There is a good discussion going on over at this blog. One of the issues under discussion is the role of “facts” “evidence” and science in how we come to recognize what is “true” in a “big-picture” or ultimate way. My view is that noting some “fact” or piece of “evidence” rarely if ever changes anyone’s mind in these sorts of conversations, because most everyone is aware of many if not most of the facts and evidence. Unless the dispute is how far the sun is from the earth, noting some fact or piece of evidence is not going to move these types of discussions forward. Nor does it do to claim that one has all the “facts” and “evidence” on his side, while the other just believes by faith. The truth is that each side is considering the facts and evidence, the physical world, history, and their experience of the world. The question is why do we come to different conclusions?
Why we come to different conclusions is indeed the question and it really sums up the modern post-modern divide. Those coming from a modern perspective and those coming from a post-modern perspective usually talk past one another and even when they think they are agreeing or saying the same thing, often it turns out they are not. Both wonder why the other person cannot “see” their point or understand what they are trying get across.
Well the reason is hermeneutics, which is the science of interpretation. The entire world is a text, which we “read” and interpret. The only way we can do this though is through a “narrative” or story that makes sense of all the “facts” and “evidence.” A meta-narrative is another word for “faith” or “world-view”—it is meta-physical. It is shaped from the rock-bottom core of what we really believe about life and the world. It is the TRUTH we bring to bear upon the “facts” and “evidence.” This is also true of everyone; both the theist and atheist interpret the world through world-view or faith. I believe in God by faith; the atheist believes there is no God, by faith as well. Doubt is simply belief turned in the other direction. We are all believers in something and agnostic toward the opposite.
Here is a very good essay that brings much to bear upon this whole area. What makes it especially interesting is that it’s in the area of geology. One would think the matter of rocks and plate tectonics would be quite resistant to a “narrative” understanding. The essay also touches upon the difference between the “Analytical” school of philosophy and the “Continental” school of philosophy. If anyone is really serious about conversations like the one on the blog noted above, they really need to understand these two schools and the historical context of the discussion. Here he describes the Analytic perspective:
“Early Analytic philosophers such as Russell(1914), Carnap (1937), and Reichenbach(1928, 1958) developed a powerful characterization of the scientific method.
Their conclusions may be summarized by the following three claims. First, the scientific method is objective. This means that the discovery of scientific truth can and must be separate from any personal, ethical/political, or metaphysical commitments. This is the basis of the celebrated fact/value distinction, which holds that the facts discovered by the scientist are quite distinct from whatever values he or she might hold. Personal or cultural values must not enter into the scientific reasoning process.”
“Second, the scientific method is empirical. Science is built upon a rigorous distinction between observations (which again were understood, at least ideally, as being factual and unequivocal) and theory. Facts themselves were not theory-dependent; observation was thought to be a matter of ‘‘taking a good look.’’ The distinction between statements that describe and statements that evaluate was viewed as unproblematic.”
“Third, the scientific method constitutes an epistemological monism. Science was thought to consist of an single, identifiable set of logical procedures applicable to all fields of study. This reduction of all knowledge to one kind of knowledge proceeded in two steps, summarized by the terms ‘‘scientism’’ and ‘‘reductionism.’’ Scientism is the belief that the scientific method provides us with the only reliable way to know. Reductionism is the further claim that it is possible to reduce all sciences to one science, physics.”
This describes the perspective taken by Bernard, JP, and Burk (to lesser and greater degrees).
Here he sums up the Continental perspective:
“The claims of Continental Philosophy—the other main school of contemporary philosophy—concerning science can also be summarized in two points: (1) whereas science offers us a powerful tool for the discovery of truth, science is not the only, or even necessarily the best way that humans come to know reality, and (2) the existence of ‘‘the’’ scientific method (understood as above) is a myth. Science has neither the priority in the discovery of truth, nor the unity and cohesiveness of one identifiable method, nor the distance from ethical, epistemological, and metaphysical commitments that Analytic Philosophy claims it has.”
And this would of course sum up, to some degree at least, my perspective. Anyway, I would encourage anyone interested in the conversation taking place on the other blog to read closely the essay noted.