Ways of not knowing

We are always hearing about how science can’t explain everything and that there are “other ways of knowing.” Problem is those promoting this idea are very vague about what these “other ways of knowing” are and what the evidence is for their effectiveness. Usually it’s just a way of supporting one’s own pet desires.

So I really like this simple statement by Jerry Coyne in a post at Why Evolutiuon is True (see What evidence would convince you that a god exists?).

“Religion is not a way of knowing because it doesn’t have a way of knowing that it is wrong. And without that, you don’t know if you’re right. That’s why science makes progress in understanding the world while religion is still mired in medieval theology.”

Sums it up, really. How can you know you are right if you can’t know if you are wrong? To do that you actually have to interact with reality.


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17 responses to “Ways of not knowing

  1. Theists typically are dependant on and promote “faith” which is quite different from “knowing.” They are sadly mistaken if they think that faith alone will lead them to knowledge. Or some will say that the bible is the source of truth, yet they cherry pick what to acknoledge and what to ignore. The fall victim to confirmation bias and following the lead of their feelings rather than the evidence.


  2. To fault religion for not being scientific enough seems a little pointless? Like faulting science for not being religious enough?

    If you’re going to criticise metaphysics or philosophy, do it in metaphysical or philosophical terms.


  3. But Dale, the argument here isn’t that religion is not scientific enough, it is that religions claim to be able to “know” things via some method other than science, yet they fail to explain or have any evidence for any other dependable methods to reach such knowledge.


  4. “fail to have any ‘evidence’…” ?


  5. This seems to be a moot point Ken because, as we all know, those with a religious bent are never wrong. Thats why it is quite ok for catholic priests to fiddle with children, because god told them to do it.


  6. Dale – my criticism of religious claims is regarding their relationship to reality:

    “How can you know you are right if you can’t know if you are wrong? To do that you actually have to interact with reality.”

    And yes I think that is a philosophical statement. I am pinning my colours to philosophy that does not deny reality.

    Yes Lats. That’s why I get so annoyed with religious claims to “Truth” – always with a capital T. They make it true just be declaring it. No wonder they couldn’t advance knowledge.


  7. Ken,
    “I am pinning my colours to philosophy that does not deny reality.”
    What an odd thing to say? Who was the one “denying” reality? To suggest that there are more than scientific ways of considering reality is not to “deny” it – it’s actually to take it quite seriously.


  8. Without interacting with reality there is no way of finding out when you are wrong. Any “way if knowing” which doesn’t have this interaction, this validation, cannot know it is right and it’s proponents are therefore arrogant to claim knowledge, let alone “Truth.”


  9. What interaction with reality led you to believe that knowledge/truth cannot be claimed apart from interaction with reality? If none, then why take seriously your statement?


  10. My constant interaction with reality provides the experience that it works. And this interaction often shows that conclusions I have come to without the interaction are wrong.

    The most beautiful theories get destroyed by the ugly facts.


  11. Dale, what experiences have you had apart from interactions with reality that consistently and dependably led you to knowledge?


  12. Interaction with reality is over-rated.
    It has a well known atheist bias.


  13. Sadly when comparing science with religion we’re not comparing apples with apples. Scientific findings are based on experimental (or observed) data, leading to the support, proval or disproval of a given hypothesis. There is no evidence to support religious beliefs. In fact one could argue that belief (or faith) in the absence of evidence, or even in the face of evidence to the contrary, makes the faith that much stronger. I wouldn’t be one of them, but I can see that point being made by an ardent follower. Given that there is no evidentiary justification for religious belief, and given how widespread the belief in the occult/religion/paranormal is, you’d almost wonder if there is some evolutionary advantage to be gained by continued beliefs of this type. Didn’t Dawkins suggest this?


  14. the word ‘reality’ is not so easily defined
    (back to work for me)


  15. Actually it is:

    re·al·i·ty   /riˈælɪti/ Show Spelled[ree-al-i-tee] Show IPA
    –noun, plural -ties for 3, 5–7.
    1. the state or quality of being real.
    2. resemblance to what is real.
    3. a real thing or fact.
    4. real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs: the reality of the business world; vacationing to escape reality.
    5. Philosophy .
    a. something that exists independently of ideas concerning it.
    b. something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.
    6. something that is real.
    7. something that constitutes a real or actual thing, as distinguished from something that is merely apparent.
    8. in reality, in fact or truth; actually: brave in appearance, but in reality a coward.

    From dictionary.com 😉


  16. Dale, I guess you find it hard to define because you keep away from it.

    Lats, I think there is some sort of evolutionary advantage – not necessarily for religious beliefs, but for our intuitions and our cognitive psychology underling those beliefs. That’s not to say it is necessarily natural to believe in gods and for religion to be inevitable. Obviously it isn’t because many people don’t.

    I think we have an evolved cognitive system to recognise/assume conscious agents. This was a survival adaption as it is better to react quickly to a sound or moving branch assuming it to be a predator than to just assume it was the wind.

    Our cognitive system is a pattern recognizing one, and prefers to interpret information according to preexisting biases and prejudice or patterns.

    Similarly we have evolved intuitions enabling us to survive as a social animal. This provides a basis for morality, social organization and historically for religion as a methods for imposing cohesion on societies as they grew larger than kin, clan or tribal groups.

    So, I see religion as a natural phenomenon (which doesn’t mean that everyone will be religious by any means). And it is only natural to use confirmation bias to support one’s in-group and to demonise the out-group. This is characteristic of religious thinking – but also of human thinking in general.

    Science is a process where we try hard to overcome these limitations in our cognitive processes and information collection. It’s not perfect but its far better than making no attempt.

    Part of the reason for its success is its social nature where ideas and conclusions are critiqued by colleagues. But, I think most importantly, is its relationship to reality. Ideas and theories are validated by checking them against reality. That’s why science works because we can find out when we are wrong.

    Religion does everything to prevent finding out when it is wrong and in fact continues to promote outmoded and conservative ideas as a result.


  17. Reality is easy to define.
    Yet ‘reality’ is not so easy to define.

    (Dale Campbell: the king of scare-quoting the mundane to create the mysterious.)


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