Sunday, February 20, 2011

Everyday Philosophy: Epistemological Realism vs. Epistemological Idealism

Due to some of the comments on a previous post I thought I could help lay a foundation for discussion by giving a crash course in everyday philosophy (kind of like a crash course in everyday physics, but for ideas instead of physics). The actual debate is much more complex, but for our purposes we can use the simplified form of the debate. This might be a little long, but bear with me. To understand some of what I am talking about it may be necessary to read the post and comments that prompted this post. It may be a bit of a read, but it may make reading this a little easier to understand what I am talking about.

Part of the reason why the previous post elicited so many comments was that it, unintentionally, hit on a major philosophical debate, that of the distinction between epistemological realism and epistemological idealism, which has also been classed as a difference between objectivism and subjectivism, and is related to the debate between empiricism and rationalism.

First I will explain what I mean by 'epistemological'. Epistemology is the study of how we know things. That's it, very simple. So 'epistemological' indicates a way in which we know something, either through realism or idealism. Now I will explain the difference between, and related ideas of, epistemological realism and epistemological idealism. After that I will discuss why the distinction is important and how it comes up in everyday conversations using examples from the comments in the previously mentioned post.

In the simplest sense epistemological realism is the idea that observable characteristics exist in the observed object, independent of the observer. Likewise epistemological idealism is the idea that the characteristics exist in the mind of the observer independent of the object. So why is this difference important and where does it come up?

You may have heard (haha) the example of "If a tree falls in a forest does it make a sound?" Someone who is a strict epistemological idealist will say, no, because no one is there to observe the tree falling to interpret what happened as making a sound and thus it cannot create a "sound". But someone who is a strict epistemological realist will say, yes, because sound is just pressure waves in the air and there does not have to be an observer in order to make a "sound". The reason why this simple example presents a problem to many people is because they are not strict realists or strict idealists. Because they personally have a mixture of views they usually settle on the conclusion, "Well it depends." or "I can see how it could be either way." or "Stop bothering me with stupid questions." (as a side note, the people who respond, "It depends on what you are talking about. If you when you say "sound" you mean the mental process that recognizes it as such, then no there was no sound. But if you mean pressure waves in the air when you say "sound" then, yes there was a sound made." The people that respond like this are called Pragmatists.) But a strict realist or a strict idealist will give a definitive yes or no answer to the question (I am, for the most part, a strict realist, with a tempering of pragmatism, as are many scientists. I will discuss this further down.).

Furthermore, epistemological realism, also called objectivism (not to be confused with Objectivism, which is the philosophy taught by Ayn Rand, though they are definitely related), is dominated by two schools of thought, that of Platonic objectivism (other wise known as the Theory of Forms) and Aristotelian objectivism (of which Ayn Rand's Objectivism is a modern adaptation of). Platonic objectivism assumes that the highest form of reality is that of the Forms, which cannot be accessed through our senses, but only through reason and rational thought. Thus objective reality is grounded in our rational thoughts. This way of thinking (or the objections to it) has dominated Western Philosophy and has been the basis of the philosophical systems of St. Augustine, Descartes, Kant and many more philosophers. This dominance has been so complete that it prompted Alfred North Whitehead to say,
The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them.
This dominance of Platonic thought worked its way into Christianity through St. Augustine, who explicitly stated that in matters where the Bible was silent, an appeal to philosophers (Plato) could be used. This union is generally referred to as the Hellenization of Christianity. This brought many of the Platonic ideas of God into Christianity, including things like God has neither body, parts nor passions, among many other ideas regarding the omnipotence and omniscience of God.

To recap, the major distinctions here include epistemological idealism, which holds that any characteristics that can be known of an object exist only in the mind of the observer. Epistemological realism holds that what is knowable exists in the thing being observed and is independent of the observer. Epistemological realism can roughly be sub-divided into two categories, namely Platonic rationalism and Aristotelian empiricism, the former being that the objective reality can only be accessed by the mind, but it is still objective, and that what is learned by the senses is dependent on the rational thought of the observer. The latter holds that the senses have primacy in determining the objectivity of reality, with our rational thoughts being subject to our experience.

The question is now, is there an application beyond simple (or silly) philosophical brain teasers and esoteric debates between old dead guys? Yes! there is. As it turns out, these very ideas are what prompted Nick's post and the string of comments afterwards. Let us take a look at some of the comments and find out what ideas are kinking around. Keep in mind that it is very rare for one person to be a strict realist (meaning they only express realist ideas) or a strict idealist. Usually people express some combination of the two. A number of people are idealists when it comes to God (both believers and atheists alike) but are strict realists when they have to go to the store and buy milk. Also as a note, science is strongly in the camp of epistemological realism, with a mixture of Platonic rationalism and Aristotelian empiricism, though usually with a strong emphasis on the empiricism.

First, "advocacy of an unverified and unverifiable hypothesis such as God of any book is myopic." (link) The fundamental assumption here is that God, as an unverified and unverifiable hypothesis, is only known through the experience of an individual. Thus this is a statement that God is known through epistemological idealism. Because "God" is a personal thing, it is not something that can be transfered from person to person, and hence is "unverifiable", i.e. not objective. This viewpoint is actually fairly common among believers (or the faithful). As one grad student I know once told me, his experience with God was a personal experience that he had had and readily recognized that he could no more prove his belief and knowledge of God to another person than he could prove the existence of his own thoughts.

One of the results of this way of thinking is that when confronted with the dilemma of having God known through idealism, but science largely through realism, the standard response is to say that there are limits to knowledge through epistemological realism and that the knowledge of that which pertains to God is of a different realm or level. Thus the statement, "How do we describe our “limits of knowledge”? By beliefs!" (link) This expresses the idea that all that can be known through epistemological realism (i.e. science in general) is limited in some way and when we reach that limit we declare that then begins our faith, and we move into the realm of epistemological idealism.

The main criticism of this approach is that "religious "apologists" ... frame a "hypothetical" god in such a way to render it unprovable by modern methods." (link) Because the belief in God retreats into the realm of epistemological  idealism, it is assumed that "God" has become unverifiable and unprovable, and many people of faith will admit this. Those that find this approach towards God to be unacceptable insist that "the existence of god is a question that can, in principle, be answered scientifically." (link) This statement is an assertion that all things, God included, are subject to epistemological realism and must therefore satisfy the demands of an objective reality.

The difficulty here is that the usual approach of Christianity is to use Platonic rationalism. So while Christian theologians and apologists (here the term apologist is a very apt term, because (quoting Wikipedia) "Apologetics (from Greek απολογία, "speaking in defense") is the discipline of defending a position (usually religious) through the systematic use of reason.") such as C. S. Lewis, St. Augustine and many others are very good at rationally explaining their faith, they are subject to all the debates and problems of Platonic philosophy.

Previously I mentioned that when believers reach the limit of epistemological realism they then move into epistemological idealism and make God a subjective reality. But for those of us who stay firmly rooted in epistemological realism and insist on God being an objective reality, we run into the problem of the limits of Platonic rationalism and this usually prompts statements like this, "I admittedly can *never* prove [God] exists as much as give reasons to believe He is a viable option." (link) This is a classic example of recognizing the limits of Platonic rationalism, while still insisting on an epistemological realism in regards to God. Thus, by saying this Joe is keeping within the realm of realism without reverting to a idealist argument. The reason why statements like this are still scientifically consistent (i.e. still epistemologically realist) is because of things like Gödel's incompleteness theorem, and Wittgenstein's private language argument. These arguments are summed up in statements like this, "The Venn diagram of *true* things is larger than the Venn diagram of things that can be proven or refuted using science." and "A worldview restricted only to science is limiting." (link). This particular approach still relies on the "different realms" argument for science and theology, but insists on God being objective, even if He falls outside the realms of logic.

To sum up, I find that most common explanations and arguments about God assume that He falls within the realm of epistemological idealism as a personal experience, which results in the criticism that God is unverifiable and unprovable because He is a subjective experience. Which leads to the assertion that belief and faith are a private thing and must be kept private. Hence the statement, "Here is the crux of the problem: Priest can pray to his heart content; he can not ask others to join him, if he wants to be a scientist." (link) Because faith is a private (subjective, idealistic) thing then to insist that others share the same experience (be objective about it) is rightly thought of as a logical inconsistency (hence the, "So he is a oxymoron.").

But for those of us who consider God to be within the realm of epistemological realism, then it is not logically inconsistent to be a religious scientist. The debate then moves into the realm of whether or not it is rational to believe in God as an objective reality. The common criticisms at this point are either a rational (philosophical) attempt to disprove the existence of God (a number of serious arguments against God are of this type. See, Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Dawkins and other well known atheists), or rely on a more agnostic argument insisting that they have never had an experience with God and therefore cannot rationally accept His existence, which I admit makes perfect sense.

I hope this explanation helps the conversation and gives us a basis for discussion. I also hope that those that read this can see how this seemingly highfalutin explanation actually relates to everyday things. While the point of this post was not to convince anyone one way or the other, I hope it will help people have a better grasp on what is going on and understand why people respond the way they do.

Keep in mind that many people use a combination of realism and idealism in their lives and in how they understand the world and do not strictly hold to one or the other. Also, even for the realists they use a combination of rationalism and empiricism, and usually do not take the time to set a clear distinction. Thus it is a rare thing that all these ideas can be brought together in a single conversation, which is why I took the time to point them out and write this post.

For those that are interested in my own personal views: I am a epistemological realist of the Aristotelian empiricism persuasion. This means that I firmly know that God can be known objectively, but that logical or rational arguments are insufficient (but not useless) in communicating knowledge about God. This means that knowledge of God must first be gained independently and personally, but after that knowledge is gained it is subject to the system of objective checks and balances, meaning before I can claim experience with God in a rational way, it must be independently verified by the personal experiences of others. This verification happens through a rational, logical discourse, which of necessity cannot happen until those involved have had similar experiences on which to base their conversation. This does not mean a conversation cannot take place, but full knowledge will only come through personal experience.


  1. Your post shows a maturity in your understanding of philosophy : congratulation !

  2. QL42-
    Having not completely finished your post yet (it's long, gonna take me a while to digest it), I feel like you and Ancient 1 are really talking past each other.

    I think you're talking about the plausibility of believing/knowing things outside of the current scientific method framed in various schools of philosophy. You're trying to justify a belief in God (which is great). Ancient 1 (at least covertly I think) is talking about religion's tendency to produce people who reject reality in favor of nonsense (in some things, not all).

    Consider Mormonism. Everyone who has graduated high school knows the world is NOT 6000 years old and that there wasn't a worldwide deluge. Now consider your Sunday School classes on these topics. Nothing in Mormonism requires that we teach these as literal events. But look at the culture. What would happen if you suggested that these were myths - not to be taken literally? Certainly most people in your Sunday School class at least speak as if these things are to be taken literally.

    Now consider it from the church's point of view. If it states in a manual that these are myths - not to be taken literally - all of a sudden they've opened the flood gates for what else in scripture might be a myth. They're never going to do that. As a result, we continue this tenuous relationship between mythological and literal interpretations. Some people are going to continue to believe nonsense (with no correction) and others will see reality (but can't say anything about it because of cultural pressure). We walk a fine line trying to pander to both sides but end up primarily siding with those who believe in literal interpretations since it leads to obedience to authority.

    I think this is the main problem - religions perpetuate a culture based on adherence to authority, literal interpretations, and exact obedience. Science at its core and in its history is against those ideas. In Mormonism we strive to balance those religious tendencies against an injunction to learn and be educated. But note that historically our own university (BYU) has a reputation for punishing those whose learning leads to questioning religious authority (which is why I think BYU is "closed minded" primarily).

    I do think it is justifiable to believe in God, and I think faith is important (it is in my own life) and I use Mormonism as my vehicle of choice to increase my faith. But I cannot pretend that Mormonism (or other organized religions) doesn't suffer from the same ills that cause people to blow up buildings, believe in a young earth/flat earth etc.

  3. Quantumleap42,

    Thank you for writing this and like Cartesian said, I think you have demonstrated a mature understanding of philosophy. (You should write more posts like this!)

    I don't know how you classify this, in terms of fancy jargon, but ultimately I want to know if Godel implies a "theory of everything" is impossible. From my understanding, and it depends on how you define what a TOE is, but if if everything really means everything that is ever observable (which is the definition most physicists are aiming for), I think Godel implies we are screwed. Hence the comments of Hawking I alluded to.

    The Wikipedia article on theory of everything discusses Godel's theorem with some back and forth and concludes: "Analogously, it may (or may not) be possible to completely state the underlying rules of physics with a finite number of well-defined laws, but there is little doubt that there are questions about the behavior of physical systems which are formally undecidable on the basis of those underlying laws."

    From that and many other statements I am reading on the matter lead me to believe that a full TOE is shot down by Godel. But now I want to go prove it to myself.

  4. If I understand correctly an epistemological realist is limited to tools whereby the data is separate from the observer's experience; that is that the data itself is independent from the observation and can be observed by other means by other observers. In thinking this way I have generally distinguished along similar lines as you've articulated here. I would think an epistemological realist's tools would be limited to things such as parsimony, probabilistic hypotheses, inference, etc. On the other hand wouldn't an idealist rely on tools that are inseparable from the experience of the observer; anecdote, interpretation, emotion and so on?

    Both approaches benefit from verification, and to an extent you can apply the realist's tools to the data gathered using the idealist's tools, but the data themselves don't meet the rigorous standards the realist has. So the problem still remains that the tools themselves seem to be built for one or the other epistemological approach and I just don't know of any objectivist-realist tools that let you approach the spiritual in a totally objective and reproducible way.

    I'm interested in what you could say about the tools of your empiricism that help you gather data about God.

  5. For Joseph : normally a better system is going to take the place of an other one (like with Copernic), this is the way of science but there are always some exceptions for the system which can be explained more or less. Nonetheless some first principles are needed and going toward a first cause seems unavoidable in order to think about it (cause which is generally called God).

  6. QL42,

    I find the last paragraph of your post troubling. Basically, you are saying that you can impose your experience on others, as it is your belief that your experience is the pinnacle and rest do not matter. In effect, it is brainwashing by a belief. It is the promise of 72 virgins that motivates the young Muslim to strap a belt that explodes under the command of someone else. And, it is the country and flag that leads us to wars for the benefits of power seekers or megalomaniacs. Anything that can (virtually) be objectified, will do: purity of race is a powerful motivator; also, hatred of others’ faith works as well.

    Now a bit more on your extensive write up: it defines western philosophy, which is fundamentally a war of dual aspects of our singular reality. For that singular focus, you have to study eastern faiths (not religions), mostly of Indian subcontinent. I could elaborate on this but it will generate so many definitional issues arising from language and the way of life. (It is not about eating veggie curry, it is about rhythms of life.) I practice yoga of breath and meditation leading me to silence of my Spirit, and by the way, this is the reality of us all, to be experienced by us all, uniquely. All paths lead to this, sooner or later.

    To know, to be a scientist is a unique reality.

    To believe without personal knowledge (or experience) is religion.

    Applying religion to science is an oxymoronic act.

    I do appreciate it very much for your openness.

  7. OK, now for my responses. Thank you all for your comments and insights, hopefully I can help alleviate any concerns or questions that people have. I will go in order:

    jmb275: "I think you're talking about the plausibility of believing/knowing things outside of the current scientific method framed in various schools of philosophy." -- Yes, to a point. More I am driving at the idea that the scientific method and my religion are not mutually exclusive, and that not only are the not inherently in conflict but can (and at some point, must) be reconciled.

    "Consider Mormonism." -- Part of what I was driving at (and is discussed in quite depth in the book Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology by Erich Robert Paul, definitely worth reading) is that Mormonism inherently has build into it a mechanism for dealing with these problems. In Mormon doctrine (not to be confused with Mormon Doctrine, the book) there is a mechanism that exists to answer and address questions such as the age of the earth. This is to say that a literal interpretation of LDS scripture would be perfectly consistent with an old earth, and these ideas can be taught (and have!) in a Sunday School class without creating undue debate or theological fights. This mechanism I am referring to is the same thing that you mentioned as giving a "balance [to] those religious tendencies". This mechanism is strong enough to answer questions about the creation, the flood and any other question. Perhaps a good place to start (or continue) is a speech given by Truman G. Madsen entitled On How We Know (if you follow the link you can listen to the speech, for free!, or read it). That is perhaps the fullest treatment on LDS epistemology that I know of (while his talk is specifically aimed at an LDS audience, it is also applicable to others). Another exceptionally important talk on LDS epistemology was given by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the October 2010 Church Conference.

    raedyohed: "If I understand correctly an epistemological realist is limited to tools whereby the data is separate from the observer's experience." -- This is perhaps the strongest argument against Platonic rationalism. While Plato, and his "footnotes", maintain that they are observing an objective reality, it seems that they are wholly dependent on "data [that] is separate from the observer's experience." And thus the obvious question, then how can it be objective and not subjective? This is the point of Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument.

    So the issue that you are bringing up is actually the distinction between Platonic rationalism and Aristotelian empiricism. The difference between a realist and an idealist is much more fundamental and has to do with what creates reality. While rationalism and empiricism may differ in their epistemological approach, they are (with a few key exceptions) ontologically the same. Realism and idealism on the other hand differ greatly on an ontological level. To use an analogy that might make sense, realism would be like a theory of physics that accepts conservation of energy, and idealism would be like a theory that does not accept that conservation of energy. The difference is that fundamental. The difference between rationalism and empiricism would be like two theories where one accepts conservation of mass and the other does not, but both accept conservation of energy. I hope that makes sense.

    I will get to your last question later.

  8. Ancient1: -- Actually what I wrote in my last paragraph is the exact opposite of what you say I wrote. Knowledge and experience cannot be transfered forcibly, or imposed on others. There is no weapon, argument or brainwashing that can force anyone to learn or know anything (cf. Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning). Because we are experiencing an objective reality, no one can claim exclusive insight into reality that others cannot access. If I believe God is speaking to me, then others must be able to verify whether or not it is true through the exact same mechanism. This should, ideally, prevent the type of problems you bring up.

    "it defines western philosophy" -- Well, yes, that's the idea. I never said this was a complete treatment of all possible epistemologies. While what I have written here deals with three different "ways of knowing", there are more. In the talk by Truman G. Madsen, that I mentioned above, he lists five ways that encompass just about everything you might find in epistemology.

    "To believe without personal knowledge (or experience) is religion." -- I am religious because of my personal knowledge, or my experience.

  9. Re: Ancient1

    I'll respond for quantumleap42 but I'm sure he'll jump in when he has time.

    "I find the last paragraph of your post troubling. Basically, you are saying that you can impose your experience on others, as it is your belief that your experience is the pinnacle and rest do not matter."

    I think you and I must have read a different paragraph. Nowhere does QL42 write about "impos[ing his] experience on others." There is no "brainwashing by a belief."

    He said, "before I can claim experience with God in a rational way, it must be independently verified by the personal experiences of others. This verification happens through a rational, logical discourse, which of necessity cannot happen until those involved have had similar experiences on which to base their conversation."

    What this means is that before two people can have a rational, logical discourse (again, those words must be interpreted in light of his entire post) they both must separately have personal experiences with God. So, I have had personal experiences with God similar to what QL42 has had, therefore we can have rational, logical discourses about God. Through this discourse we can verify, through a process of "objective checks and balances" that both of our experiences are valid (or not valid). This is a process that is repeatable between other people, which adds to evidence for or against our knowledge.

    Essentially all he said is that two people cannot both talk about how fun Disneyland is without both having actually experienced Disneyland personally. Or, two people cannot talk rationally and logically about the taste of oranges if both have not tasted oranges.

    There's nothing about imposing beliefs on others. Further, your definition of religion as "to believe without personal knowledge (or experience)" is not a definition most people, even people antagonistic to religion, would use. If anything, it's closer to a definition of faith but even then it's not a definition of faith that most Mormons would use. All you said, in a tactful way, is that religious people are delusional, thereby giving a perfect example of the point of QL42's post (i.e., you and Mormons cannot sit down and have a logical, rational discussion about God because you work from the assumption that Mormons are delusional and thus, not logical). Again, I know you didn't use the word "delusional" but it was what I inferred from your description of religion (although, I admit, my inference could be wrong).

  10. Update, QL42 posted a response between when I started writing mine and when I published it. He and I both independently said much the same thing though.

  11. QL42,

    Then, why proselytise?

    Take torture: is it not an attempt to makr one confess to the opinions held by the torturer? I know, I am using an extreme example from our exitstence, but torture has been used as long as we can go back in the past. Especially, in advancing religions.

    I am happy that you feel religious because of your knowledge; I hope, one of these days you realize that you are a scientist because you yearn to know.

  12. Jared & QL42,

    QL42 wrote: I am a epistemological realist of the Aristotelian empiricism persuasion. This means that I firmly know that God can be known objectively, but that logical or rational arguments are insufficient (but not useless) in communicating knowledge about God.

    Here is how I interpret this:

    If one firmly knows that God is knowable, but not able to articulate how one has arrived at such knowledge, than how does one impart that understanding of God? Look at all the prophetic writings and you will find brimstones and hell for those who do not believe!

  13. Jared,

    I think you are reading way more than I intended.

    I do not consider any faith delusional, and I look forward to this spring to provide nice cold water bottles to two mormon youths. I also do the same for many others who are just looking for work, like cutting trees, or mulching the garden beds, etc.

    In each of us, I see a manifestation of Infinite that remains unknowable.

  14. Ancient1,

    I'm glad to know that my inference was incorrect. I also know the LDS missionaries appreciate the water you give them; I certainly appreciated it when people gave us water or did other kind things for us (us being my missionary companion(s) and I).

  15. Ancient1 - That's an interesting question, I think mostly stemming from the notion that meaningful discourse cannot take place unless the discussants "separately have personal experiences with God" then." But your question misses a major point. The act of proselytizing has the following as it's ultimate goal, as QL42 articulated: "If I believe God is speaking to me, then others must be able to verify whether or not it is true through the exact same mechanism." At its best the act of proselytizing is the act of one, who has had a singular religious experience, striving to instill in another the desire for a similar experience.

    But again, what I want to know is whether QL42 means to imply that processes like intuition or inspiration fit within the empirical realist's toolkit. Don't we have to go out on a limb and be idealists for this to happen?

  16. raedyohed,

    Here is how QL42 explains in the last paragraph:

    ...meaning before I can claim experience with God in a rational way, it must be independently verified by the personal experiences of others. This verification happens through a rational, logical discourse, which of necessity cannot happen until those involved have had similar experiences on which to base their conversation.

    The troubling part is that this discourse requires like-minded people, otherwise, the experience can not be shared.

    I hate to go on limb, but, a similar argument exists in drug culture (I know because I refused to smoke grass), I can not speak of the evils or goodness unless I have experienced it! I think QL42's rationale approaches that.

  17. Ancient1, I think the problem here is that we aren't recognizing the difference between "like-minded people" and like-experienced people. Maybe two strict realists who don't have any data in common can't have a meaningful dialogue, but two idealists who are able to reason along the same lines can. Thus an idealist who has experienced the divine might successfully discourse with another idealist who can identify with their analysis.

    On the other hand I could see communication problems between an idealist believer and a realist skeptic. I don't know... the divide between the Platonic and Aristotelian views is something I am just starting to consider. I need to go read the OP a couple more times!

  18. Dino,

    Wow, you are a struct idealist! One day I would like to talk to you more about such views as I'm sure they are *very* interesting.

  19. Yeah, but I don't think I should have posted
    here, kinda off topic.

  20. Sorry I haven't responded to some of the most recent questions, I have been busy with research stuff.

    "Then, why proselytise?" -- I would think that an objective world view would demand that its adherents proselytize, as it would be a necessary step in the verification process. Also, if the world is truly objective then there would be no harm in proselytizing as we would only be speaking of things as the really are (as the Charles Dickens put it, "These things are what they are, do not blame me.").

    Furthermore, an objective world view would be in direct opposition to the idea of torture, as it would be impossible to force, through torture or other means, a particular view, opinion or world view.

    "Especially, in advancing religions." -- While some religious people have used torture in advancing their religions, those examples are an extreme minority, and usually accompany the spread of political influence. Thus it would be more logical to conclude that torture is used for political "conversion" rather than religious "conversion".

    "If one firmly knows that God is knowable, but not able to articulate how one has arrived at such knowledge, than how does one impart that understanding of God?" -- I never said that we were "not able to articulate" our knowledge, I just said that our words alone cannot convey to someone an experience with the Divine. The best we can do is speak from experience and explain what we know and invite others to have the same experience. Once they have had similar experiences then we have a common ground to start from and we can be assured of the fact that we are speaking about the same thing. This is made much easier when we have shared experiences, hence the demand to proselytize.

    "I can not speak of the evils or goodness unless I have experienced it!" -- Not necessarily true, because this denies learning by observation. As Will Rogers put it, "There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves." I do not have to experience drugs or alcohol to know of their negative effects.

    Also, this is not such an outlandish idea that it only comes up in drug culture. Athletes regularly practice and run plays and patterns, so that they will have experience. Musicians also practice so that they have the experience. We commonly speak of people who are veterans (either in the military, in business, in politics, in economics, in research etc.) and these people are more highly valued because they have had experiences that have given them knowledge that others do not have. The entire purpose of school and getting an education is to give people experience so that they can know and interact with others. I remember my Chemistry teacher from high school telling us that we had to solve the problems ourselves, and not just copy off of our groupmates because we had to mentally work through the problem ourselves or we would never learn the concept.

    This is related to what Wittgenstein wrote in the preface of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, "This book will perhaps only be understood by those who have themselves already thought the thoughts which are expressed in it -- or similar thoughts."

  21. "But again, what I want to know is whether QL42 means to imply that processes like intuition or inspiration fit within the empirical realist's toolkit. Don't we have to go out on a limb and be idealists for this to happen?" -- No! We do not!

    raedyohed, I don't know anything about you other than what you have posted here, so I don't know if you are LDS or not. But there was a lecture given by Truman G. Madsen (at the time he was the Chair of the Philosophy Department at BYU) in which he addresses this exact question. You can find it here (I think I tried linking to that speech in a previous comment, but I think I messed something up because the link doesn't work, in case this link also doesn't work you can find it at and search browse for Truman G. Madsen). In it he mentions some ideas that are important to LDS theology (but at the same time not exclusively LDS doctrine). Part of LDS doctrine is the idea that we have existed as "intelligences" for an eternity before we lived on this earth. Because of that we have knowledge and experience locked away in our spirits that usually we are not aware of. This is the basis of our "intuition".

    "Inspiration" on the other hand is where spirit speaks directly to spirit. That is, the Spirit of God speaks directly to our spirits. This works because the sensations of our spirits (little "s") are what underly all of our sensations and experiences. Thus inspiration, or revelation, does not work through any one sense, but with the foundation of our senses. This is why revelation can be visual, auditory, or any other sensation.

  22. Dino. Wow, I've never actually met anyone who ever claimed to be a strict idealist. I have known of philosophers and others who have said as much, but I have never actually met a real person who would say it.

  23. QL42,

    Youu have engaged in Clinton type arguments. Honestly, it is not about the meaning of “is”. Further, you have fallen to lowest level of argument, and that is selective deconstruction, at which you fail miserably.

    Just as objective world view holder of yours, a megalomaniac demands that people follow. Look at Gaddafi.

    Why don’t you research torture then arm-wave it away. Why don’t you look at the cases of misguided in your own religion (not faith, because a faith is absolutely personal and does not involve others).

    There are no two identical experiences, so, your hallucination about god (note small g), is really your nightmare. Keep in your memory banks of your brain.

    So, do you want to speak fo evils and goodness of your religion?

    You have read a lot and comprehended nothing. Why don’t we have cookie-cutter physicists all over the world, heck, we have been imparting “the experiences” for a long time.

  24. QL42 -
    I'm LDS and a biologist. Thanks for the links. I had read the Madsen talk, but not recently, and had not made the connection with Oaks one, so that was helpful. Do you think that intuition and inspiration as described here fit within an objectivist paradigm?

  25. raedyohed,

    I would think that it would have to. The objective paradigm can be found in many places in LDS theology. For example in 3rd Nephi 11:32 Christ explains the relation between the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and the way I read it it seems like objective verification from others is somehow fundamental to knowledge and truth (or light and truth). That is an idea that I do not find anywhere else in any religion, that in order for there to be the Divine there must be separate beings to verify the truth of the Divine. That right there is a deep concept and would (or should) fundamentally underlie any philosophical approach to LDS thought.

    It would then make sense that intuition and inspiration would fit into an objectivist paradigm. The problem comes from the nature of intuition and inspiration. As I understand it (and as I think Bro. Madsen explains it) intuition is simply a manifestation of the cumulative knowledge that we have gained before this life (and some in this life). In that case I can see how it would be hard to understand how intuition can be objective since it is in effect a manifestation of knowledge that is difficult (at best) or impossible (at worst) to trace. That is, we do not see, or readily understand where the knowledge came from and thus it is hard to say that it can be part of the objective paradigm. But this is not because intuition is fundamentally at odds with objectivity, but rather because our scope of understanding and the range of our knowledge is limited.

    I think inspiration must work in a similar manner. It is an interaction between spirit(s) and at this time we cannot measure or directly observe that (see D&C 131:7). Essentially my argument is that as all other things (ways of knowing) appear to work in an objective manner, it would make sense that the rest (the part we don't understand) would work under the same principles. These assumptions would change under new knowledge and experience, but if they did then that would prove them right, and they wouldn't have to change anyway ;-)

  26. That's an interesting take, and gives me a lot to think about. All of this has been rattling around inside my head for a few years, and just recently, like in the last 6-12 months I've been starting to coherently express some of these same thoughts. As a LDS scientist in the start of my career I'm just now beginning to see the fundamental importance of addressing these kinds of questions, so I really appreciate finding blogs like this one to hash through this stuff with folks like yourselves.

  27. raedyohed,

    What part of science you can not do because it conflicts with your qualifier LDS?

    Are you all engaged in subverting science so that it meets LDS requirements?

  28. Ancient1,

    I can assure you there is no "subverting science" going on around here. Our scientific publications are publicly available and there has never been an issue with a referee that anything about being LDS has hindered top-notch science being done. The coauthors of this blog can correct me if I'm wrong.

    Now, I will admit it there seems to be something about LDS culture where we enjoy speculating about all kinds of stuff. My point is, when it comes to real science I can assure you it is being done correctly around here and no part of being LDS prevents this.

  29. JS,

    You may be sincere in your assurance but it is really an empty promise. There is no verification, nor there is any process of verification for the assurance, and QL42 should be squirming by such lack of objectivism.

    Peer review is as good as the composition of the peer group. What if all peers are LDS members? Would they distort science because it advances LDS positions? More precisely, would you select an LDS as a PhD candidate or a fellow from Africa who practiced rather unusual faith, both smart, and African more so, as he/she has seen world from different perspective than LDS views?

  30. Ancient1,

    You are right, my claim is only as strong as the peer review process which I agree is flawed. But, I think peer review has become the standard by which we measure "good" science as for all practical purposes it is the best we can do.

    But I will say this, most people voicing opinions on the internet are not doing science at a high enough quality to get through the peer review process. Admittedly most aren't trying, but still...

  31. JS,

    I believe you need to address the first para of my last post. Further, I would like to know how would you deal with two candidates of differing faith, one of your kind, another totally alien to you? Science of belief?

    I know you all do good science, but we all have heard of data manipulation to meet the beliefs of scientists.

  32. JS,

    We should recall that this all began with "religion of Priest", and LDS should not be singled out. We must include all religious scientists. From my perspective, I am happy and proud to be a scientist, without any religious labels.

  33. Ancient1,

    I appreciate your concerns. (Although, if you are going to be doing good science it would be nice if you would back up your concerns with some data.)

    "how would you deal with two candidates of differing faith"

    Good science is good science and is independent of your religion. I will judge them by their science.

    As I've said on a previous post. I don't care if you feel compelled to worship smurf action figures, if you do great science I am more than happy to acknowledge your good work.

    "we all have heard of data manipulation to meet the beliefs of scientists."

    I can assure you I do not see this on any significant level. My experience is that the peer review process, though flawed, does a good job weeding out science manipulated for *any* reason. (I would say *far* more science is manipulated for non-religious reasons... Like to be "the first" to get a detection or for funding reasons.) I'm sure you cannot point to one serious study showing science manipulation for religious reasons is significant.

    In fact, the statement "we all have heard of data manipulation to meet the beliefs of scientists" I would say is bad science because something as extreme as this has the burden of needing to be backed by some data. The peer review process is designed to prevent this so to suggest this is a significant problem needs to be backed if you want it to be good science.

    " I am happy and proud to be a scientist, without any religious labels."

    I'm very glad. I think all people should be proud to be scientists regardless of religious affiliation just as I think heart surgens should be proud of being heart surgens independent of their religious affiliation.

    I fail to see any hard evidence that religion is effecting the quality of science coming from scientists who are persistently publishing in peer reviewed journals. Perhaps you can point me to any evidence at all that I am wrong?

  34. Ancient1,

    Sorry if I came across with a condescending tone. I am very happy you raise these concerns. *No* human is immune to personal bias entering their lives but my suggestion is that people who persistently publish in respected science journals are doing a good enough job doing science that it isn't biased to the extent that the science is being significantly contaminated.

  35. JS,

    In your rambling post, you used the selective deconstruction like QL42 used before, both unsuccessfuly. You are stuck on peer review, so I will take it one step further. It was peer review that led Jesus to path of delarosa. I will leave at that.

  36. Ancient1,

    Okay, I see you may have issues with the peer review process and so I will humor you and ask: what would be a better "litmus test" that we can use to decide if science is being to contaminated by personal bias/beliefs than the traditional peer review process?

  37. JS,

    You obsfucate very well. You haveot responded to my comments which basically is that religious scientist is an oxymoron, which by now, puts most of you in that category.

    Scientific work has to be reproducible independently as reported. Otherwise it is cold fusion.

  38. Ancient1,

    You are right, good science *must* be reproducible. What does this have to do with religious scientists being oxymorons?

  39. Ancient1,

    Do you mean oxymoron in the sense that it is impossible to have a religious scientist? If that is your issue I would say look around and you may find some. :)

    If you are saying they are oxymorons in the sense of religion and science are in disagreement I would say that for me science is a subset of true religion. True religion being the set of all things that are true and science being the subset of those things that are provable. The sets may not be the same, a la Godel's incompleteness theorems, so believing in something that is true but not provable I don't think is bad science because... science can do nothing for statements that are true and not provable.

  40. JS,

    Taking your proposition of super set, and also the fact that there are many religions all claiming to be the superset, we must try to bring an order in this: the question is which twig of which branch of the superset the LDS belong to, especially keeping in mind that LDS is a recent addition in the religion... Was it a lost twig?

    I will spare you: you can hide behind Godel's incompleteness. But, could you apply Godel to religion, that all religions must be incomplete... and scientifically speaking, also fail in their purpose: per QL42, God was knowable objectively...

    You guys got to grow up and find someone who can deprogram you from the nonsense instilled in you all.

  41. Ancient1,

    "we must try to bring an order in this"

    Okay, the set of all things that are true. Not any simpler or more complex than that. Where are you failing to understand about this definition?

    " you apply Godel to religion"

    No, you apply his theorem to formal systems of logic sufficiently complex to contain arithmetic not to the set of all things that are true. His theorem says that no sufficiently complex system of logic can prove all true statements not that the set of all things that are true is flawed.

    So, you are free to try again. :)

  42. JS,

    You have a ficticious set containing all things that are true, but have no way to verify independently the truthiness! Reminds me of Alice in Wonderland!

    So, statements made by the true things (now gods are a thingy according to you) can be false, per Godel.

  43. Ancient1,

    Do you have any evidence that the set of all things that are true doesn't exist, or is this just a guess that you can't prove? :)

    First, let's make this easy: do you believe that there is anything that is true? For example, any statement or idea, perhaps 2+2 = 4 as an example, that you take to be true? If so we at least know the set is not empty.

    We can start with there and then begin to construct the set. Baby steps...

  44. JS,

    Stop being a condenscending jerk.

    Work on this, it is a giant step:

    So, statements made by the true things (now gods are a thingy according to you) can be false, per Godel.

    Extending, may be Moroni misled Smith!

  45. Ancient1,

    I'm not trying to be condescending, I'm trying to bring myself to believe you want to honestly understand why I think a religious scientist isn't an oxymoron. But you couldn't grasp step one: that it is possible to construct a set of things that are true.

    So, I realized we had to go slowly as this was a tricky concept. Do you want me to be helpful or not?

    Now, it turns out Godel showed these things that a formal system fails to prove are true, not both true and false at the same time so I'm confused how you can imagine something being both true and false.

    Now, and I'm trying to not sound condescending here, but a member of the set of things that is true is not also false. If it was it would not be in the set. On one hand I want to help but on the other hand the concept is so trivial it is hard to not sound condescending. I'm sorry.

  46. You might be interested in this: The Hawaiian Earring. It turns out it is a set that is homeomorphic to the one-point compactification of a countably infinite family of open intervals *and* is path connected but not semilocally simply connected.

    I studied these at BYU and they are really interesting yet simple to construct.

  47. It is homeomorphic to a countably infinite family of open intervals because you can construct it by taking one open interval and do the one point compactification at zero. Then take two where they are wrapped with different sized then do the one point compactification. Then three... until the earring is constructed as you do this countably many times. It is really cool!

  48. JS,

    Yes, you were trying to be condescending.

    2+2 = 4, requires one to understand what 2 is!
    If somehow, one crosses that bridge, how does one add? Is it like adding sugar in coffee? What does it mean to add? Let us assume that we crossed that bridge too, now do each 2 retain their identity? If so, how does 4 come to exist? Or, this is all being given and can not be questioned, like religion?

  49. Ancient1,

    "requires one to understand what 2 is!"

    Ah, I agree this all should be questioned. So we are off to a good start here. So, what do you think? Do you have any plausible answers the the questions you raised, like "What does it mean to add?" Or are you waiting for me to explain something else so that you can launch into criticism?

    I agree we need to ask tough questions but we need to be more than critics. I'm *more* interested in people who will propose interesting ideas than those who just go around being a critic calling everyone else idiots or brainwashed.

    So, do you have any interesting ideas to present that we can use to answer these questions or are you waiting for me to put forward answers so you can go back to name-calling and criticizing?

  50. Ancient1,

    What really cool idea do you have to offer this blog that we could all discuss and walk away feeling edified *besides* no more than criticism and name-calling. *That* I would be interested in.

  51. The reality is it is genuinely harder to be a thinker than a criticizer.

  52. JS,

    I offered many interesting ideas, but your myopic ways interfer in your comprehension.

    Here is the main idea: religious scientist is an oxymoron (which you have amply proved).

    Here is another proof of you being an oxymoron: What does those two asteriks doing around besides, That, and many of your other comments and posts. You probably have a special meaning/interpretation in mind, but we mere mortals have to decipher it! Finally, if you are not interested in a comment I make, don't butt in. You took my response to raedyohed and punched away defending LDS. Honestly, LDS is much bigger and much more mellow than what you have expressed.

    By the way, Godel was not a very happy fellow. And, here is an equation that is valid in chemistry: 2 + 2 = 2. Here is an example:

    2Na + 2Cl = 2NaCl

  53. Anybody else find it funny this ancient1 person just asserts she is right without any proof? One cannot say oxymoron until one has not defined what is meant by religion and science. Joseph offered an interesting definition I have never heard of that ancient1 can't wrap his mind around and so tries to avoid it knowing he is stuck.

    Further he provides no definition of his own. Just a claim scientists are an oxymoron.

    So ancient1 can you put forth an intelligent argument starting with proper definitions leading to a conclusion? Just to point out I am not a Mormon so don't try to skirt around the issue as you did with others by insulting mormons. That's called a strawman by the way.

  54. John,

    Appears you are one more myopic. Why don't you look at my comments on this post, and previous post of NN about Priest. Here is one: to do science you do not need religion. Scientific inquiry in religion always demonstrates charlatans leading the parade of intentional ignorants, or believers.

  55. Ancient1 so what? I could equally say "to do science we don't need male scientists" and so should that lead me to conclude we don't need men? Just because something isn't required to do science does that make it a bad thing or pointless? Is something being vital to science the measure of something's worth.

    This sounds a little myopic.

    Also, notice you have not defined religion.

  56. John,

    Last first: I have defined religion long time ago at this blog. You can look up Joseph Campbell's definition at Wiki.

    I will agree with you that male orangutans may not do science, but they can be religious and oxymoronic. Be as myopic as you like. My gut feel is that orangutans probably do better experimental science than many here.

    My position has been a scientist does not need label like religion, male etc., and a person of faith does not need science as crutches to walk on the path.

  57. Ancient1 what quantification are you using to say "orangutans probably do better experimental science than many here."? Can you point to one scientific achievement currently being done by orangutans that is better experimental science than that done by the people here?

    Or is this another empty claim made with nothing to back it up? Another myopic observation that is easier said then backed.

    Also, nobody is arguing the label religion is needed to be a scientist so why are you arguing a moot point? Why not comment that drinking a Jamba Juice isn't needed to do science as that observation is as relevant to what is being discussed as well. Discussing "Epistemological Realism vs. Epistemological Idealism" has nothing to do with requiring scientists to carry religious labels. You are just making up that this is being argued. It is like physiological projection where some issue you might struggle with you start assuming everyone else does too.

    Nobody thinks religious labels are required for science. The fact you are arguing against this point, which has not even been raised by anyone else, means it is something plaguing your mind not theirs.

  58. John,

    You know those guys and gals who study animals in wild? They claim that most orangutans take care of themselves quite well and fly through canopies... I have never seen them sitting down and write equations like 2 + 2 = 4.

    You really are Johny come lately. I have said that religious scientist is an oxymoron, now, you the second one, has amply proved my observation. By the way who is nobody?

  59. Ancient1, well now you are going to have to define what science is as I almost wet my pants laughing at the idea that since orangutans swing through trees they must be better at doing experimental science than those around here.

    Oh, Oh, let me guess! Because they can eat food they must be better at computer programming as well!

    So, let us idiots in on the wise definition of science that would lead one to conclude that since orangutans swing through trees they must be therefore better at experimental science!

    I'm beginning to think you don't know what science is, just how to throw words like myopic around as if that constitutes a clever argument.

  60. John,

    Did you read definition of religion? Did you see how a simple word - myopic - defines it? I bet you surely will wet your pants if you were to go a kiddie playyard and try to do a swing with a banana in your hand!

    Why don't you define science as you seem to be a know-it-all.

    I doubt you can think; so don't even dream of begining to think.

  61. John,

    So you run! Making any money? What do you teach, catholism or science?

    A catholic coming to rescue of LDS guys! I think LDS guys would run faster than a speeding photon!

    Did you check with your poppy?

  62. Ancient1 you are avoiding it because you know that you can't define it in any way to where your claims will hold water.

    And since you are the one saying orangutans being able to swing make them the better scientists means you are the one that has to provide the burden of proof. Let me illustrate:

    ancient1: Dogs are smarter than humans.

    me: By what definition of smart leads you to conclude that dogs "smarter than humans"?

    ancient1: Why don't you define what being smart is you pretend know-it-all!

    In the above dramatization, ancient1 being the one calming dogs are smarter than humans is under the burden to define what he means, not me.

    But, just like in real life, the ancient1 in the story makes a claim without providing the necessary information needed to weigh the claim and then calls me a "know-it-all" because I would like to know where he is coming from.

  63. John,

    I do think ancient1 has deep reasons for drawing these conclusions, but I do fail to understand why he wants to spend his time attacking us. I believe he is more partial to we label as Eastern thought, though he can correct me if I am wrong.

  64. Ancient1,

    Believe it or not I really like you which is why I have let the personal attacks slide after having already told you that I will censor such comments. Look, I would like you to stick around since you present an alternative view which I appreciate but I do have to limit the level of personal attacks.

    All the most respected science venues will flat out reject papers if they contain blatant personal attacks. The science community has realized progress works best when people are forced to keep the the discussion at an elevated level.

    However, given it takes two to tango for that I apologize and if you feel any of mine or anyone else's comments were riddled with personal attacks let me know which ones you think were over the top and I will delete those too.

    Again, I hope you stick around but I also hope to keep the discussion elevated.

    I will remove this comment as I don't want to censure in public but since I have no other way of contacting you it has to stay up long enough to be noticed.

  65. JS,

    First of all, you deleted my comment that summarized most of the dialog, because you felt it was critical of you. Well, you as a person, as a spirit, it was not ; however, you took it as if it is a personal attack, and that is after nearly 50 comments worth of dialog!

    I consider your act of deletion as a demonstration of cowardliness of spirit; yet, you did feel compelled to explain your action, and that makes me happy.

    Further you offered me to let you know others comments I find as attack. There are none. They reflect their state of existence at that time, at that instant, and I do not judge them, I only respond.

    Let me close with this thought: before Jesus, there was no Christianity, before Buddha, there was no Middle Way, before Smith there was no LDS; I could go on. The point is to trail blaze, and not be myopic. Religion and science do not mix. Whenever and wherever religion has mixed in human pursuits, it leads to war.

    Faith is unique to each of us, and without faith, we do nothing. It is an act of faith to take a bite in the bread offered by a stranger. So march on, be good in your faith (not indoctrination). All paths lead to bliss, sooner or later.

    If you are brave, you can repost my deleted comment.

  66. Ancient1,

    Sorry, I have been away today so not able to respond. I appreciate you trying to reach out and engage and I am happy to engage. We just have to figure out a way to do so with an elevated level of discourse. I'm not just concerned about myself but all readers.

    I was emailed earlier today by someone who told me they felt intimidated to say anything on this blog because they were worried people would start attacking them. To be honest, I really want to figure out how to keep the discussions peaceful enough so that people who would like to respond don't feel too intimidated.

    Lots of people have very interesting things to say. I would like to keep things so that we can all be edified by each others comments without fear of personal attacks. I'd rather run a clean blog and be called a coward by 1% of the readers than to let the place become a disorderly mess.
    I hope you understand.

  67. The point is to trail blaze, and not be myopic.

    Sorry Ancient1, you have missed the point. The point is to play it safe, never step outside your comfort zone, and never offend anyone.

    Don't ever take any risks.

    Why, we built this nice cage just for you, I am saddened you dare to step out of it. After all the trouble we went through! Show some respect!

    How very short-sighted of you, daring to air counterviewpoints.

    And you call yourself a scientist!

    P.S. My God can beat up your God.

  68. Hello,
    I know this is annoying- but I'm trying to pinpoint a quote by John Cage. " Everyone is their own universe spinning independently" and then something about not imposing your will on them. Any Idea?

  69. But my god can make love to your god!

  70. "This means that I firmly know that God can be known objectively, but that logical or rational arguments are insufficient (but not useless) in communicating knowledge about God. This means that knowledge of God must first be gained independently and personally, but after that knowledge is gained it is subject to the system of objective checks and balances, meaning before I can claim experience with God in a rational way, it must be independently verified by the personal experiences of others. This verification happens through a rational, logical discourse, which of necessity cannot happen until those involved have had similar experiences on which to base their conversation."
    Using anecdotal, non-empirical experiences to verify other anecdotal, non-empirical experiences does not qualify as testing for the falsifiability of an objective reality (in your case, "god.")

  71. I fail to see how this is non-empirical since experience is, by definition, empirical. Now is this quantifiable? No, unless you gather large amounts of data from many different people and then perform a statistical analysis of it. But it doesn't make sense to say that it is non-empirical.

    As for being anecdotal, all of experimental and observational science is anecdotal, so I think this is a pretty good method. In other words, using anecdotal experiences to verify other anecdotal experiences is what scientists do in order to learn about an objective reality. On a small scale it may not be quantifiable, but that does not automatically invalidate the anecdotal evidences.

  72. Wow...I thought I was weird...


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