Can Religion Be Empirical?

 

JamesLet empiricism once become associated with religion, as hitherto, through some strange misunderstanding, it has been associated with irreligion, and I believe that a new era of religion as well as of philosophy will be ready to begin. — William James

Empiricism is the theory that we get knowledge through experience. As James notes above, it’s usually associated with things like science, reason, skepticism, and irreligious attitudes. Religion is more often associated with faith (usually thought to be separate from reason), dogmatism, and Rationalism, the view that knowledge comes from reason rather than experience. Are these associations accurate?

James provides us with a useful name for the view that they are notRadical Empiricism. He uses the term as a technical name for his own version of Pragmatism, but it’s still the best name for the theory I wish to propose: that we can get moral or religious knowledge from experience.

Let’s look at some examples and confront one of Radical Empiricism’s biggest challenges. For the moment, I’ll skip ethics and look directly at how this theory applies to various faiths.

Radical Empiricism in Buddhism

The Dalai Lama is one of those representatives of venerable religious traditions who treat those traditions as empirical.

In a speech on what Buddhism and neuroscience can do for each other, the Dalai Lama says that Buddhism has always recognized experience as a source of knowledge; indeed, it holds empiricism as the most important source of knowledge, overriding all others. As such, even the most important dogma from the most important religious authority of Buddhism can be corrected by experience!

IqbalRadical Empiricism in Islam

Representing Islam, Allama Iqbal emphasizes the empirical sources of religious belief and argues that religious belief can be a kind of empirical knowledge. (There’s an emphasis on Sufi mysticism, but he also talks about prophecy.) See my earlier post “What My Students Said About Religion and Science” for a better intro to Iqbal.

Radical Empiricism in Christianity

LewisC. S. Lewis, presenting the basics of Christianity, refers to at least three empirical sources of knowledge of Christian theology. He talks about Christianity’s historical origins in the experiences of the Apostles of Jesus the Messiah, and about the experiences of the early church that aided in codifying the doctrine of the Trinity. He also talks about knowing God in experience through the life of the church.

See my earlier post “Can Religious Knowledge Be Verified?” for a better overview of this theme in Lewis. (I’ve wondered if “Tested” might have been a better word than “Verified” in that title, but I’m coming around to the idea that I had it right the first time).

Empiricism and Dogmatism

The testimony of folks representing these three great religions undermines the notion that religion and empiricism can’t mix. But there’s more to that notion than the notion itself.

The real motivation behind this idea seems to be another idea: namely, that empiricism and dogmatic religion don’t mix well.

And that idea seems to be motivated by a third idea: that empiricism is always open to old conclusions being corrected by future experience.

That third idea is undoubtedly correct and it’s not a problem for anyone who lacks a dogmatic religion. It’s, therefore, no problem for the Dalai Lama, nor for — so far as I understand them — most forms of Buddhism, Confucianism, or Unitarianism.

It’s also no problem for William James, who said “[A]s empiricists we give up the doctrine of objective certitude” and consider all religious doctrines subject to correction by later experience. And yet, he defends the legitimacy of religious belief. Ditto for John Dewey in his book A Common Faith.

But can there be a religion which is dogmatic and empirical?

Let’s stipulate that this problem becomes more acute the more dogmas a religion has. According to the Dalai Lama, the problem’s not even there for Buddhism. But it is there for Islam, and it is a significant issue for Christianity having, as it does, quite a set of dogmas.

Regardless, I think empiricism and dogma can coexist within a religion, and that there are two ways we can get there:

1. Use the weaker use of the word “dogma.” Definitions 1, 2, and 4 from the dictionary would allow for a dogmatic empirical religion. A believer could say, “I accept the teachings of Islam/Sufism/Christianity/the Church/the Westminster Confession/the Baptist Faith and Message/Whatever. I am not certain they’re true, but I think they’re warranted by the empirical evidence. I suppose I could change my mind someday in light of new evidence.”

In this fashion, religious commitment can be entirely empirical, and significantly — though not entirely — dogmatic.

2. The leap. A believer might, under the third definition of dogma, conclude that his religion requires an absolute commitment to a given doctrine but simultaneously hold that the doctrine happens to be warranted by the evidence. He might conclude that the evidence warrants acceptance of the belief, but might also conclude that the nature of the belief requires an absolute commitment beyond that warranted by the evidence.

Someone holding this belief might analogize it to marriage: “Miss S. R. is the woman who should be my wife” about 93% probable, enough to believe it’s true. But Miss S. R. might require a total commitment and a whole ring, not 93% of a ring and 93% of a commitment.

In this fashion, religious commitment can be entirely dogmatic, and significantly — though, again, not entirely empirical.

(This is one of the weaknesses in James’ philosophy of religion. The case he makes for the permissibility of religious belief might apply to religious commitments that are strongly dogmatic, and thus are inconsistent with the systematically non-dogmatic religion he supports.)

“Let Us Hear the Conclusion of the Whole Matter”

So, I think not only that empirical religion is possible, but also that dogmatic empirical religion is possible (albeit more difficult).

It is actually impossible to be dogmatic (in the strong sense) and empirical with respect to the same belief at the same time. You can’t have absolute empiricism and absolute dogmatism.

But it is possible to have a worldview, or a life, or a system of belief that has a large empirical component or a significant empirical aspect as well as a significant dogmatic aspect.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Oh, yes. The New Thought movement of the late Nineteenth Century is very much based on a form of empiricism. Now, dogmas certainly cropped up, such as in Christian Science, but the basis of it all was finding a way to meld “modern” (at the time) science, including psychology, into Christianity.

    A few bits and pieces from Unity…

    One of the founders of Unity was Charles Fillmore, and one of his quotes is, “I reserve the right to change my mind.”

    Unity started out of an incident where our other founder, Myrtle Fillmore, was at a lecture and heard the words, “You are a child of God, and you do not inherit illness.” She had been told all her life that she had inherited a disease, so she started working with this idea in prayer time, apologizing to her organs for having called them weak all her life, affirming that they were strong and God-given. After a few months of this, she went from “put your affairs in order” to living another forty-plus years and having another child.

    Myrtle started working teaching other people how to pray as she did and heal the body using the mind. This is part of why one of the terms we use for Unity is practical Christianity. It works if people try it.

    In Unity, we do not see the Bible as a history, but a metaphysically-encoded guide to consciousness. It is every person’s spiritual road map. More…

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    So the Unity Church is one entire religion (according to my classification) or one branch of Christianity (according to your classification) that’s all empirical.  But it’s not at all dogmatic, is it?

    • #2
  3. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Continued from #1:

    So, by understanding the Bible stories as stories of what goes on in our minds and hearts, we can apply and understand them better in our lives. The other thing about a road map is that it shows us where we are going, and for us, that is the Christ Consciousness. We may find ourselves in the Adamic Consciousness or Noah Consciousness or the state of thought and consciousness represented by any other character in the Bible, but we know what we are trying to achieve, and that is the state of consciousness that Jesus demonstrates. Now, we refer to Jesus as “our elder brother.” Why is that? Because we see ourselves as all being children of God, and able to achieve that same state of consciousness. To know our connection with the Most High and to use the power of that connection for the co-creation of our lives with God. So, for us, the Bible is a practical handbook that shows how to achieve that closer understanding of our Divine Connection and to live and breathe it each day.

    We have developed tools to be used in every day life. (Recognized the tools and how they work, really.) These tools are denials and affirmations. Denials are used to dispel the illusions of evil and of the world. Affirmations are used to set firm in the mind the Truth of God and God’s creation. Practical tools for everyday use.

    • #3
  4. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:Continued from #1:

    So, by understanding the Bible stories as stories of what goes on in our minds and hearts, we can apply and understand them better in our lives. . . .

    . . .

    We have developed tools to be used in every day life. (Recognized the tools and how they work, really.) These tools are denials and affirmations. Denials are used to dispel the illusions of evil and of the world. Affirmations are used to set firm in the mind the Truth of God and God’s creation. Practical tools for everyday use.

    I can see how all of this could be very empirical.

    We also have (as we know already) a bundle of differences in Bible interpretation.  Maybe this isn’t the time and place to talk about it  (But I suppose it can be if you want to!)

    • #4
  5. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine:So the Unity Church is one entire religion (according to my classification) or one branch of Christianity (according to your classification) that’s all empirical. But it’s not at all dogmatic, is it?

    As Charles Fillmore said, “I reserve the right to change my mind.” Part of the Truth behind that statement is that he knew that he had not achieved Christ Consciousness, the full connection with God. So, if we know that we are still growing in our understanding, we have to acknowledge that we may be wrong. We have to have humility (willingness to learn and be taught by others). That is an attitude that does not support dogma very well.

    Now, will you find specific Unity people and even Unity ministers who are more dogmatic or have dogmas they would be unwilling to release? Of course.

    For instance, the metaphysical interpretation of the Bible has served me very well. I do not know if any of it has any historical basis. I do not know if the authors really intended the many levels that we interpret into the Bible. But I am dogmatic that the metaphysical interpretation works for me and has worked for many others, including by making them better and more Christian people.

    Part of this may be a matter of psychological temperaments as Carl Jung formulated them. Certain types of people are going to be attracted to interpretations that are fully concrete and others to interpretations that are more abstract.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine: Maybe this isn’t the time and place to talk about it (But I suppose it can be if you want to!)

    No, as you say, it isn’t the place to talk about the specific differences. What matters for your thread, though, is that Unity was an attempt to reconcile religion, empiricism, and rationality. It was largely born out of Charles Fillmore’s attempts to make sense out of what he saw really happening to his wife and to find ways to leverage it. It was why we emphasize practical Christianity in every sense of practical:

    • It is something that works,
    • It is something that anyone can do, and
    • It is something that needs to be practiced, that should be done by people every day, and the more they practice, the better they get.

    So, it very much addresses your question of the ability to have empirical religion.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    One might say that Myrtle Fillmore was the practical one who found techniques that worked, and Charles was the rational one who had to understand why it worked.

    • #7
  8. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant: As Charles Fillmore said, “I reserve the right to change my mind.” Part of the Truth behind that statement is that he knew that he had not achieved Christ Consciousness, the full connection with God. So, if we know that we are still growing in our understanding, we have to acknowledge that we may be wrong. We have to have humility (willingness to learn and be taught by others). That is an attitude that does not support dogma very well.

    There’s a question lurking around here somewhere.  Maybe several.

    Here’s the question I’m sure I saw lurking around here: Is Fillmore dogmatic about the reason behind his lack of dogmatism?

    • #8
  9. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:

    Saint Augustine: Maybe this isn’t the time and place to talk about it (But I suppose it can be if you want to!)

    No, as you say, it isn’t the place to talk about the specific differences.

    Well, it’s not on topic, really.  But it’s not way off topic, and it might help another theology thread displace a Trump thread in the Most Popular box.

    What matters for your thread, though, is that Unity was an attempt to reconcile religion, empiricism, and rationality.

    Very worth goals!

    It was why we emphasize practical Christianity in every sense of practical:

    • It is something that works,
    • It is something that anyone can do, and
    • It is something that needs to be practiced, that should be done by people every day, and the more they practice, the better they get.

    So, it very much addresses your question of the ability to have empirical religion.

    Indeed.  I believe, however, that orthodox (Nicene) Christianity can achieve all of those goals just as easily.

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine: Is Fillmore dogmatic about the reason behind his lack of dogmatism?

    Not that I have seen. Indeed, what I said above is my interpretation of why he made his statement about changing his mind.

    Of course, there are issues with being anti-dogmatic, too. The Unity Movement does not stand as solidly on the foundation that the Fillmores built as it should.

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine: Indeed. I believe, however, that orthodox (Nicene) Christianity can achieve all of those goals just as easily.

    The difference for me is blind faith versus faith rooted in knowledge and understanding of the Law.

    You walk to the wall and flip a switch and a light comes on. You turn the key in the ignition, your car starts, you put it into drive and it goes. It is fine to have faith to know that it will work; it is different being an electrical or mechanical engineer and fully understanding why both of those things work and all of the reasons they might not work.

    Unity is an attempt to scientifically discover the Law, which is codified into the Bible. We want to know how the Law applies in all situations. We want to know why when the car doesn’t start. In this case, a large part of the Law is how the mind works and can be harnessed. We don’t just want to know why a ritual works, we want to know how it works.

    Does Nicene Christianity have an explanation for why prayer works, other than because God wants it to? Does Nicene Christianity teach practical ways to pray, and why some ways of praying don’t work? If so, why don’t they teach that to people growing up in Nicene Christianity as I did? Why are they too busy focusing on the parts that don’t work and don’t make sense?

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine: Well, it’s not on topic, really. But it’s not way off topic, and it might help another theology thread displace a Trump thread in the Most Popular box.

    Between the two of us, a few hundred comments on the topic should be easy, but I do have a few other things I am working on today. ;^D

    • #12
  13. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:

    Does Nicene Christianity teach practical ways to pray, and why some ways of praying don’t work?

    Sure!  Prayers for what is good work better than prayers for what isn’t.  Prayers that change our will to be more in line with God’s will are more effective, for at least two reasons–because they change our desires to fit what we can actually have, and because they end up being better aimed at what God is more likely to do.

    If so, why don’t they teach that to people growing up in Nicene Christianity as I did?

    I suppose for the same reasons other good things aren’t taught: The material’s hard to understand or hard to accept, and some teachers are themselves poorly educated, and some people in this world are lazy, and some are not very intelligent.  That’s life in economic, scientific, philosophical, and legal education; that’s life in religious education, too!

    Why are they too busy focusing on the parts that don’t work and don’t make sense?

    Which parts would those be?

    • #13
  14. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant,

    Fun!  Now we’re talking theology!

    Ok, here’s the situation as I see it.

    You’re asking for a high degree of understanding, practicality, and empirical evidence in one region of Nicene theology–the doctrine of prayer.  You think it’s not there, and count that as a weakness of Nicene theology.

    I, however, find a very high degree of understanding, practicality, and empirical evidence in various other regions of Nicene theology.  As you allude, those other regions provide one answer to any questions we might ask about the efficacy of prayer–the will of God.  That answer will go as far as it needs to.

    It is moreover a comfortable answer when we factor in the doctrines of the Goodness and Wisdom of God.  So, even if there were a minimum of understanding, practicality, and empirical evidence in the doctrine of prayer, I could live with that quite comfortably.

    A lot depends on where you start.  Which region of a theology is foundational?  I start with the historical facts and move on from there.  The doctrine of prayer is a long way from the foundation, and at the lower levels I find quite an abundance of practicality, understanding, and empirical evidence.  At the level of the doctrine of prayer, a small deficit of these isn’t much of a bother.

    (Having said all of that, I’ve found in the orthodox doctrine of prayer quite enough empirical evidence, practicality, and understanding to satisfy my own wishes.)

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    I used prayer as an example, because it was handy, since we were talking about it. Unfortunately, I think it’s time for my second sleep right now, so I’ll stop now before I am fully incoherent.

    • #15
  16. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    But, while I’m doing that, what do you see as the foundation that makes so much sense, rationally and empirically?

    • #16
  17. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:

    I used prayer as an example, because it was handy, since we were talking about it. Unfortunately, I think it’s time for my second sleep right now, so I’ll stop now before I am fully incoherent.

    That is also part of life.

    • #17
  18. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:But, while I’m doing that, what do you see as the foundation that makes so much sense, rationally and empirically?

    The historical facts.

    Theologically, they shouldn’t be split up.

    But, logically, they can be split up into two components.

    One is the convergence of Messianic prophecies on one man, Yeshua of Nazareth (prophecies detailed centuries before his birth).

    Another is introduced here on the thread “Knowledge and Faith Can Be the Same Thing.”

    • #18
  19. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Saint Augustine:

    For the moment, I’ll skip ethics and look directly at how this theory applies to various faiths.

    Thanks for the Main Feed promotion, Editor(s)!

    I originally didn’t skip ethics entirely.  But this probably reads a little better than what I originally had.  And it makes a comparably effective nod to the fact that there’s more to say about Radical Empiricism in ethics.

    • #19
  20. Songwriter Member
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    This may be a little off-topic – but I think it relates: in The Victory of reason, Rodney Stark argues that the Christian Church was largely responsible for the most significant intellectual breakthroughs of the previous centuries. So then – dogma did not hinder the Church’s value on reason (or empirical thought).

    I was raised in a pretty traditional Southern Baptist home (in Texas!) in the 60s. So – it’s no surprise I was reared on a fair amount of Old-Time Religion and Baptist dogma. But the older I get, the less I fear my own doubts. I’ve reached the conclusion that if the God of the Bible is who He says He is, He is not threatened by my puny misgivings. And that conclusion brings me back to a stronger faith.

    So in that way, at least, I think empiricism can bolster faith, which supports dogma. But only if one is willing to honestly doubt.

    • #20
  21. Bob W Member
    Bob W
    @WBob

    It seems clear that there is no religious knowledge that cannot be understood as based in or originating from human experience or contemplation. Actually, there is no knowledge of any kind, religious or otherwise, that would not be in that category.  For example, there is nothing in the Bible (or anywhere else) for which we would be forced to posit a non-human intelligence as a source.

    • #21
  22. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine: The historical facts.

    My second sleep was only half an hour, and I had been formulating a long and involved response to this since then. But I tried reopening a page I had had up to look up the precise phrasing of a term, and it opened in this page and my response was eaten.

    So, short version: I don’t think the historical evidence is nearly as strong as 99% of Bible scholars do. I suspect as on most other issues, people believe first and reason later.

    On the other hand, one of the great things about Unity’s metaphysical interpretation of the Bible is that I don’t have to believe that Jesus was a historical person. Whether fully historical, partially historical, or fully mythic in nature, I can still use the Bible as my spiritual road map.

    Songwriter: I’ve reached the conclusion that if the God of the Bible is who He says He is, He is not threatened by my puny misgivings. And that conclusion brings me back to a stronger faith.

    Peter denied Jesus three times before the cock crowed, yet was shown the Truth and his faith returned in greater measure. There is a significant difference between blind faith and faith based on spiritual understanding. Blind faith has to make a leap based on belief in what others have said. If those people are ever wrong, the whole edifice of faith can crumble. Faith based on Truth becomes solid.

    • #22
  23. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:

    . . . and it opened in this page and my response was eaten.

    That, too, is life.

    So, short version: I don’t think the historical evidence is nearly as strong as 99% of Bible scholars do.

    Well, we could talk about specifics, I guess, if you want to be more specific.  As far as I can tell, the basic historical facts here are at least as well established as, for example, the death of Socrates; that’s plenty good enough for me for a start (and it’s only a start!).

    I suspect as on most other issues, people believe first and reason later.

    Maybe so.  No opinion on that from me right now.  But whether beliefs are well warranted in the end is the big thing that matters.

    . . . one of the great things about Unity’s metaphysical interpretation of the Bible is that I don’t have to believe that Jesus was a historical person.

    Maybe this is a good opportunity for me to understand you better.  On what exactly do you base your beliefs?

    Blind faith has to make a leap based on belief in what others have said.

    [In Yoda voice:] Call you that blind?

    If that makes a belief an act of blind faith, then I have blind faith in the existence of Tokyo and electrons and bacteria and Obama.  And my belief in the assassination of Lincoln is a blind faith.  And everything else I know from science, history, geography, and the news.

    • #23
  24. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Saint Augustine: If that makes a belief an act of blind faith, then I have blind faith in the existence of Tokyo and electrons and bacteria and Obama. And my belief in the assassination of Lincoln is a blind faith.

    We evaluate probabilities consciously or unconsciously. How many sources do we have? Do they all agree? Have these specific sources ever been proven correct before? Have they been proven wrong on anything before? To say that the preponderance of the evidence seems in favor of the existence of Tokyo is not a leap of faith. To jump to the conclusion that there must be a Tokyo based on these multiple sources is the leap of faith, if you have not been there. Is it blind faith in your sources? Do you believe in Tokyo? Or do you think its existence is beyond a reasonable doubt?

    There are bunches of sources that say there used to be a place called Atlantis. I evaluate them and say, most probably not. I do not say definitely not. I also evaluate Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to be low-probability. However, I could still say, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

    Saint Augustine: And everything else I know from science, history, geography, and the news.

    Oh, I’m sure there are a few things you have empirical evidence of.

    • #24
  25. Dan Hanson Thatcher
    Dan Hanson
    @DanHanson

    Empiricism is the theory that we get knowledge through experience.

    That’s not quite complete.  Empiricism is generally considered to be experience gathered through the experience of the senses – i.e. seeing real things,  feeling them, touching them,  carrying out experiments on them, etc.   You can have a lot of experience that generates feelings but is not empirical.

    I would also caution against using ’empiricism’ as a synonym for ‘scientific’.   Having the experience that prayer works because someone you know recovered from cancer after being prayed over is not the same as carrying out a controlled trial on a population of believers vs non-believers to see if prayer affected health outcomes.

    The real danger here is motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.   That’s why real empirical analysis has to be done in a framework of scientific rigor.

    It’s easy to find empirical confirmation of many aspects of the Bible.  It is, after all, an historical document.  Many of the events in the bible are completely factual.   The question for religion, however, is whether the supernatural events in the bible took place.   And for that,  there is no empirical evidence I know of.

    For example,  there have been studies of cancer remission rates in populations of devout believers who pray for the recovery of the sick and remission rates in secular communities,  and no correlation between prayer and health has ever been found.  That doesn’t mean God does not exist:  It may mean that praying to God to intervene in earthly matters is not what God wants you to do.  But at least we can say that the empirical evidence suggests that praying for God to save someone who is sick is not going to work.

    In 2006,  the Templeton foundation commissioned the STEP project (Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer) in which a double-blind scientific study of heart bypass patients was undertaken.  Two groups were told that they might or might not receive prayers,  and the third group was told they would be prayed over (to test for psychosomatic effects).

    In the end,  the group that was told that they would be prayed for (and were prayed for by a congregation in a church),  actually had worse outcomes than the other two groups,  one of which was prayed over and one which was not.  Of the two groups that didn’t know if they were being prayed for,  their health outcomes were statistically the same even though one was being prayed for regularly and the other was not.

    One thing I don’t understand about the quest for a ‘proof’ of God’s existence:  Doesn’t God demand that you take His existence on faith?  If God could be proven scientifically,  belief in Him would cease to be religious, wouldn’t it?

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  26. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Dan Hanson: The real danger here is motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. That’s why real empirical analysis has to be done in a framework of scientific rigor.

    Agree wholeheartedly.

    • #26
  27. donald todd Member
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    Arahant:

    As Charles Fillmore said, “I reserve the right to change my mind.” Part of the Truth behind that statement is that he knew that he had not achieved Christ Consciousness, the full connection with God. So, if we know that we are still growing in our understanding, we have to acknowledge that we may be wrong. We have to have humility (willingness to learn and be taught by others). That is an attitude that does not support dogma very well.

    I was reading this and remembered GK Chesterton who pointed to the Buddhist monk and the Christian saint as depicted in art.  The Buddha is directed inward, and the saint was wild-eyed looking out on creation.  The ethic is different.

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  28. donald todd Member
    donald todd
    @donaldtodd

    Bob W:It seems clear that there is no religious knowledge that cannot be understood as based in or originating from human experience or contemplation. Actually, there is no knowledge of any kind, religious or otherwise, that would not be in that category. For example, there is nothing in the Bible (or anywhere else) for which we would be forced to posit a non-human intelligence as a source.

    Whether it is Genesis account of creation or the Big Bang Theory, it points to the fact that nothing existed in a material sense until about thirteen billion years ago.  Nothing.  Then something.

    In our little corner of the universe, our sun coalesced and our solar system came into being about 4.6 billion years ago.

    Something from nothing?  Or something from Someone Who is able to make something from nothing?

    We are contingent beings, that is we did not invent ourselves.  It is difficult for contingent beings to grasp the idea that there is a first cause which is not in itself contingent on anyone or anything else.  A self-existent Being.

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  29. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Arahant:

    We evaluate probabilities . . . . How many sources . . . ? Do they all agree? Have these specific sources ever been proven correct before? Have they been proven wrong on anything before?

    Well put.

    To say that the preponderance of the evidence seems in favor of the existence of Tokyo is not a leap of faith.

    I’d agree with this formulation.  You mean that that particular belief is not a belief in something lacking sufficient evidence.

    But the same is true of my belief that Jesus was crucified and raised on the third day in accordance with prophecy.

    To jump to the conclusion that there must be a Tokyo based on these multiple sources is the leap of faith, if you have not been there.

    I don’t usually like to use that sort of language, but I can go with it.

    Is it blind faith in your sources?

    Of course not.  But neither is my faith that Jesus was crucified and raised on the third day in accordance with prophecy.

    Do you believe in Tokyo? Or do you think its existence is beyond a reasonable doubt?

    Both, naturally.

    Saint Augustine: And everything else I know from science, history, geography, and the news.

    Oh, I’m sure there are a few things you have empirical evidence of.

    Of course!  It’s all empirical evidence.

    It’s all empirical evidence.

    But in all cases scientific, historical, geographical, and news, my knowledge relies entirely or almost entirely on trust in what others say.

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  30. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Dan Hanson:

    Empiricism is generally considered to be experience gathered through the experience of the senses . . . .

    It is a common enough use of the term.  But it’s not the only use!

    That was classical Empiricism (Locke, Berkeley, Hume), in reaction to which the Pragmatists (James, Dewey) recognized a broader sense of experience.

    We could, consistently with both James and my opening post, use the term Radical Empiricism for the view that knowledge comes from experience, full stop (no restriction to the senses alone).

    I would also caution against using ’empiricism’ as a synonym for ‘scientific’.

    Agreed.

    The real danger here is motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.

    Agreed.

    That’s why real empirical analysis has to be done in a framework of scientific rigor.

    Agreed on the rigor.  I’m not sure if I agree on the qualifier “scientific,” but that depends on the definition of the term “scientific.”

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