Presuppositions of Science

Given recent posts here at TSZ challenging the validity of presuppositions and self-evident truths I thought the following list might be worthy of debate.

Presuppositions of Science

1. The existence of a theory-independent, external world
2. The orderly nature of the external world
3. The knowability of the external world
4. The existence of truth
5. The laws of logic
6. The reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified true beliefs in our intellectual environment
7. The adequacy of language to describe the world
8. The existence of values used in science
9. The uniformity of nature and induction
10. The existence of numbers

When critics object to the Logos as a presupposition and offer instead 10 other presuppositions, Ockham’s Razor flies out the window.

788 thoughts on “Presuppositions of Science

  1. keiths: Regarding God’s failure to intervene while a dog ate a living baby’s head..:

    The dog’s act was not evil, but God’s failure to act was evil?

  2. Alan Fox said:

    The claim that prayer produces no discernible difference in outcomes is testable.

    No, it’s not, at least in any practical sense. What can be tested is only if there are statistically significant outcomes. That doesn’t mean that prayer has no effect. If by “discernible’ you mean “indicated as statistically significant in tests”, you’re simply restating EL’s error.

    If we test all sorts of faith healing attempts, and one such pairing of faith healer to cancer patient in 1000 trials “resulted” in a complete remission, would that demonstrate that the faith healing cured the cancer patient? No. If cancer patients untreated by medicine or faith had complete remissions at the rate of 1 per 1000, would that mean that the faith healing did not cure the cancer patient? No.

    Statistically insignificant outcomes are not the same thing as proving that a thing is never effective.

    “The power of prayer” invariably fails such tests. That prayer is ineffective in changing anything about the real world is a claim supported by evidence – not an assumption.

    Again, those tests are statistical in nature. You cannot tell if prayer is ineffective in changing anything about the “real world”; all you can do is tell whether or not prayer is having a statistically significant impact on what it is you are observing during the tests.

    The “real world” may not be what such tests assume it to be, and so prayer and faith may be quite effective in a way that is simply not identifiable by such tests.

  3. Mung: Why are you assuming there is any logic involved?

    Yes, I know. More normative oppression on my part. I keep bringing logic to an emotional intelligence fight.

  4. Mung,

    I have no problem agreeing, for instance, that the problem of evil is the most (only?) serious objection that can be offered against the existence of God.

    It is strong evidence against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god, but who believes in a silly idea like that?

    The most serious objection against gods in general is the utter lack of any objective, empirical evidence, ever, for any that have been posited.

  5. Patrick:
    Mung,

    It is strong evidence against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent god, but who believes in a silly idea like that?

    The most serious objection against gods in general is the utter lack of any objective, empirical evidence, ever, for any that have been posited.

    What I find silly is the presupposition that everything worth believing or everything worth to be considered evidence must be empirical. Do you believe in e.g. future, any future, because you verified it empirically? No, you believe it without any empirical evidence. Even the past does not exist empirically. It’s just a fading memory, and memories cannot be taken and given like apples. They can only be shared as stories.

    The range of empiricism is too limited to be workable. You cannot empirically verify even the presuppositions of empiricism.

  6. Patrick:
    Erik,

    Nothing you wrote provides any reason to believe in gods.

    Nor was it intended to. It was intended to affirm rationalism over empiricism.

  7. Erik: Do you believe in e.g. future, any future, because you verified it empirically? No, you believe it without any empirical evidence.

    That may be literally true, but science and engineering are based on the assumption that regularities can be found that allow practical predictions. We build and operate machines based on such regularities. We vaccinate children (some of us do) based on predictions of the future. We get on airplanes based on trust in empiricism.

    There is hardly anything we do that is not based on trust of empiricism, including trust that our posts will be read by others.

  8. Erik,

    Nothing you wrote provides any reason to believe in gods.

    Nor was it intended to. It was intended to affirm rationalism over empiricism.

    In my experience, people tend to retreat from empiricism only when they have a belief for which they have no evidence. Day-to-day, they’re happy to stick with objective, empirical evidence.

  9. petrushka: That may be literally true, but science and engineering are based on the assumption that regularities can be found that allow practical predictions. We build and operate machines based on such regularities. We vaccinate children (some of us do) based on predictions of the future. We get on airplanes based on trust in empiricism.

    It’s not trust in empiricism. It’s trust in regularity, causality, complementarity, experience, rationality, etc. None of these is an empirical thing, all are some abstract categories or universal principles. This is how reality really works – relying on principles, not on things.

  10. Thanks to Eric that low brow evangelical apologetics by FMM is finally put in its place by a theist as shallow and myopic.

    Do people here need to revisit Weber’s “Science as a Vocation”?
    http://nw18.american.edu/~dfagel/Class%20Readings/Weber/Science_as_a_Vocation.html

    “Today one usually speaks of science as ‘free from presuppositions.’ Is there such a thing? It depends upon what one understands thereby. All scientific work presupposes that the rules of logic and method are valid; these are the general foundations of our orientation in the world; and, at least for our special question, these presuppositions are the least problematic aspect of science. Science further presupposes that what is yielded by scientific work is important in the sense that it is ‘worth being known.’ In this, obviously, are contained all our problems. For this presupposition cannot be proved by scientific means. It can only be interpreted with reference to its ultimate meaning, which we must reject or accept according to our ultimate position towards life.”

    “Science ‘free from presuppositions,’ in the sense of a rejection of religious bonds, does not know of the ‘miracle’ and the ‘revelation.’ If it did, science would be unfaithful to its own ‘presuppositions.’ The believer knows both, miracle and revelation. And science ‘free from presuppositions’ expects from him no less–and no more–than acknowledgment that if the process can be explained without those supernatural interventions, which an empirical explanation has to eliminate as causal factors, the process has to be explained the way science attempts to do. And the believer can do this without being disloyal to his faith.”

    “All theology represents an intellectual rationalization of the possession of sacred values. No science is absolutely free from presuppositions, and no science can prove its fundamental value to the man who rejects these presuppositions. Every theology, however, adds a few specific presuppositions for its work and thus for the justification of its existence. Their meaning and scope vary. Every theology, including for instance Hinduist theology, presupposes that the world must have a meaning, and the question is how to interpret this meaning so that it is intellectually conceivable.”

    Notice that FMM rarely quotes anyone as an authority which he accepts. He is instead a hyper-individualist protestant non-denominational authority-unto-himself. Mung is the same. They trust in themselves and reject Church tradition. They are autonomous individuals, making theology up as they go. They are cards unwilling to accept that their own presuppositions may be challenged.

  11. Gregory: Mung is the same.

    One person complains that I quote too much, another that I quote too little. So pardon me if I don’t take such complaints seriously.

  12. Pedant: So the only evil in your world is human evil. Natural evil doesn’t exist.

    FMM: Not just human evil demonic evil and alien evil is also possible.

    Stop right there. Sure, we know that all kinds of imaginary things, like the existence of gods and devils and aliens are possible. That’s not relevant. What counts is your view of whether natural evil (created by your all-powerful God) exists or not?

    Pedant: I identified evil things in my world, but you just brushed them off.

    FMM: I did not brush them off I simply showed that they weren’t evil in every context. Therefore we need to know the exact context before we can determine if they are evil.

    You claimed it, but you didn’t show it. For example, what possible context would justify the torture-death of a five-year old girl from neuroblastoma?

    Then I asked how you defined evil and how you know your definition is the correct one. You failed to answer my questions.

    You’re not paying attention (I know it’s hard when you’re typing without reading). Early on, I told you:

    I can cite examples of God’s creation that I consider evil, because they cause undeserved severe suffering.

    Then I cited them. What more do you want?

  13. Pedant: For example, what possible context would justify the torture-death of a five-year old girl from neuroblastoma?

    It’s possible that looking at a particular neuroblastoma will yield clues that lead to the cure for all cancers and eventually decrease suffering in the world by an astronomical amount.
    Or
    Perhaps reincarnation is true and the five year old is actually Adolf Hitler and the cancer is justice for his heinous deeds toward innocents.

    The point is we can’t say something is evil till we know it’s entire context both it’s cause and it’s effects

    Pedant: What counts is your view of whether natural evil (created by your all-powerful God) exists or not?

    Since in my worldview evil is defined as actions against Gods law and since God’s law is simply an expression of his holy nature it is impossible for God to be the cause of evil

    Pedant: What more do you want?

    I would like your actual definition of evil and the criteria you use to determine that your definition is the correct one.

    I thought I made that clear

    peace

  14. Pedant: I can cite examples of God’s creation that I consider evil, because they cause undeserved severe suffering.

    How exactly do you know the suffering is undeserved?

    peace

  15. Mung,

    One person complains that I quote too much, another that I quote too little. So pardon me if I don’t take such complaints seriously.

    The fact that two complaints are contradictory doesn’t mean that neither is valid.

    Think, Mung.

  16. keiths:

    Yet you, who are also not omniscient, judge that God is good. Why? Because the dogma says so.

    fifth:

    NO NO no.

    I don’t judge that God is good
    God revels it to me

    No, dogma tells you that God reveals it to you. Dogma tells you that the Bible is God’s Word. The Bible — one of the biggest crocks of dogma around — tells you that God is good. You swallow all of this without evidence, because dogma trumps truth for you.

    If you actually looked at the evidence and used it to decide what was most likely to be true, you would reject Christianity. Dogma doesn’t allow you to do that, so you come up with rationalizations like this:

    Or you can simply recognize that you are not omniscient and are in no position to know all the cosmic context of the event so therefore are in no position to judge God.

    The rational conclusion would be more like this: We don’t have the entire “cosmic context”, but based on what we do know, it is far more likely that God is indifferent, evil, impotent, or nonexistent than that he matches the Christian omniGod model.

    Dogma forbids you from taking that rational approach. It demands that you believe it whether true or false, rational or irrational, supported by the evidence or completely at odds with it.

    Dogma has you trapped.

  17. Mung,

    I have no problem agreeing, for instance, that the problem of evil is the most (only?) serious objection that can be offered against the existence of God.

    Then step forward and defend your faith instead of falsely claiming that I haven’t offered an argument against it.

  18. keiths: No, dogma tells you that God reveals it to you.

    How exactly do you know this? What exactly is the criteria you use to determine that God has not reveled this but it is instead “dogma”? How can dogma tell me anything? Do believe that dogma is a conscious agent?

    keiths: Dogma forbids you

    keiths: Dogma has you trapped.

    Apparently this “Dogma” fellow is some sort of powerful god in your worldview? however I’ve never seen him

    Do you have any objective empirical evidence that he actually exists? If not how do you justify acting as if he exists?

    Wouldn’t a rational person assume that it was possible that dogma did not exist and that it was more likely that immaterial things like this dogma were simply figments of his imagination.

    peace

  19. Mung: I have no problem agreeing, for instance, that the problem of evil is the most (only?) serious objection that can be offered against the existence of God.

    It’s only an argument against a good God, though. In other words it’s not an argument about the existence of a creator god, merely an argument against a specific postulated god’s putative properties.

  20. fifth,

    Apparently this “Dogma” fellow is some sort of powerful god in your worldview? however I’ve never seen him

    Oh, you’re intimately acquainted with him. It’s just that you call him “truth” instead of by his real name.

  21. keiths:

    Regarding God’s failure to intervene while a dog ate a living baby’s head, I wrote:

    You can tie yourself in knots trying to make excuses for God, or you can accept the obvious conclusion: your omniGod doesn’t exist. If there is a God, he isn’t the omniGod. And more likely still, there is no God at all.

    Mung:

    The dog’s act was not evil, but God’s failure to act was evil?

    I didn’t say anything about the morality of the dog’s act.

    Read the entire passage and then answer a couple of questions for us:

    If God is omniscient, he knew that the dog was about to eat the baby’s head. If God is omnipotent, he could have prevented it. He knew it was going to happen, but he made the choice not to prevent it.

    Now suppose that the baby’s uncle had been present, that he had observed the dog killing the baby, and that he hadn’t lifted a finger to stop it. Who in their right mind would say, “Oh, what a loving uncle!”

    Your God is that uncle — but even worse, because he could have stopped the tragedy before it even got started. He knew it was going to happen, after all.

    You can tie yourself in knots trying to make excuses for God, or you can accept the obvious conclusion: your omniGod doesn’t exist. If there is a God, he isn’t the omniGod. And more likely still, there is no God at all.

    1. Do you think the uncle in the example above is a loving uncle? Why or why not?

    2. Do you think your God is a perfectly loving God? Why or why not?

  22. It was for His own glory he did not intervene, Keiths.

    Can you not see?

    It is your degeneracy, your wilful rebellion against God that is blinding you. It is a glorious thing that God stood by and did nothing as the dog tore the baby apart; absolutely glorious.

    Even more glorious is that the child’s parents must ‘give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus‘.

    Thank you God!

    Thank you for predetermining our child be ripped to pieces by a dog! Woe unto them who cannot see how glorious you are for doing this!

    Glory be!

  23. Woodbine,

    It is your degeneracy, your wilful rebellion against God that is blinding you.

    Yes. Isn’t it funny how rebellion tends to manifest as rational thinking?

    As Luther said:

    Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.

  24. Woodbine:
    It was for His own glory he did not intervene, Keiths.

    Can you not see?

    It is your degeneracy, your wilful rebellion against God that is blinding you. It is a glorious thing that God stood by and did nothing as the dog tore the baby apart; absolutely glorious.

    Even more glorious is that the child’s parents must ‘give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus‘.

    Thank you God!

    Thank you for predetermining our child be ripped to pieces by a dog! Woe unto them who cannot see how glorious you are for doing this!

    Glory be!

    You just need revelation to know that it is all for the best.

    And FMM is such a special one as to have received revelation. All of that “discovery” is so much busy-work, when you have revelation.

    Glen Davidson

  25. William J. Murray:
    Alan Fox said:

    No, it’s not, at least in any practical sense. What can be tested is only if there are statistically significant outcomes. That doesn’t mean that prayer has no effect. If by “discernible’ you mean “indicated as statistically significant in tests”, you’re simply restating EL’s error.

    If we test all sorts of faith healing attempts, and one such pairing of faith healer to cancer patient in 1000 trials “resulted” in a complete remission, would that demonstrate that the faith healing cured the cancer patient? No. If cancer patients untreated by medicine or faith had complete remissions at the rate of 1 per 1000, would that mean that the faith healing did not cure the cancer patient?No.

    Statistically insignificant outcomes are not the same thing as proving that a thing is never effective.

    Again, those tests are statistical in nature.You cannot tell if prayer is ineffective in changing anything about the “real world”; all you can do is tell whether or not prayer is having a statistically significant impact on what it is you are observing during the tests.

    The “real world” may not be what such tests assume it to be, and so prayer and faith may be quite effective in a way that is simply not identifiable by such tests.

    William, I don’t think you have grasped the statistical issue here.

    Whether there are “statistically significant outcome” depends on a) the size of the effect and b) the statistical power of the study. If a high powered study finds no statistical effect, we can conclude something about the maximum possible size of the effect. The larger the study, the smaller any effect that ist not statistically significant must be.

    Secondly, if you find a statistically significant effect in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION to the one predicted, you should regard that as strong evidence that your hypothesis has been falsified. In at least one efficacy of prayer study, prayed-for patients had significantly WORSE outcome than non-prayed for if they knew they were being prayed for. If that was a real effect (and it may not have been) it may have been because those patients were in the arm of the study in which they knew they were being prayed for, anxiety levels might have been raised.

    If so, even if there was a marginal positive effect of prayer, it was more than counteracted by the anxiety induced in the prayed-for.

  26. Pedant: For example, what possible context would justify the torture-death of a five-year old girl from neuroblastoma?

    FMM: It’s possible that looking at a particular neuroblastoma will yield clues that lead to the cure for all cancers and eventually decrease suffering in the world by an astronomical amount.
    Or
    Perhaps reincarnation is true and the five year old is actually Adolf Hitler and the cancer is justice for his heinous deeds toward innocents.

    Frivolous, and not funny. You pile fantasy upon fantasy. It would have been simpler and so much nicer if God had refrained from creating neuroblastoma in the first place instead of playing those kinds of cruel games.

    FMM:The point is we can’t say something is evil till we know it’s entire context both it’s cause and it’s effects.

    Do we know the entire context of the Holocaust and both its cause and effects? According to you, God saw a greater good there. According to you, we humans can’t make any moral judgments at all, because we can’t know the entire context of anything. Disband the courts. Open the jails. Close the churches. All that bad stuff is God’s will, so we must endure it ad majorem dei gloriam.

    Pedant: What counts is your view of whether natural evil (created by your all-powerful God) exists or not?

    FMM: Since in my worldview evil is defined as actions against Gods law and since God’s law is simply an expression of his holy nature it is impossible for God to be the cause of evil.

    Having assumed your conclusion, your argument is hermetically irrefutable.

    Pedant: I can cite examples of God’s creation that I consider evil, because they cause undeserved severe suffering.

    FMM: How exactly do you know the suffering is undeserved?

    I can’t know anything with exact infallibility, so I can’t know that the five-year old girl who was tortured to death with neuroblastoma wasn’t a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. I wonder, would she have to be aware that she was Adolf for the suffering to be an effective application of divine justice?

  27. Mung: Why are you assuming there is any logic involved?

    What do you think about William’s assessment of how well science has studied prayer, Mung?

  28. William seys:

    Statistically insignificant outcomes are not the same thing as proving that a thing is never effective.

    Which is why you can walk in a prayer shop on every street corner and ask the 1.2 billion people who are available at any time to pray for your specific issue.

    Oh, wait now.

    But the whole “you can’t prove prayer/faith healing never” works lark is very revealing. You start with the answer you think is right, then set out to prove it. You are doing it wrong.

    There are an uncountable number of propositions that also cannot be proven one way or the other. My hamster controls the universe. All lamps are pink when nobody is looking. The set of things you have retreated to is uncountably large, and “prayer might work sometimes, you can’t *prove* it does not!” is right in there with that teapot orbiting that planet.

  29. Woodbine: It was for His own glory

    You are close but you are missing a crucial ingredient. We were created for God’s glory so God’s own glory and our greatest good are precisely the same thing.

    peace

  30. Pedant: It would have been simpler and so much nicer if God had refrained from creating neuroblastoma in the first place instead of playing those kinds of cruel games.

    How exactly do you know it would be simpler and nicer?

    Pedant: According to you, we humans can’t make any moral judgments at all, because we can’t know the entire context of anything.

    No we can make moral judgements when dealing with agents who have the same background information as we do. We only need withhold judgements in situations where we can’t know even the majority of the relevant context.

    peace

  31. keiths: Then step forward and defend your faith instead of falsely claiming that I haven’t offered an argument against it.

    What are you babbling about? I create a number OP’s in your honor, dedicated to your campaign of whatever it is you’re campaigning about, and from this you take it that I am claiming that you’ve made no arguments against Christianity? What planet are you on?

    Do you have some specific post of mine in mind when you accuse me of “falsely claiming that [you] haven’t offered an argument against [Christianity]”? I’d sure like to know how you managed to twist it into this accusation, so when you find it, please explain your reasoning.

  32. keiths: I didn’t say anything about the morality of the dog’s act.

    And you think I didn’t notice that? It’s called exposing the hidden premise.

  33. OMagain: What do you think about William’s assessment of how well science has studied prayer, Mung?

    I’ve never looked into it. I am more likely to pray for myself, since I am probably the one who most needs changing.

  34. fifthmonarchyman: How exactly do you know it would be simpler and nicer?

    It is my humble opinion. How exactly do you know the contrary? Oh, I forgot: never question God.

    No we can make moral judgements when dealing with agents who have the same background information as we do. We only need withhold judgements in situations where we can’t know even the majority of the relevant context.

    How exactly do you know that an agent you’re dealing with has the same background information you do? Are you a mind reader?

    Maybe you should define background information. In this context.

    And…since you’re on a roll, what are your thoughts about that little girl serving as the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler. Would she have to be aware that she was Adolf for her suffering to be an effective application of divine justice?

  35. This reincarnation thing has potential.

    Whenever we see a person writhing in agony from accident or disease, we don’t need to be distressed or motivated to help. We can just imagine that the person is a reincarnation of [fill in your favorite villain] and is being justly punished by the all-loving, all-knowing, scrupulous dispenser of justice, the Almighty God, and go on our merry way.

  36. Pedant: How exactly do you know the contrary?

    revelation

    quote:
    No one is good except God alone.
    (Mar 10:18b
    end quote:

    Pedant: How exactly do you know that an agent you’re dealing with has the same background information you do? Are you a mind reader?

    If a person is from earth he would have access to the same background information as me. Don’t you agree?

    Pedant: Would she have to be aware that she was Adolf for her suffering to be an effective application of divine justice?

    I’m not an expert on karma and reincarnation I think you should ask a Hindu

    peace

  37. And bear in mind, if we didn’t have people suffering from dreadful diseases, we wouldn’t have material to work on in the search for a cure. See how good God is? He keeps creating experimental material!

  38. fifthmonarchyman: I’m not an expert on karma and reincarnation I think you should ask a Hindu

    But you’re an expert on morality and God’s attributes, including his justice. You’ve presupposed all of that. So take a moment and think: surely you can tell, based on your presuppositions about God’s goodness and kindness and love and justice, whether a reincarnated Adolf needs to know that he/she/it is Adolf with all of Adolf’s memories in order to have the punishment registered in the book of justice.

    Don’t you know anything?

  39. Pedant: Whenever we see a person writhing in agony from accident or disease, we don’t need to be distressed or motivated to help.

    I think that is the stereotypical response in Hinduism

    Pedant: See how good God is? He keeps creating experimental material!

    I don’t think you are quite grasping the point. I was not offering a theodicy.

    I have no reason to believe anything I suggested is actually the case, I was merely pointing out possible contexts where the events you mentioned would not be evil

    peace

  40. fifthmonarchyman: I think that is the stereotypical response in Hinduism

    I don’t think you are quite grasping the point. I was not offering a theodicy.

    I have no reason to believe anything I suggested is actually the case, I was merely pointing out possible contexts where the events you mentioned would not be evil

    peace

    So you’re just playing games.

  41. Pedant: But you’re an expert on morality and God’s attributes, including his justice.

    I never made any such claim

    Pedant: surely you can tell, based on your presuppositions about God’s goodness and kindness and love and justice,

    A Hindu does not share my presuppositions. So I could not comment on what god would or would not do given their worldview.

    In my worldview reincarnation does not happen.

    However God is also just so we can trust that everything he does is just and right even if we can’t see how or why yet we will know at some point.

    peace

    Peace

  42. Okay, so we have an uncle standing by doing nothing while a dog eats the head of a live baby — the uncle’s niece. Everyone recognizes that the uncle’s behavior is irresponsible, appalling, despicable, and inexcusable.

    Now God does exactly the same thing. Are Christians outraged? Of course not. Drunk on dogma, they fall all over themselves making excuses for God, and they insist not only that he is loving — this God who watches the baby’s skull being crushed in the dog’s jaws, and says to himself “This is exactly what I want” — but they also insist that he is perfectly loving.

    Is there a better illustration of how religion addles the mind?

    Fifth’s excuse? It’s for the glory of God, and nothing glorifies God like having dogs eat the heads of live babies. And whatever glorifies God is good for us. That baby is damned lucky.

    In his own words:

    Woodbine, mocking fifth:

    It was for His own glory he did not intervene, Keiths.

    fifth’s response:

    You are close but you are missing a crucial ingredient. We were created for God’s glory so God’s own glory and our greatest good are precisely the same thing.

    Mung is at least smart enough to try to avoid the questions, though by doing so he is admitting that he can’t answer them either.

    Are there any Christians out there who can actually defend their faith?

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