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Posted by Harvey on October 15, 2002 16:06:09 UTC

Hi Paul,

It's too bad that you always come around just when I'm getting ready to pack my bags. These young creationists have just about exhausted me and my desire to leave this forum is getting strong (although, I probably will keep talking with Dick at another site since he's at least a rational voice - despite what Luis says).

***I am trying to understand what you mean by 'know'. You seem to have a definite idea of the distinction between epistemology and ontology and I thought the former was what we know and the latter was what is.***

Epistemology is what we have justification in believing and ontology is about what is. You can have an ontology that you are not completely certain about being correct, and you can have an epistemology which you feel certain is correct.

***So, if there is any ontological fact at all, and we know that fact, wouldn't it then fall into both categories?***

Not necessarily. We might say we know something even though we cannot properly justify that we know it. For example, I might believe that angels existing is a fact (ontology), but I might feel that I cannot completely justify that belief (epistemology).

***And if there were some ontological fact which we didn't know, then we wouldn't know it, would we?***

Again, it depends on what we mean by 'know'. If I say that I know that angels exist, it might mean that I believe angels exist is a right belief about what is really true about the world. Rather, ontology is a set of beliefs about the world as it really is. If asked to justify it I, in all likelyhood, will not be able to do so in a satisfactory manner to anyone who fully pursues all possibility of doubt. There might not be angels even though I say that there is. The issue depends on how I define 'know'. The possibility of there not being angels does not change what I know (i.e., believe strongly to be the case - my definition of 'know' in this particular instance). If 'know' is defined as 'no possibility of doubt', then I don't have any examples of things that we 'know' (using that strict level of definition).

***Even though I know for certain that thought happens, I can understand the possibility that you might not. For all I know, you might be the newest version of some conversational program set loose on this forum to pretend to be a sentient person named Harv. Anything's possible.***

How did you guess? Anyway, even from your perspective I don't think you 'know' that 'thought exists' if I define 'know' as no possibility of doubt. Your 'thoughts' might translate to chemical states in the brain. Those chemical states might translate into a particular quantum state of matter. The quantum state of matter might translate into something else and so on. We go from 'thought existing' to something I know not what as existing. It's entirely possible that the only thing you 'know' for certain is that such discussions are silly. For that reason, it's important to understand how people define the term 'know'. If they mean without doubt, then I think everything is in doubt, even this.

***H: I know that you exist P: You don't know that! I might be the newest version of some conversational program set loose on this forum to pretend to be a sentient person named Paul.***

Sure I 'know' it if you mean that I am very confident about it being the case. I am very confident that I exist. Aren't you? To talk about 'without doubt' voids any possibility of knowledge which is philosophical doubletalk. We have to know something or else we wouldn't even be having this conversation. We just have to accept a more workable definition of 'know' without becoming intellectually dishonest. For example, we wouldn't want to say that we 'know' that angels exist without a disclaimer saying that we have changed the meaning of 'know' from being certain to having strong faith that such is the case.

***H: 3) I know that the earth exists. P: You might think so, but you might be a brain in a vat being fed the illusion of earth. But, you are probably right.***

I am right, no need to talk in terms of being fed data to my brain in a vat since that is a ridiculous possibility. It is 'possible', so we have to avoid the highest standard of the word 'know' (i.e., no possibility of doubt), but other than that extreme, impractical definition, we can state as a fact of our knowledge that the earth exists. No need to be embarrassed about this kind of emphatic statement. To be less than this emphatic would be to compromise our rationality of the subject.

***H: I take these four examples as ontological knowledge even though I am not completely sure, however I am quite sure all four are correct statements about the world. P: I don't get it. Where is the dividing line between epistemology and ontology?***

Epistemology is about justifying our claims of the world. Epistemology is mainly model driven. That is, we create models and use those to justify our decisions and beliefs. For example, the so-called 'scientific method' is a great epistemological tool to justify our beliefs about the world. Whether those beliefs are ontological truths is part of the philosophy of science, but nevertheless this does nothing to endanger the epistemology of the 'scientific method'. We feel justified in applying the 'scientific method' to problems that confront us. We can say that the use of logic is a fully justified epistemology, even though we cannot say that this same logic exists in the world. It might be human driven by circumstances as far as we know. If we take the beliefs formed from the use of the 'scientific method' and then say those beliefs are true about the world (e.g., quarks exist), then we have become scientific realists and this is opens up a whole new can of worms. Many philosophers have tried to justify the beliefs of scientific realism, but these justifications have not been entirely successful.

***Verbs?? I gave you a list of adjectives. If I tell you which of these adjectives I claim apply to God, will you tell me which ones you think apply? Anticipating that you will agree, I'll tell you mine. I think all the odd-numbered ones apply and that none of the even-numbered ones apply. Now you owe me.***

Whatever I say will only be my subjective opinion. However, whatever we agree to or disagree to will not affect what most people think of when they think of God. If, in the future, people in India reject the Hindu view of 'God' and accept the Christian view of 'God', then we wouldn't say that the India subcontinent has stopped believing in 'God', we would say they have a different definition of God. Similarly, if the next few centuries 'we' see a change from religious conceptions to process theologian conceptions of God, we wouldn't say that the world became to disbelieve in God, we would only say that the world came to believe in God within the conception of process theology. Terms are always defined in the context of history.

I agree with Steven Weinberg when he rejected the use of the term God as something unintelligent and mechanical. We cannot find any sort of definition of God like that in history. The closest such a definition is was with Spinoza's 'God', but if you read Spinoza, he kept key attributes of 'God' as understood by the world at the time. It seems to me that terms should always remain in the context of their prior usage. This might not happen if enough people accept 'God' as something mechanical and unintelligent such that the usage is so common that the term becomes accepted. This might happen, but I hope it doesn't. I'm a strong believer that words are created for a purpose and that to use words beyond their original intent can confuse and distort the meaning of the text. Of course, language is constantly evolving so this cannot be helped, but resistance is a good attribute to keep the language sound (hence, one of the benefits of dictionaries).

*** I think that your claim that there is a traditional notion of what God is all about is faulty. The notion of God has been drastically updated throughout history, and I think it is overdue for another major revision at this moment. I think people should think about my even/odd distinction.***

I agree, but it is not necessary to alter the term further to meaning a 'mechanical and unintelligent natural agent'. I see no benefit at all. I don't care to euphemize the word to be politically correct by those who want to continue the usage if they no longer believe in God's existence. If society (or movement within society) were to become atheist by not believing in God, then let it know that it is become atheist.

Warm regards, Harv

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