in each case.  None of these notions can be proven by way of evidence, but only because the very question eliminates the possibility of evidence by conditional fiat. Otherwise there is evidence for each one individually, and even if there wasn’t, they’re all still supported by reason!

It’s not like there is any real possibility that the reality we perceive might only be a huge and hugely complicated eternally and intricately detailed and functionally consistent hallucination generated within our own imaginations -despite our utter insanity otherwise. The very concept is a contradiction of itself, and yes I know that the principle of non-contradiction is also supposed to be assumed in the same way.  This is what I hate about philosophy, navel-gazing metaphysics attempting to reduce reality into gibberish without any benefit that could possibly come from that.  As if there is any reason to seriously consider that that whole of reality only exists within your own mind, all except you, because you’re out of your mind; as if you’re the only thing that is out of your mind.  So it is a complete reversal of our only apparent reality with no point or purpose or potential truth to that postulation.  Such hard solipsism, rendering the meaning of meaning meaningless is as meaningless as anything ever could be.

Take the notion of truth.  Truth is typically defined as “that which is concordant with reality”.  That means that reality itself is not truth, but statements about reality can be, but only if they’re true.  So as I understand it, if we have to show that a statement is true before we can call it ‘truth’, then truth is whatever statement about reality can be shown to be true.  Mr Hawkins implies that nothing can be shown to be true, which makes his position absolutely pointless.  Even he has to agree that he thinks what he says is true and that he is trying to convince someone standing outside his own mind.  There are REASONS why he has to make this assumption, as I do.  He just doesn’t have any good reason to postulate such things or pursue the argument.

Spencer Hawkins as well as presuppositional apologists say that it is a circular argument, and thus fallacious to assume anything that is actually consistently and objectively apparent.  However, accurate information has practical application, and that is certainly born out in each of these instances. Science works through experimental hypotheses and functional models. They don’t have to be perfect, absolute, or proven either.   For example, we know that some models of the atom are flawed, each in their own respect; they’re not entirely realistic, but we still teach them because they’re accurate enough that they each work in specific applications where no other model does.  The same situation applies to the rejection of solipsism.

The reliability of our senses, induction, and especially memory should be suspect, and subject to objective confirmation or correction.  However that requires that we assume there are other minds out there; as if I might have imagined everyone else and the entirety of the cosmos along with them.  That assumption is NOT supported by reason, but my assumption certainly is. I merely assume that what is apparently real is apparently real; because how could I have conjured such a elaborate matrix if I have to take college classes so that other products of my imagination can explain to me things that I couldn’t understand otherwise?  The only other option appears to be a matrix-level conspiracy intended to fool us all.  This is not a supported assumption either, because it doesn’t comply with Occam’s Razor, but my assumption still is and does.

I tried to explain the complete irrelevance of his criticism, by pointing out that even you’re just a brain in a vat, or if all that you perceive as reality is really a construct of the matrix or a dream of Brahma, that reality is still your reality, and it imposes certain rules just as any real reality would.  Hawkins dismissed my explanation of his irrelevance as irrelevant, and repeated another of his “unsupported convictions”, that the future will be like the past.

This is exactly the same thing that presuppositional apologists do when they say, “How do you know the laws of physics won’t change five seconds from now?“.  Is there any reason to believe they will?  Or that they even could?  Despite being raised in an environment of gullible wanna-believers and critics of skepticism, I do not assume that “anything is possible” as so many other people readily do.  Sure the laws of physics MIGHT change, and it is just as likely that monkeys MIGHT fly out of my ass.  The latter has an equally insignificant probability, and there are several reasons why that is impossible.  In either case, it is not only beneath serious consideration, there is no reason to consider it.  I know this means something different to philosophers than it does to scientists, but if it is neither possible nor in any way indicated, then it isn’t logical to assume it either.

If we’re talking about philosophy, then my philosophy holds that we cannot even determine whether something is possible without some precedent or parallel indicating that possibility, or at least some occurrence of that particular phenomenon which can be confirmed but not yet explained.  I said to Mr Hawkins, So you’re saying that we should ignore all the evidence, where the past has always been consistent with the present, at all times, and just dismiss that evident probability for no damned reason? You say MY position is based on unsupported assumptions even when I show how it is supported. Yet you cannot show any indication that we should realistically consider any option as being more probable. You’re aware of Occam’s Razor, I’m sure. So how do you imagine you’re justified in this?  He didn’t answer that, and I don’t see how he could have without conceding an error in his criticism.

Many other people in that thread also tried to reason with him, with little or no success. Some even said that he actually agrees with me, but that he doesn’t realize it because he doesn’t understand what I actually said or meant.  That’s what I think too.  He should have asked for clarification, like I do.

It was then that Hawkins wrote his blog post.  There he imagines that I could have constantly debated against apologists for decades and even share a stage with philosophers like Boghossian and Dennett, and that I could still somehow be unaware of Dennett’s comments about philosophical baggage.  My friend, Matt Dillahunty is a big David Hume fan too, and we’ve talked about all that, only he has a different and shorter list of things we must assume because that is the only assumption that works in any application. So even his list is supported by reason.

Hawkins assumes that I’m confused about things I hadn’t confused, and he thinks that I ‘conflate’ metaphysics with epistemology.  He has no reason to assume these things, and it is ironic that he doesn’t question his own assumptions while criticizing me when he assumes that I don’t question my assumptions either.  He also overtly conflated apistevism with logical positivism.  There is no justification for that either, but it shows that he doesn’t understand at least one of these concepts, and perhaps neither one.

He is correct about one thing though, that I treat physics like mathematics, but anyone who has taken physics understands that it is taught as a branch of calculus.  So I’m justified in that too.

Conclusion:  Spencer Hawkins’ criticism of what he thinks are my unsupported convictions, as well as my alleged philosophical confusions and misunderstandings is based on his own misunderstandings brought about by a series of his own false assumptions which he has failed to question himself.  He didn’t question me about them either.  So he couldn’t consider my perspective.  He just jumped to conclusion as if his own assumptions could never be wrong.

Edit: Ultimately, you still have the application of a scientific model wherein one hypothesis is supported while the other is not. Importantly, that option is also absolute. The assumption that reality is real has absolutely all of the real world application such that even solipsists are forced to make that assumption; while the alternative achieves absolutely nothing, and has a net probability of zero. There is only one possible conclusion, and it is definitely indicated: Reality is evidently real, and thus I have no unsupported convictions.

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