answers, questions & tensions

My few posts on this blog touching on epistemology are a drop in the ocean of literature on the topic, the majority of which I’ll almost certainly never know about, let alone read.  But allow little wee me to suggest that the wisdom of human experience tells us that any proper pursuit of knowledge should be accompanied by all three of the following: answers, questions and tensions.  The opposite way of saying this is that as long as we retain our position as finite observers and non-omniscient know-ers, we must not have only answers, only questions or only tensions.

I reckon this is the case for all kinds of knowledge.  Scientific knowledge of the natural world has all three.  Every answer and natural discovery opens up new questions and fields of natural research.  Science both closes and opens gaps in knowledge, so don’t listen to anyone who talks as if we’ve figured out how the entire universe works from top to bottom.  Personal knowledge of other persons has them too.  Does one every completely know their mate or partner or friend?  The more one thinks, speaks and acts as if they do, the worse mate, partner or friend they will be.  Even theological knowledge of God, which dares to speak words about the Ultimate (only because of its conviction that the Ultimate has first spoken to us), remains a discipline that has real questions.  Don’t listen to any preacher who speaks of God as though they’ve got him easily boxed up and packaged.

When it comes to knowledge and know-ers, sometimes the knowledge claimed says something about that which is known – the melon might actually be a bit browned compared to other melons.  But it can also say something (or everything) about the one doing the knowing – the melon might only appear browned because the viewer forgot she was wearing sunglasses.  Each type of know-er will have their strengths, but strengths become weaknesses if not balanced by the other kinds of know-ers.

The mistake common to ‘answers’ type (or ‘black and white’) people is to be so intent on finding answers that they pushing away questions or not marrying up one answer with another, so they need the question-asking and tension-finding type people to humble and grow them.

The mistake common to ‘question’ type (or ‘grey’) people is to be so focussed on questioning everything that they ignore the answers and tensions that might be right before their eyes, so they need the answer-giving, and tension-finding types to reign in their advocacy to various devils.

The mistake common to ‘tensions’ type (or ‘both/and’) people, which I count myself to be within, is to be so familiar with finding tension and paradox that they fail to acknowledge times when it just might be either/or, or a different both/and than they currently hold to, so they need the answer-giving and question-asking types to disturb and re-frame the tensions they have grown (possibly too?) comfortable with.

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10 Responses to answers, questions & tensions

  1. I honestly cannot think of any ‘answer’ provided by the method of trusting faith-based belief (faith) that leads to knowledge (but I can think of many that have be shown to be utterly wrong). If there were, then why is it that religion has provided not a single bit of this supposed knowledge value revealed in any application, therapy, or technology that works? Ever?

    As far as I can tell, all knowledge extracted by us from the universe (where we allow reality to arbitrate such claims) comes into tension with theology… a method of inquiry that simply does not work to extract knowledge from the universe that is demonstrable (which rarely slows down some believer from assuring the rest of us that some faith-based notion is indeed true). But this fact never seems to have the slightest effect on believers who proclaim, generation after generation, that this religion or that one is a reliable and trustworthy set of claims when there isn’t any evidence to support the conclusion.

    The gaining of knowledge, then, is entirely a one way street, where religion is always pulling up the rear but insisting it’s actually leading the way in spite of zero evidence to support this. The very fact that there are so many contrary and conflicting religious claims about the universe is an excellent indicator that none are worthy of the term ‘knowledge’… if we’re the least bit concerned with trusting the claims to be true independent of assuming it to be so.

    We know that claims based on faith are reliably empty of knowledge value, empty of being able to ‘answer’ anything beyond what can be best described as a ‘pseudo-answer,’ because they are fully dependent on assuming that the faith-based claim is true… the very ‘answer’ that is obviously lacking by the method of inquiry that allows itself to be arbitrated by faith.

    This is why religious belief can be accurately and consistently demonstrated to use a method of inquiry that doesn’t work to produce knowledge, an epistemology that is not just broken but actively used to thwart the pursuit of knowledge; faith-based beliefs reliably produce pseudo-answers that only appear to be knowledge and fool the credulous into thinking that this is ‘another way of knowing’. It’s no such thing, of course: it is a method of inquiry that is in direct conflict with attaining real knowledge, in direct conflict with allowing reality to arbitrate claims made about it, in direct conflict with established conclusions arbitrated by reality, in conflict with those who wish to honestly know about the universe. Trusting faith-based belief is a sure-fire method to fool one’s self while at the same time ensuring that it impedes not just the pursuit of knowledge but endeavors to impose its pseudo-answers on as many people as possible in as many ways as possible to the greatest affect as possible… regardless of how ignorant or superstitious or anti-human it is in practice.

    And in regards to any compatibility between the method, the epistemology, of science and religion, I think Bob Ingersoll captures the current political correctness these days quite nicely:

    ““There is no harmony between religion and science. When science was a child, religion sought to strangle it in the cradle. Now that science has attained its youth, and superstition is in its dotage, the trembling, palsied wreck says to the athlete: “Let us be friends.” It reminds me of the bargain the cock wished to make with the horse: “Let us agree not to step on each other’s feet.”

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  2. Tildeb! Maybe it’s the combined repetitiveness and length of that comment, mixed with your familiar tone of easy dismissalism, but your comment reads like an opportunistic rant, taking one small part of my much wider post and using it to blow your anti-theism horn. Keep these long rants (which I’m disinclined to engage with, and inclined to ignore) for your own blog please. If you can keep it relevant to the points/contrasts I’m making then you’re welcome to comment – I will only block comments that are abusive or spam.

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  3. Well said Tildeb, I think it’s a shame Dale won’t bother to engage with your well-constructed and challenging comment.

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  4. Even theological knowledge of God, which dares to speak words about the Ultimate (only because of its conviction that the Ultimate has first spoken to us), remains a discipline that has real questions.

    It is not theology that is convinced by revelation; it’s the credulous who then call it stuff like “the Ultimate” as if that term is in any way meaningful.

    Theology does not produce knowledge. It’s not a discrete discipline. And theology raises no real questions that are answerable. All theology does is create, maintain, and promote unnecessary tension by excusing superstition and wishful thinking as an equivalent kind of knowing. And this is due entirely to the use of a epistemology that simply (and demonstrably) doesn’t work.

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  5. Thanks, Ryan. I try to explain the reasons behind my criticisms rather than make only drive-by bullet observations easily deflected by claims of not appreciating sophisticated theology. I realize it makes my comments longer than most but – sometimes – the effort produces a much better understanding (if not from the host then often from other readers) of where I think the host makes the contentious error and why it’s an important error to recognize because of how it affects and undermines the quality of the conclusion.

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  6. Call me a topic Nazi, I don’t mind. I used to have time for

    a) following every tangential direction any commenter wanted to steer things…
    b) persisting with those who seem more interested in dismissal than understanding (even those whom they have fundamental disagreements with).

    I don’t any more :)

    fwiw, I never critiqued Tildeb’s comment for its structure or degree of challenge. Just it’s relevance and tone. And I reserve the right to choose what comments I’ll engage with :)

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  7. “Just it’s relevance and tone.”

    I found it highly relevant.

    Tone issues? Try reading tildeb’s comment in the voice of Morgan Freeman – not Gilbert Gottfried.

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  8. It was at least tangential, not utterly unrelated :) But it did take a post about a framework and nit-pick out the bit about theism (heck, just the mention of the word would have been enough!) and use it as a chance to have a bit of a rant. And any voice can have a ranting tone – even Freeman. :)

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  9. The epistemology of any faith-based belief is fatally flawed because it does not contain the means to recognize reality’s role to arbitrate claims made about it. Therefore it cannot yield any knowledge about reality.

    Those who claim otherwise bear the burden of proof and the results are plain to see: zero knowledge produced by any faith-based belief.

    How that accurate and demonstrable fatal criticism can be considered at best ‘nit-picking’ – and so hardly relevant to a post about epistemology and the pursuit of knowledge through theology – is simply not true if the words ‘epistemology’ and ‘knowledge’ contain common meaning found in common usage. The argument that its tone is too much like ranting seems to me to be at best a very weak cop out. The fatal criticism still stands true regardless of the tone by which it is presented.

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  10. Like ^.

    Because ‘likes’ it seems are now unavailable!

    ….this must mean my worldview is automatically moar better… ;D

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