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Thread: Epistemic Responsibility

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    Can you have epistemically responsible religious beliefs?

    I think we need a new criteria for epistemically responsible beliefs in religion. W.K. Clifford’s overly rigid criteria for responsible belief and William James’ overly permissive criteria for responsible belief leave us no middle ground.

    Clifford’s version of epistemic responsibility (“it is wrong always, and, everywhere for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence”) is too unyielding an expectation for human beings in a world of uncertainty. While he was right that there is no such thing as a private belief, I do not find it realistic to demand all beliefs (religious or otherwise) be supported by “sufficient” evidence. Who decides what is sufficient and when? In the case of a forced option like religion where the supporting evidence for the spectrum of certainty-driven beliefs (atheism included) all end up being circumstantial at best, agnosticism is the only epistemically responsible option in Clifford’s world.

    Unfortunately, we then lose out on the opportunity to access the many benefits that I think only religion can provide.

    Meanwhile, James’ Live, Forced, & Momentous criteria allow too much room for personally and socially destructive nonsense like anti-vaxxers and suicide bombers, so that’s not particularly helpful either.

    What are we left with?

    I think the answer is better science education.

    And by that, I don't just mean force feeding kids a bunch of science facts and information. I mean getting them to start thinking like a scientist does. It is a particular kind of mindset that is at the same time both very open minded, and yet also highly critical. I think if you don't have the mindset, it's impossible to explain it philosophically.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    I think the answer is better science education.

    And by that, I don't just mean force feeding kids a bunch of science facts and information. I mean getting them to start thinking like a scientist does. It is a particular kind of mindset that is at the same time both very open minded, and yet also highly critical. I think if you don't have the mindset, it's impossible to explain it philosophically.
    I think what you're describing is more "critical thinking" than "science education". But I agree wholeheartedly.

    Still, critical thinking doesn't really do much to bridge the gap between evidence-focused beliefs in the empirical sense and evidence-focused beliefs in the religious or experiential sense. And the failure to offer a safe bridge into faith without it turning into blind faith that causes people to blow up buildings is a failure of both Clifford and James' paradigms.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    I think what you're describing is more "critical thinking" than "science education". But I agree wholeheartedly.

    Still, critical thinking doesn't really do much to bridge the gap between evidence-focused beliefs in the empirical sense and evidence-focused beliefs in the religious or experiential sense. And the failure to offer a safe bridge into faith without it turning into blind faith that causes people to blow up buildings is a failure of both Clifford and James' paradigms.
    Not sure why there necessarily Has to be a “safe bridge into Faith”. There are many other reasonable substitutes for Hope and a vision for a better future. It’s like trying to find a way to continue to believe in Santa, just because kids who believe in Santa look like they’re happier.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    I think what you're describing is more "critical thinking" than "science education". But I agree wholeheartedly.

    Still, critical thinking doesn't really do much to bridge the gap between evidence-focused beliefs in the empirical sense and evidence-focused beliefs in the religious or experiential sense. And the failure to offer a safe bridge into faith without it turning into blind faith that causes people to blow up buildings is a failure of both Clifford and James' paradigms.
    No, I really do think that there is great value in the particular style and manner of critical thinking that science fosters that is not as present in other fields.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    Not sure why there necessarily Has to be a “safe bridge into Faith”. There are many other reasonable substitutes for Hope and a vision for a better future. It’s like trying to find a way to continue to believe in Santa, just because kids who believe in Santa look like they’re happier.
    This is an excessively reductionist approach to the value of religion.

    For all of the insistence that "there are alternatives to religion", I so rarely see examples of that practically working in peoples' lives. Atheists seem to not experience the need for connection to the divine or cosmic spiritual meaning on a scale or in a way that most religious people do, and so the advice of finding a "reasonable substitute for Hope and Vision" outside of religion is kind of like offering a gluten-free vegan 'nilla wafer to someone who is desperately craving a giant chocolate cookie and a glass of milk. You're sort of missing the point entirely when you offer your substitution.

    People don't have profound, life-altering spiritual experiences with Santa Claus. But if they did, I imagine they'd be at a painful loss to integrate that experience into the rest of their lives as just a random glitch in the brain. Profound spiritual experience is easy to dismiss right up until you have it. Whatever the actual source of those experiences-- be it a divine entity reaching out or just a stray neuron in a meaningless universe-- people need something with strong explanatory power to integrate those experiences into their life, and I have never once seen a really good alternative to religion. I just haven't seen it.

    The chief criticism of religious belief is what it can do to individuals and societies on an epistemic level. People don't blow themselves up in car bombs for the Great Vacuum of Nothing, after all. But if the primary criticism of religion is its potential for harm, why is there so little effort given on the part of atheists to address the harm and preserve the good?

    If a belief isn't actually harming anyone, who cares if it's true? Moreover, if the belief is actually doing great good both individually and socially, why expend any energy trying to swap it out for a less satisfying vegan gluten-free 'nilla wafer alternative?

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    This is an excessively reductionist approach to the value of religion.

    For all of the insistence that "there are alternatives to religion", I so rarely see examples of that practically working in peoples' lives. Atheists seem to not experience the need for connection to the divine or cosmic spiritual meaning on a scale or in a way that most religious people do, and so the advice of finding a "reasonable substitute for Hope and Vision" outside of religion is kind of like offering a gluten-free vegan 'nilla wafer to someone who is desperately craving a giant chocolate cookie and a glass of milk. You're sort of missing the point entirely when you offer your substitution.

    People don't have profound, life-altering spiritual experiences with Santa Claus. But if they did, I imagine they'd be at a painful loss to integrate that experience into the rest of their lives as just a random glitch in the brain. Profound spiritual experience is easy to dismiss right up until you have it. Whatever the actual source of those experiences-- be it a divine entity reaching out or just a stray neuron in a meaningless universe-- people need something with strong explanatory power to integrate those experiences into their life, and I have never once seen a really good alternative to religion. I just haven't seen it.

    The chief criticism of religious belief is what it can do to individuals and societies on an epistemic level. People don't blow themselves up in car bombs for the Great Vacuum of Nothing, after all. But if the primary criticism of religion is its potential for harm, why is there so little effort given on the part of atheists to address the harm and preserve the good?

    If a belief isn't actually harming anyone, who cares if it's true? Moreover, if the belief is actually doing great good both individually and socially, why expend any energy trying to swap it out for a less satisfying vegan gluten-free 'nilla wafer alternative?

    But that is exactly the problem. When you relax your epistemic standards to that degree, there can be some side effects- some very serious.

    ”Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
    -Voltaire
    As far as atheist substitutions, there are certainly some attempts in that direction.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2Oe6HUgrRlQ

    This non-alcoholic gluten free variety may not be as strong as theism, but then again it doesn’t have quite leave you with the serious hangover either. The question is are you really after the truth, or just things to make you feel good? Because you have to realize these are very distinct and not necessarily related things. Part of your frustration may just be arising from this urge to merge the two, thinking there must be a way. There is no such guarantee. You may just have to decide what it is you’re exactly after.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    Yeah, I think that's a good summation of what I just said. Although your description just brought forth a potential error in my paradigm: wouldn't it also follow that the greater the evidence to hold a belief, the greater moral responsibility is generated when that belief is not held?

    I don't know if that's in opposition to, or in alignment with, the paradigm I've created here.
    If your paradigm means to connect theoretical reason with practical reason, thereby giving a moral dimension to belief, perhaps virtue ethics is the means.
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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by Angel View Post
    If your paradigm means to connect theoretical reason with practical reason, thereby giving a moral dimension to belief, perhaps virtue ethics is the means.
    I will look into that, thanks.

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    But that is exactly the problem. When you relax your epistemic standards to that degree, there can be some side effects- some very serious.
    Absolutely. But I see that as a function of an overly permissive epistemology. I am beginning to think there may be a way to have an epistemology that simultaneously accommodates theism and also limits the catastrophic harm such accommodation often perpetuates.

    I might be wrong. I haven't really found a whole lot of conversation about responsible "permissive" epistemology, though. I expected to find something like it in the topic of epistemic responsibility but have found only extremes on either end.

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    As far as atheist substitutions, there are certainly some attempts in that direction.
    They tend to be pretty lame. Although I've recently stumbled across a sort of "religion" that utilizes a series of pretty stout axioms that I think even an atheist could permit:

    Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality. EVEN IF this is all faith is, spiritual practice can be beneficial to cognition, emotional states, and culture.

    God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.

    Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

    Sin is AT LEAST volitional action or inaction that violates one's own understanding of what is moral. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. EVEN IF this is all sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing.

    The afterlife is AT LEAST the persistence of our physical matter in the ongoing life cycle on Earth, the memes we pass on to others with our lives, and the model of our unique neurological signature in the brains of those who knew us. EVEN IF this is all the afterlife is, the consequences of our actions persist beyond our death and our ethical considerations must consider a timeline beyond our death.

    Salvation is AT LEAST the means by which humanity overcomes sin to produce human flourishing. EVEN IF this is all salvation is, spiritual and religious actions and beliefs that promote salvation are good for humankind.

    There are a few additional axioms regarding Christianity specifically (as a bridge for a skeptic to engage with that particular religion), but I think they are less necessary as a foundation for an epistemically responsible religion. I think one could probably stop at the above axioms and still get quite a lot of the standard benefits of religion.

    Quote Originally Posted by ataraxia View Post
    The question is are you really after the truth, or just things to make you feel good?
    I believe there are aspects of reality where the truth is inaccessible to us, either because of the limits on our ability to perceive it, or on our ability to comprehend it, or both. When it comes to things like the existence of God or the total nature of reality, those aren't things we can discover the "right" answer to. If there is a God, something about reality means science will never let you see it. If there is nothing like God, only a Laplacian Demon- level of knowledge would let you prove it.

    Yet experiences in religion offer unique benefits that I haven't really observed anywhere else, and for all the vehement insistence on the part of the New Atheist that religion is fundamentally a bad thing, that isn't what I've discovered science has to say about its value.

    So if at least some of the foundational truth claims of religion are untestable, and believing them has personal and social benefits that are testable and verified, and don't seem to come easily (or at all) from most other substitutions, why not look for a responsible way to carry those beliefs?

    Again, the fundamental criticism of religion is its harm. Imagine a world where religion caused no interference to science, did not instigate self-destructive social contracts or exert any more evil pressure on the world than any other generally "good" human institution, while simultaneously driving millions of people to be better in all the ways that would matter most to a humanist...

    Even if it turned out they were all wrong, what would be the point of undermining the institution?

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    Re: Epistemic Responsibility

    Quote Originally Posted by VINLO View Post
    Absolutely. But I see that as a function of an overly permissive epistemology. I am beginning to think there may be a way to have an epistemology that simultaneously accommodates theism and also limits the catastrophic harm such accommodation often perpetuates.

    They tend to be pretty lame. Although I've recently stumbled across a sort of "religion" that utilizes a series of pretty stout axioms that I think even an atheist could permit:

    Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality. EVEN IF this is all faith is, spiritual practice can be beneficial to cognition, emotional states, and culture.

    God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.

    Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.

    Sin is AT LEAST volitional action or inaction that violates one's own understanding of what is moral. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. EVEN IF this is all sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing.

    The afterlife is AT LEAST the persistence of our physical matter in the ongoing life cycle on Earth, the memes we pass on to others with our lives, and the model of our unique neurological signature in the brains of those who knew us. EVEN IF this is all the afterlife is, the consequences of our actions persist beyond our death and our ethical considerations must consider a timeline beyond our death.

    Salvation is AT LEAST the means by which humanity overcomes sin to produce human flourishing. EVEN IF this is all salvation is, spiritual and religious actions and beliefs that promote salvation are good for humankind.

    There are a few additional axioms regarding Christianity specifically (as a bridge for a skeptic to engage with that particular religion), but I think they are less necessary as a foundation for an epistemically responsible religion. I think one could probably stop at the above axioms and still get quite a lot of the standard benefits of religion.



    I believe there are aspects of reality where the truth is inaccessible to us, either because of the limits on our ability to perceive it, or on our ability to comprehend it, or both. When it comes to things like the existence of God or the total nature of reality, those aren't things we can discover the "right" answer to. If there is a God, something about reality means science will never let you see it. If there is nothing like God, only a Laplacian Demon- level of knowledge would let you prove it.

    Yet experiences in religion offer unique benefits that I haven't really observed anywhere else, and for all the vehement insistence on the part of the New Atheist that religion is fundamentally a bad thing, that isn't what I've discovered science has to say about its value.

    So if at least some of the foundational truth claims of religion are untestable, and believing them has personal and social benefits that are testable and verified, and don't seem to come easily (or at all) from most other substitutions, why not look for a responsible way to carry those beliefs?

    Again, the fundamental criticism of religion is its harm. Imagine a world where religion caused no interference to science, did not instigate self-destructive social contracts or exert any more evil pressure on the world than any other generally "good" human institution, while simultaneously driving millions of people to be better in all the ways that would matter most to a humanist...

    Even if it turned out they were all wrong, what would be the point of undermining the institution?
    You have made an interesting list of definitions. But it sounds like you are just trying to redefine words in a little more abstract manner to have them make sense in a more secular world and within a more physicalist paradigm. If that's all you're doing, it sounds to me like you're pretty much there already. It's a little like when we found out "heaven" was not just a physical place above the visible sky, we redefined it to have a more abstract meaning.

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